Respecting veterans … and Trump supporters

November 10, 2016

As a young man, when it came to military issues, I was kind of a jerk.

As I finished up high school, my Vietnam-veteran dad suggested that I consider Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs as a way of defraying the enormous cost of college.

I almost snorted with derision. Why would I, a deep-thinking scholar at the top of my class, immerse myself in the dirty work of defending the United States? It wasn’t just that I personally was uninterested in military service; I couldn’t imagine why anyone like me would want to do anything like that.

Twenty-something years later, I can see that I dismissed my dad’s idea prematurely because I had never thought carefully about the people who do serve: what motivates them, what they get out of it, why they take pride in their service.

And why didn’t I do that thinking?

I avoided the whole topic because I didn’t want to deal with three highly disturbing facets: (1) death, (2) the cowardice of fearing death, and (3) killing other people.

Unfortunately, my “solution” of not ever thinking about the military – besides criticizing it, as a whole, for being too aggressive – left me without any understanding of how this enormously important branch of government operates, or much appreciation of the debt we owe to our veterans.

Eventually, another high school/college transition proved pivotal — that of my cousin Paul, who entered the United States Naval Academy in 2005.

Paul didn’t fit my military stereotype at all. He’s an extremely smart guy, not especially macho, and not a fan of overly simplistic “good-versus-evil” narratives. He could do anything he wanted to, more or less. Why would a guy like him voluntarily join the Navy? Apparently there was much more to his seemingly bizarre choice than I could fathom. Subsequent conversations with Paul and his parents proved illuminating.

Even today, I remain relatively ignorant of military matters. But now, at least, I try to be less patronizing and more respectful of those who have put their lives on the line for the sake of our country.

Tomorrow -– Friday, November 11th -– is Veterans Day. It’s a great day to honor my dad, Paul, my cousin-in-law Marc, my ex-cousin-in-law Mark, and all those who have served.

They and I are not as different as I once thought.

I’m very sorry that it took me so long to recognize this.

[Jack Crowther (far right) in Vietnam, 1965 or ’66.]

These reflections come at a time when I’m again inclined to dismiss or ignore another huge group of people who seem utterly alien to me -– in this case, the supporters of Donald Trump.

I consider Trump to be the worst presidential candidate I’ve ever encountered. But just as I shouldn’t have minimized all soldiers based on Dick Cheney’s flawed ideology and bad decisions, I shouldn’t assume that Trump’s supporters are all guilty of Trump’s sins. I don’t know what they all thought they were voting for, but it wasn’t necessarily misogyny or racism.

In September, at the Puyallup Fair, a nice old lady wearing a Trump/Pence button held my place in line while I went off to check on something. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her about her presidential choice. I was afraid of what her reasons might be.

I must do better. Without condoning hatred or violence, I must talk with Trump voters as the equals that they are. I must overcome the snobbery, cowardice, and fatigue that lurk in my heart.

As has been said many times in many ways, we generally can’t fundamentally change others -– but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to change ourselves.


  1. Good one, Greg. And it makes me wonder if most people, me included, are too quick to be dismissive of anything/anyone that we’re not comfortable with.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. It was a good read. Thanks.

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