The Contributions of the Ivy League Soldier

Back in November, I wrote about the contributions of a new wave of Ivy League graduates eager to serve their country in the military. One soldier veteran I wrote about was Joseph Kearns Goodwin, the son of former Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. A graduate of Harvard and the recipient of the Bronze Star, Goodwin had written of his experiences in Boston Magazine.

Today, in The Boston Globe, Goodwin weighs in with a powerful piece on the lack of contribution by the overall civilian population during our current war in contrast to prior conflicts. He writes: “During World War II, by contrast, our countrymen participated in the nation’s struggle in countless ways. Substantial changes in lifestyles were willingly accepted, along with higher taxes and gasoline rationing. Automobile companies worked round the clock to produce the planes, tanks, and trucks needed for soldiers. Textile mills ran double shifts to fill orders for uniforms.” Particularly touching is Goodwin’s anecdote about how ordinary Americans could have made Humvees in Baghdad work better — if only they had been asked.

Yesterday, Owen West and his father Bing West had a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the little-notice and important trend of Sunni tribal chieftains signing on with the Americans against the Jihadis. Bing West was a Marine officer in Vietnam who oversaw combined-action patrols. His classic account, “The Village”, showed the strides the U.S. had made in counter-insurgency fighting near the end of Vietnam.

As for Owen West, the shirt-tale of the op-ed tells some of the story. “Owen West …is a managing director at a Wall Street bank and just returned from Anbar where he was a Marine adviser.” Unless you were a sharp-eyed reader, you probably missed the significance of this. That bio refers to a person who is a managing director on Wall Street, who in the midst of a bang-up year on the Street, left to serve his country in Iraq. Aside from his writing, West is a low-key guy. But let me tell you something. He was in my class at Harvard, a rower, and impressive to anybody who knew him.

We are fortunate to have people like Goodwin and West, who have every opportunity in the world open to them, and go off and serve their country. Unlike the rest of us who have spent the last five going on six years navigating the aisle at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, these guys have given something back to their country. And, now, with their talents and insight, they are continuing to contribute by influencing the discussion here at home.

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