Dear Students, Instructors, and Parents:

 

In 1989, I was an advisor to the Fullerton College version of Tracers, a play that reflected on the effects of the Vietnam War on its vets. I have written a Memorial Day message every year since. In each annual message, I explain why I made that commitment and why I feel that it is important to make it relevant to our time and how we vets contribute.

 

While it is certainly true that Memorial Day was designed to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by all vets, I feel that vets have sacrificed and still do sacrifice in many ways for their country. My concern is that focusing on the loss of life does not reveal the contributions of all vets, so that is what I prefer to address in each message.

 

Last September, Ken Burns produced a PBS series on the Vietnam War. In that series, he portrayed the significant change to our culture due to that unique event in American history. Soldiers were not the only agents of change. There were also domestic and political change agents. As a result, we now live in a social and cultural environment that influences all Americans—young and old, those of different races and ethnicities, those of different economic status, and those of different political orientations.

 

I believe that we, the Vietnam vets, have played an important role in that paradigm shift and therefore may be able to offer valuable insights needed for a better America. The Vietnam vet holds a unique place in American society. Due to the traumatic events portrayed in Burns’s series, the Vietnam vets were often ignored, reviled, or even castigated by their fellow citizens. That did not happen after previous wars, although the Korean Conflict (war) was also unpopular. As a result, many vets felt injured psychically.

 

Once that issue was brought to the forefront by various means—the media, the entertainment industry, etc.—the public treated vets from “Desert Storm” with honor. That was a gut punch to many Vietnam vets. While it was the right correction in the treatment of vets in general, it became an impetus to the polarization of our American culture. There were societal polarizations. There were racial polarizations. There were political polarizations. This all led us to the America of today. It was the “us and them” mindset. It was the “haves and have-nots” mindset. It was the isolationist mindset. It led directly to the “Make America Great Again” solution.

 

When considering all these effects, many wondered if there could be another way? I think so. I think that this is where the Vietnam vets, if not all vets, can make a great contribution. The Vietnam soldiers were the last to face the draft. Because of the disruptive issues noted above, politicians felt that the creation of the “all volunteer Army” was the right solution. That may not have been the right answer. As I have mentioned in many previous essays, I am not in favor of war. Yes, it is necessary to have a well-trained military to be prepared for the defense of the country. Certainly, an all voluntary military does provide for that need, but it only focuses on combat effectiveness.

 

I feel that the draft offered a greater benefit. As is I see it, the draft requires that all members of our American society take personal responsibility for enjoying the great benefits of being an American. It forces a diverse population to work together, especially those members who may never have known another sector of the population before. It forces former societal strangers to work together. Above all, it creates an understanding of another’s point-of-view. Of course, those are ideals, and it does not work in every case. Nevertheless, at its best, it has brought about significant positive social and cultural changes.

 

It is my personal belief that we need to find ways to come together and not split apart. Did we forget our guiding motto of e pluribus unum, or “from many, one?” As so many do advocate the following of the Constitution, then its unity vision becomes important. I know that many martial art classes focus on technical training and sporting aspects. That is not our school’s orientation. We feel that our students must embrace the original American ideas—self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, indomitable spirit, and unity. I believe that all those virtues are a key element in military training. Therefore, martial art training must, by definition, mean military.

 

If we project those ideals into our American society at large, then we can move forward together. We must, as vets, assume or re-assume our roles as protectors of our American way of life. When I was studying cultural anthropology, our professor compared societies to watercraft. He said that a dictatorship is like a beautifully rigged sailing ship, and a democracy is like a raft. In a severe storm, the sailing ship breaks up and sinks. On the other hand, the raft, while seemingly ungainly, flexes and bends to weather the storm. Likewise, a diverse society can weather social storms—only if bound together. Even in the world of MBA studies, it is well documented that a diverse company is agile enough to handle a broad range of business challenges.

 

On this Memorial Day, I encourage all Americans to honor our American vets by valuing their many contributions, both in and out of military service. Let every Memorial Day stand for more than mourning the loss of life. Honor them by preserving an America that each defended. Do that by remembering and living a life that brings our country together instead of one that tears our country apart. I believe that all vets, living or dead, believed in a country that was founded on e pluribus unum. Why do less?

 

Respectfully,

 

Jack L. Amsell

Chief Instructor


American Moo-Do Kwan
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