Of all the good and bad that America endured as a consequence of the Vietnam War, there was one redeeming teachable moment and principle that emerged which made America a stronger and greater nation. After living through the last month in America, another teachable moment and principle have emerged, one America has to absorb and incorporate for future American progress.
When the American soldiers returned home from World War II in 1945, they were greeted as heroes in the United States. Cities and towns across the country held parades to honor the returning veterans and recognize the sacrifices they had made. But the homecoming was very different for most Vietnam veterans returning home in the 1970s. They came back to find the United States torn apart by the debate over the Vietnam War. There were no victory parades or welcome-home rallies. Instead, most Vietnam veterans returned to a society that did not seem to care about them, or that seemed to view them with distrust and anger.
By the 1980s, however, Americans began to change their views of Vietnam veterans because a teachable moment and principle had emerged. The teachable moment that occurred to Americans that disagreed with the Vietnam War, was that it was wrong for them to blame soldiers for fighting in a war that they didn’t support. After all, these were men doing a job they were trained and ordered to do. The soldiers did not start the war, nor did they order themselves to go fight and possibly die in it. The principle that emerged was, “hate the war love the soldier.” Now several states have established a day to honor or “welcome home” Vietnam veterans.
Out of all the stress, disgust, inconvenience and fear that over 800,000 American government employees have gone through, a new teachable moment and principle must emerge! Within the last month, American government workers whose jobs are to make our lives safer, healthier, and easier to manage are experiencing things like Quashawn Latimer a furloughed federal worker fighting stage 2 cancer with no paycheck, had her family facing a heartbreaking decision, whether to pay the rent or pay for her chemotherapy-related expenses.
“Worst-case scenario, we lose our home,” said Latimer, who was diagnosed last summer. “I’ll be evicted and I’ll have to go stay with friends or family or something. That’s worst-case. Can’t negotiate with my chemo. That has to happen. So if it’s chemo or the rent, chemo wins.” Las Vegas-based Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent Julia Peters applied for food stamps and was approved. She said five of the eight other applicants at the benefits office were also TSA workers.
In Denver, three-quarters of the people who visited the Food Bank of the Rockies’ mobile pantry recently were furloughed federal employees, said Cait Barnett, a marketing specialist for the food bank. Don Cox, president of the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, said the nonprofit group had opened up centers at Coast Guard stations in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, helping to feed 500 to 600 Coast Guard families a day which is about double the typical demand. The New York FBI started an unofficial food bank for unpaid agents during the government shutdown, according to FBI Agents Association (FBIAA) spokesperson Paul Nathanson “I wouldn’t call it a food bank its agents and others in these offices taking care of each other in times of need.”
Or finally, Mallory Lorge, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, was forced to ration her insulin and look at her possessions to decide what she could sell to pay down her bills while she wasn’t receiving a paycheck during the record-long government shutdown. Lorge said she had two vials of insulin left in her fridge, but she was rationing them because she could no longer afford the $300 copay. Her blood sugar did rise to a high level, but she said she felt forced to ignore it. Instead, she went to bed. “When it gets that high you can go into diabetic ketoacidosis, you can go into a coma,” she said. “I can’t afford to go to the ER. I can’t afford anything. I just went to bed and hoped I’d wake up.”
All of this pain, suffering, and stress forced on 800,000 government employees by no fault of their own should create a teachable moment. They are hardworking people who show up for work every day and were punished for something they had absolutely nothing to do with! Like the Vietnam soldiers of war, these government workers are guilty of only doing the jobs they are asked to do, including for some following orders to show up to do work they weren’t being paid for.
Like Vietnam soldiers the work they do protects our lives, like Vietnam soldiers the work they do for us sometimes puts their own lives at risk, like Vietnam soldiers they are underpaid for the work they do making our lives possible, and so like Vietnam soldiers, the 800,000 government employees deserve to have a teachable moment emerge.
The teachable moment is that we learn that the government employees who perform the duties and responsibilities of government 1) are not responsible for creating what those duties and responsibilities of government are, they only perform them 2) should never be held accountable for disagreements between politicians that they have no power or authority over. In other words, they only do the job, they don’t determine if the job should exist, how the job should be done or how many people should do the job. Politicians who they work for, make those determinations. The employees only show up every day and perform the job according to the instructions given to them. The principle to emerge is, hate the government, not the people who work for it.
The hate the government not the people who work for it, principle and teachable moment should be formalized into law to stop the hate currently inflicted on the people who work for the government. Whenever there is a government shutdown all Senators, Congresspersons and their staffs continue to be paid. This should be the case for all government employees since their public service is just as important to American citizens as that of any Senator, Congressperson or their staff.
Its injustice at the extreme for the people, (Congresspersons, Senators and the President) who cause the shutdown to continue to be paid during the shutdown, but the government employees who didn’t cause the shutdown and can do nothing to prevent it, do not continue to be paid during the shutdown. A new law should mandate that during government shutdowns all government employees will continue to be paid even if the programs they work for are not, as is the case for Senators, Congresspersons, their staffs, and the President.
After witnessing the carnage this record-breaking longest-ever government shutdown has left in its wake, America must commit to a new principle and learn from this painful teachable moment. Never again should America allow non-elected public servants to bear the burden or pay the cost of a political argument. The same lesson we learned from the teachable moment in the aftermath of the Vietnam War applies here. Americans should never blame, fault or allow penalties on the people who are doing their job correctly, instead Americans should blame, fault and penalize the politicians who make the rules of the job.
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events. Drop by his website for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.
Originally published at isaacnewtonfarris.com on January 28, 2019.