I retire as Executive Director of AFA June 1, turning over my responsibilities to a worthy successor, David L. Gray. This is my final editorial as Publisher of Air Force Magazine. Thus it is time for a bit of traditional “end-of-tour” reflection about what has been achieved in the 1980s — and about the job yet to be done.
Significant among these reflections is the change Congress agreed to make in our charter in 1982 — deleting the adjective “war” from our “war-veteran” member requirement. This seemingly minor change expanded significantly the composition and the future course of our Association and added substance to our classic mission.
Prior to enactment of this legislation, at least seventy-five percent of AFA’s members had to have served during active conflict. The change made it possible for thousands of young veterans without war service to affiliate with AFA and share its objective of preventing future wars through prudent strength and constant readiness. It underscored the importance of the peacetime military mission of deterring wars and preserving the peace. And it accentuated our responsibility to perpetuate the vital body of knowledge about national security and the employment of military force through a never-ending process of learning and teaching and learning and teaching.
A basic constitutional mandate of our Association is “to educate ourselves and the public at large in the development of adequate aerospace power” for our nation’s security and for the benefit of all mankind.
This tenet of our Association flows from the legacy of our founder, General of the Air Force Henry A. “Hap” Arnold, through our first President, General Jimmy Doolittle, and all succeeding AFA officials. This is important, for it is aerospace power that provides or denies global access, either for good or for evil. We cannot ignore the implications of this basic fact if we would protect our freedoms and our security.
All too often, our Association as well as our fellow citizens, our government, and our educational system default in our responsibility to educate ourselves and our successor generations on the importance of this overarching aspect of our nation’s strength. We ignore the lessons of history; we fail to appreciate the dynamism of research and development; we try to understand and rationalize inimical forces through reflections in our own mirror; we want to leave tough decisions to others — electing to be observers rather than participants in our vital security interests.
Accepting these “teaching-learning-sharing-doing” responsibilities of our Association and of basic citizenship is difficult. But notwithstanding the difficulty, it is a task that we must accept if we are to avoid inferiority and oblivion experienced by other effete societies that just couldn’t be bothered with the responsibility of vigilance.
It is not easy to sort out the real issues of defense from the bumper-sticker slogans and parochial jingoism that surround us. It is not easy to educate ourselves and convince Congress that the best and most reliable guarantee of peace with freedom is real, relevant strength. It is extremely difficult to keep up the morale of our military forces and keep their combat capabilities honed to an edge when we know that the more successful we are, the less chance they will ever be used. It is difficult to create an understanding of the danger to our national security in advance of coercive aggression or a military attack — and then it may be too late.
The most difficult of all these tasks will be that of convincing and inspiring our fellow citizens of the necessity to take actions in advance to defend and protect our political freedoms before they are put in jeopardy. Solzhenitsyn gave us the most prescient admonition I have ever read when, in The Gulag Archipelago, he wrote: “Free men do not know the value of things!”
As difficult as these things are, the best chance of success in all of them lies in serious, responsible education — not just academic exercises, but practical education based on experience, common sense, and involvement in the learning-teaching-learning process. Education, however, is not the answer if it is abstract and ill-founded.
That’s where we come in. Within our Association, we have an unmatched wealth of experience and wisdom in security issues, military knowledge, and international understanding. It is our responsibility to teach and learn and teach some more. It is our civic obligation to our successors to see to it that the education they receive in our schools is adequate to prepare them to lead our nation in the future.
As I terminate my tenure as your Publisher and retire as AFA’s Executive Director, I urge my fellow members to accept their obligation to the education of our nation — for themselves and for our fellow men. Let’s get involved and stay involved. An educated and motivated population is the first step toward avoiding national ruin and is the sine qua non of our survival.