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No, stay-at-home protests do not ‘dishonor’ American veterans — in fact, they justify their sacrifices

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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

In a recently published op-ed for USA Today, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge argues that increasing protests among fed-up citizens are “selfish” and somehow “dishonor” American veterans.

As the coronavirus pandemic begins to wane in most of the country, there are some governors who are nonetheless extending their ‘stay-at-home’ orders.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, for instance, just signed an order extending her lockdown that was set to expire on May 7 another 60 days, to July 7. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has also signed an order extending the shutdown in his state until May 31.

The governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has his state on virtual lockdown until June 10.

In other states, governors have either sought to maintain current lockdowns or otherwise prohibit businesses within the state from becoming fully operational. The prohibitions — the arbitrary picking of winners and losers by designating some businesses as “essential” and others “non-essential” — has created a massive wave of unemployment that topped 30 million people last week.

Thirty million. And as lockdown orders continue, there is little doubt that more unemployment is occurring, leaving millions of people uncertain about how they’re going to pay their bills at a time when unemployment benefits are either insufficient or nonexistent.

The economic pain and the tyrannical way in which some of these governors — like Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Andrew Cuomo in New York — are behaving have led to a rise in demonstrations and protests from more and more Americans.

It’s understandable. Uncertainty breeds frustration and anger, especially when the actions — prolonged shutdowns — do not seem to match the reality on the ground.

Oregon and New Hampshire, for instance, are in the bottom one-third of states with coronavirus cases. The death rates are minimal as well, and yet the governors of both states just prolonged the economic agony and their citizens’ ability to recover more quickly.

So it’s no wonder protests and demonstrations against these orders are rising. But not everyone agrees they are a good idea, and that includes Ridge, himself a former governor (of Pennsylvania).

Here are excerpts (you can read the entire op-ed here):

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about my fellow veterans. Honorable men like Bennie Adkins. And John McCain. We carried the weapons of war in defense of our nation and our liberties.

In recent days, we have seen images of Americans carrying weapons as part of their protests to immediately reopen society. What are they planning to do, shoot the virus with their AR-15s?

These self-absorbed and selfish Americans complain they are irritated, anxious, bored, upset — unhappy that their lives have been affected by this temporary restraint on their freedoms. Some have even gotten into confrontations with nurses and other front-line health care workers who believe now is not the time to resume normality. 

As a veteran, I look at these protests with a different perspective and believe many veterans would agree. …

The point is this. Your country has asked you to forgo your normal personal and professional routine for a couple of months in the war against COVID-19. No question, it is difficult and sometimes feels unbearable as economic and emotional stress mount each day. But the pandemic in less than three months has taken the lives of more Americans than the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

The entire country is under siege, but you are not in the trenches of France, not gaining ground inch by inch in the Pacific, not slogging through the paddies and jungles in Vietnam, and not taking on global terrorists in desert warfare. And you are NOT prisoners of war. You are at home.

“Politics be damned,” Ridge continues. “No time for it now. We can sort it out later. Same team. Same fight. Let’s get on with it.”

Well, that’s the problem Ridge doesn’t seem to fully grasp: Millions of Americans are having a tough time ‘getting on with it.’ What’s more, they’re having a difficult time understanding why they’re being asked to continue sacrificing and enduring economic hardship, especially now that we know this virus isn’t the destroyer of planets we’ve been told it was.

But it was Ridge’s assumption that veterans, by and large, are somehow put off by protesters that really struck me.

We can debate the wisdom of showing up to these protests armed — the Second Amendment doesn’t designate when it’s ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ to bear arms — but what’s not really up for debate is the fact that Americans have the right to protest, period.

Also, no state order from any governor can or should circumvent protests; Americans have the inalienable right to address grievances with the government and to speak out so that our leaders hear us.

And do you know who defends these rights? Men and women in uniform.

I’m a combat veteran too, just like Ridge. I spent a year in Afghanistan in support of a route clearance battalion of combined National Guard and regular Army elements. Our job was ‘counter IED’ — to go out and find roadside explosives. Often, those roadside explosives found us first. We lost people over there, same as Ridge did in Vietnam, I expect.

But at no time did I feel as though my privilege — and that’s what it was — to serve my country in uniform should supplant my fellow citizens’ constitutional rights. Ever.

In fact, it was clear to me that while we were not in danger of losing America to the Taliban, we were nonetheless fighting to defend her from being attacked once again by people who abhor our way of life — who wouldn’t use the excuse of a pandemic to limit our rights, but who would simply take them away and impose their political authoritarianism on us if given the chance.

I can’t speak for all veterans and neither can Tom Ridge. But as one, I can say this: If we allow the incidence of a pandemic or any national emergency to strip us of our basic constitutional rights, you can bet at some point there will be people who will come along and use such incidents to try and take them away for good. In fact, there are already people in our own country plotting such schemes.

America’s military members sacrifice their own personal liberties to ensure that American citizens can keep theirs — even during a coronavirus.

Jon Dougherty

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