Letter: Educating our children for peace

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Asheville is a unique place. There are many people and groups in our small corner of the world who participate actively in the caring profession and make themselves visible in promoting justice and peace at home and abroad.

Walking my dog here and there, I discover how many young people are either working in the caring profession or attending college with the goal of entering the caring profession as a nurse, teacher or some field of healing. Add to this the numerous retirees who volunteer their time for worthy causes.

Even more visible are many groups advocating for peace and justice. The Veterans for Peace vigil every Tuesday at Vance Monument, and other groups such as the Physicians for Social Responsibility, WNC4PEACE and Just Peace for Israel/Palestine offer various kinds of activities inviting us to participate in the great work for peace and justice in the hope of creating a better world for our children.

Let’s support the local activists and religious groups who continue to shine a light in a prophetic manner and call us not to destroy, but to bring out what is best in our society and the world — to honor the sacredness of creation reflected in mature spiritual religions.

We have become a fearful country “measured” by our relationship to weapons and guns. There is a connection between our reliance on wars abroad and guns at home. This is reflected in our active or passive support of the “militarization of our country and our youth” in high schools. The war mentality has not and will not secure our happiness. It blinds us to the common good of humanity. Is this our legacy for children?

Militarization brings fear and distress that diminishes our collective capacity for the true and the beautiful. Our military responses result in permanent “undeclared” wars and a global military presence in over 100 countries as well as the militarization of our police and our youth in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs in high schools.

I say “no” to the militarization of our youth in our public schools. We can do better than that with the ideals that reflect peace. Alternatives to JROTC can be found throughout the country that build self-esteem and aid positive educational goals better than the JROTC program; perhaps not as exciting to young students, but powerful in the effort to bring a better understanding of good citizenship, reconciliation, creativity, respect, empathy and compassion. In short, this would invest in our highest ideals.

The United States always has all the money it needs for wars and weapons, but never enough for public schools, low-cost housing, universal health care — values that can “Make America Great Again!”  We can choose to become a beacon of hope to the world, welcoming refugees and a demonstration of democratic values serving the common good.

Educational funding needs be increased for the needs of our children, not for a political ideology. The military does not encourage freedom of thought, love of others, equality and the common good of humanity. This is a huge topic, as it reflects our way of life for future generations. Should the Army subsidize high school soldiering? Or, would it be better to subsidize teachers’ ongoing education and badly needed innovations in schools to inspire positive values for more people, including teachers, parents and the general public?

The militarization of our youth reflects a lack of faith in the goodness of humanity mirrored by those who suggest school teachers be armed and concealed weapons be allowed in public places, including churches.

We the people can speak out and vote for a future in which our country will match our desire for guns with our moral restraint; our wealth with our wisdom; and our military power with empathy, truth, goodness, and beauty. One place to start is to support genuine conservative values by educating our children, supporting families and respecting all who are in need.

May we live each day gentle in words, compassionate of heart and generous in love.

— Ed Sacco



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21 thoughts on “Letter: Educating our children for peace

  1. Phillip Williams

    Mr. Sacco, You did a very similar piece to this awhile back – and again, I must ask you – WHERE is your evidence that JROTC programs are taking over the schools or have created some kind of militaristic culture or Prussian Junker military aristocracy that has no place in modern society?

    You present no data on how many students are enrolled in JROTC, how many go on after graduation to pursue military careers, or even how many schools actually have a JROTC program at all – or what service sponsors the program.

    Do you honestly believe there is no need to learn the art and science of leadership, the techniques of navigation and communication and fieldcraft or basic seamanship or search and rescue or firefighting or personnel recovery or first aid, etc etc etc etc?

    Or the principles of electronics or the military history of the USA? Or the value of knowing a little bit of how to get a collection of individuals to move and act as a platoon or a company, or a little bit of Flag etiquette?

    Some folks have a warrior spirit and a desire to serve our Nation in any number of ways – whether in the military or in law enforcement or emergency services – and the JROTC program helps in many cases to nurture and develop skills of good leaders and good followers.

    And until that day when we are all riding unicorns thru fields of roses and flatulating rainbows, I’d say JROTC and College ROTC have their place, and your argument doesn’t make any sense at all unless you can support it with some facts.

    • ed

      Thanks for you response, Phillip. Please read my comments carefully. I did NOT say that JROTC are taking over
      the schools. I said that our schools can do better job of educating for peace and justice with equal funding. Of course this would require over time a complete overhaul of our educational system.
      I do think, though, that the celebration and glorification, and the economic dependence on the military has corrupted our democratic system.

      • Phillip C Williams

        Mr. Sacco – I read your article carefully – and one statement that stood out was the following: “The military does not encourage freedom of thought, love of others, equality and the common good of humanity.”

        How exactly is one supposed to interpret such a remark? I suggest you try selling that notion to men like my Papaw, who slogged across France, Belgium and Germany in 1944-45. Better yet, sell it to the “guests” at Dachau, which he helped to liberate – and he was one of thousands.

        After being caught with our britches down at Pearl Harbor, “The Military” as you refer to them, decided to offer a junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at the high school level.

        Your article, for all its passion and flowery words about love and generosity and how much “better we are” than whatever, doesn’t offer a single scrap of information about the status of JROTC programs in Buncombe County’s or WNC’s high schools! You don’t say how many schools have JROTC, you don’t say what branches of service sponsor the at the various schools, you don’t say what it costs, nor who pays the costs.

        You don’t tell how many students elect JROTC (yes – it is an ELECTIVE, not a REQUIRED course!). No – all you do is make foolish generalizations about “The Military” and those who serve, thinly veiled in sanctimonious praise of some utopian ideal that never will exist as long as humans are on the earth.

      • Phillip Williams

        Mr. Sacco – I did read your article quite carefully. The broad, overarching theme of the whole thing is “the militarization of our youth in public schools”, and the implication is that JROTC ought to be replaced by other education that concentrates on non-military endeavors.

        One sentence of yours stood out in particular. You said – verbatim: “The military does not encourage freedom of thought, love of others, equality and the common good of humanity.”

        I would suggest that you try and sell that notion to those men and women who have served in combat and fought for the man or woman on their right and left.

        It would also be interesting to see how my Papaw would have interpreted your comment, after having slogged his bloody, weary way across France, Belgium and Germany, losing his friends, one of his brothers, and his own health along the way.

        I wonder how the guests of the Third Reich at Dachau (which Papaw helped to liberate, and still had nightmares about many years later) might interpret your overall remarks.

        Also, you still did not address anything about facts and numbers related to JROTC programs. No, not one.

        You only imply that too much is spent on those programs with relation to other programs. You don’t say how many JROTC programs exist in the US, in North Carolina, or even in Buncombe County.

        You don’t say where they are, how many students are enrolled in them (JROTC, by the by, is an ELECTIVE – not a requirement, unless one is attending a military school), how much they cost, which branches of Service administer or sponsor them, how they are funded, or how many students go on to serve.

        Your entire article is long on emotion and personal opinion – but entirely devoid of facts.

  2. Big Al

    I am a veteran of nine years service, including combat arms, medical, airborne and armor. I have observed cadets of both college ROTC and JROTC as I have presented awards to them from civic organizations.

    Collegiate ROTC cadets are well-rounded, well-educated and empathic professionals who represent the BEST of our society. Your comment that “The military does not encourage freedom of thought, love of others, equality and the common good of humanity.” is IGNORANT and unfairly biased.

    JROTC is a pitiful joke. No threat there, either of causing harm or benefit, so save your outrage for real threats, like the elitist sense of entitlement inspired by too many athletic and cheerleading programs.

    • Phillip Williams

      I am an actively serving Army officer with 31 years combined enlisted and commissioned service. I didn’t go to college ROTC – got a “direct commission” in 2001. I did 4 years in Naval JROTC at Pisgah High School in Canton – and found my JROTC experience to be valuable later on. It was pretty weak the first couple of years – we had an alcoholic retired Naval aviator as the instructor – he kept running off the enlisted assistant instructors. But he was replaced in 1981 with 2 Marines and the program was great afterwards.

      Some junior programs may be a pitiful joke – but some have a serious and effective focus on academic, athletic and civic excellence as well as military science…The Asheville High USMC program was no joke when it was run by the late Colonel Alfred Thomas. It depends on the program and who is running it.

    • ed sacco

      Big Al,
      Did you notice that I did not express outrage, but offered a suggestion that we give equal funding
      to more peaceful endeavors But, it does seem that your comments were more more direct in criticizing
      JROTC: not encouraging freedom of thought or love from one other. That’s a huge failure of humanity.
      And, I’ve had contact with JROTC highs schoolers and even had a letter in MountainS expressing my admiration at their intelligence and understanding. I also know military officers who hare impressive in their knowledge and foresight. Most oppose our warming political policies…..

  3. jason

    Ed Sacco,

    I respect your opinion, but I also disagree wholeheartedly. You should spend a day in a JROTC class. You assume that the primary objective of JROTC is to train kids to be killers. You couldn’t be more wrong. JROTC offers so much more for at risk kids who may not have positive role model at home and need structure in their life. Often times, JROTC offers a future that these kids may not have. Believe it or not, not all kids are college bound. There are many paths for kids to take and not all of them involve rainbows and unicorns.

    • ed sacco

      Thanks for your response, Jason.
      Evidently you did not read my previous mail when I expressed admiration of
      JROTC students who I found intelligent and well grounded. I just think the educational
      system can do better by including a curriculum on peacemaking etc.

  4. Stan Hawkins

    I am not a veteran, but have often wondered just where the “grit” comes from for a young man or women to step up and serve their country? Where does the confidence and courage come from to lead a group of warriors in to battle, or stand guard on democracy? Where does the self-less acts of bravery come from? Where does the strength of character come from?

    Your comment that “the military does not encourage freedom of thought, love of others, common good, and equality” is simply not backed up with facts. We can debate the wisdom of foreign entanglements through the ages, yet in our democracy it is the political leadership who bears the responsibility for the investment in military priorities. Your debate seems to suggest that we should somehow hold responsible the JROTC or R.O.T.C. recruits, participants, and leadership for what? As my grand pa used to say, “hogwash.”

    Please explain how we can expect our public school system to “support genuine conservative values?” Where does the “grit” come from when everybody gets a trophy, a certificate, a diploma, a $50,000 college debt, and yes a membership in the “collectivism of modernity” that professes a plan that we will make it up as we go in the name of “progress?”

    Waving signs is one thing, and we have the right to a peaceful protest in this country because of the few who chose and now choose to step up. Yet, we live in a broken world and there are those who would destroy us at the drop of a hat. True conservative values teach us this very real threat, and celebrate that the only thing that separates us from such an outcome is God Almighty; and the determination, character, and grit of our young men and women. Amen!

    • ed sacco

      Thanks for your response Stan,
      Sure wish I could understand your comments better. You see, I believe that forsaken the Peace of Christ for
      materialism, the idolatry of wealth, greed, & warmaking.

      • B.E. Vickroy

        Mr. Saco – Please answer the questions submitted by Mr. Williams. And as for ”forsaking the Peace of Christ….” Among the scriptures one might chose, please consider Matthew 7:21-23 …”……And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ It is NOT a violation of Christ’s teachings to defend the defenseless – with more than words. Nor were the military who defeated the vicious, LAWLESS ”ISMS” of the 20th century, ”war mongers”, as you seem to imply. Conflating the valor our our military with ”materialism, idolatry of wealth, & warmaking” is not only shallow logic, but shameful. Finally, may I suggest that each of us needs to open our hearts [through Bible study & prayer] to a stronger and more joyful fellowship with our LORD, as a path to peace?

        • ed

          Hey, B.E.
          This kind of communication is new to me, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. And I appreciate your citing a specific, although partial Bible quote. However, me thinks it is blasphemous to use God to justify our man-made wars. Check out Matthew: the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and the parables of Jesus. “What you do to the least of these you do to me…..”
          It appears you agree that “We must accept killing children and innocent men and women because it is necessary good & needed to support our way of life that creates wealth and power……
          I’m not sure what William’s question was. By the way, your talking to a cradle Christian who willingly served his country in Korea. Who needs God when we have the greatest military force on the face of the earth. And recognize we are troubled and still feel insecure.. May we spend our days compassionate of heart, gentle in words, gracious in awareness, courageous in thought and action, and generous in love.

          • B.E. Vickroy

            E.S. How do you get ”it appears you agree that “We must accept killing children and innocent men and women because it is necessary good & needed to support our way of life that creates wealth and power……” out of any of my comments?
            Re: in your ”cradle Christian” teachings did you get the many parts about the fallen nature of humanity? As to ”man-made-wars” there seem to be quite a few wars that were supported by GOD in the OT [in which many innocent people died]. Can’t imagine that HE would not approve of the war to defeat Hitler.
            Rather than playing ”dueling Biblical citations”, let me repeat the END of my comment- ”may I suggest that each of us needs to open our hearts [through Bible study & prayer] to a stronger and more joyful fellowship with our LORD, as a path to peace. I doubt you can get a desire for or excuse of ”killing innocent children…..” out of ANY THING I have said, unless you want to and in that case, discussion is impossible.
            BTW 2 years ago today, in the midst of a heart attack, our LORD gave me first hand experience with HIS peace that is beyond our ability to comprehend. Not only life-extending, but life-changing.

          • Phillip Williams

            Mr. Sacco – Please read my comments carefully. In the very first sentence, I asked you “Where is your evidence?” You offer no facts or any information about the JROTC program either nationally or locally. You only imply that the focus in schools these days is disproportionately on the “militarization of our youth”.

            Lately, my observation, after 31 years of Soldiering, has been that most kids in high school and college today are not cut out for military service, are not physically or emotionally fit for service, are severely lacking in social skills, have no interest in their own history, and could not lead running water down a hill.

          • ed

            TO B.E. & WILLIAM–Still not sure how this responding works.
            B. E.– You seem to be stuck some 2-3,000 yrs or so ago as your story is too small — IS YOUR GOD TOO BIG ENOUGH? A LOVING GOD? A PUNISHING GOD? DOES YOUR GOD TAKE SIDES? If your a reader, Check out Rev. Paul Smith’s INTEGRAL CHRISTIANITY…or Bishop Spong, Richard Rohr, the Berrigan brothers Howard Zinn , Martin Luther King Fr., Gandhi etc etc…and the many documentaries…WHY WE FIGHT might be a good one as you can judge the decision makers by their own words.

            WILLIAM: You ask where is the evidence? Right in front of you, especially if you actively participate in trying to make the world a better place . Check out the many documentaries: WHY WE FIGHT is one of many.l There is a phrase that comes from the ancient mystics period that’s applicable today: “WAKE UP!”

          • Phillip Williams

            No good, Mr. Sacco. “Right in front of you” is no kind of an answer. It is a hackneyed cop-out, and an admission that you don’t know the answers to any of the questions I put to you. I am well awake – in fact, it is already 0830 here at sunny Fort Bliss, Texas, and I am getting ready to go to Church.

            I don’t see any JROTC folks here on Ft Bliss. I am not in WNC, so can’t answer for how many JROTC programs there are, who runs them, who funds them, how many participate in them, how many cadets go on into the service, etc. I did not fling down an accusation with no facts, so it is not up to me to fill you in.

            You say that our youth is being militarized – and you seem to say that this is being accomplished by the High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Where? How? Who?

            You don’t know and you can’t tell me until you can back up your theory with something besides your “feelings” and repeated flowery references to compassion, grace, gentility, etc.

            How about you do a little genuine research and come back and debate this with me when you can answer my questions?

      • StanHawkins

        It is real simple; if someone is waving a machete at me and ours and yours; I want people with skills who Will without hesitation defend life and liberty.

        I am glad to see you have adjusted your comments to advocate balance in our youth’s education and skills. A snowflake will melt under pressure; a trained defender of freedom will not.

        God used David to prove this point.

  5. Rachael Bliss

    Dear Mr. Sacco,

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote. At one time I met a sweet young man, but then what he learned in ROTC and active duty went to his head. Let our young people get involved in Jr. Achievement, Scouts, 4-H, Key Club. None of these groups require matching funds from our county or city school systems. Are the retired military teachers certified teachers? Couldn’t those funds we spend for military education be better used to teach peace, the humanities, horticulture, ethics? I think so

    Thank you for the courage it took to write this letter. We must conquer fear which is the main source of our affection for guns and war.

    • ed sacco

      Thanks Rachael,
      Wow this has interfered with my morning plans as I’m answering the comments.
      Interesting on the few I read, they seem to offer some agreement while being critical.
      Hope I’m responding correctly.

      • B.E. Vickroy

        Mr. Succo — To accommodate your ”inexperience” in responding to comments in this thread — please answer just one question.

        ** As regards one ”man created war” , do you think that responding to Hitler’s brutal aggression, fighting, and then defeating his minions was in violation of the ”Peace of Christ”? **

        Easy YES or NO question.

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