Susan Shaer: My uncle, the veteran, and his shoebox of memories
My uncle sifted through cracked, black and white photos of soldiers. Uncle Rob was in a rehab hospital, slowly fading. The photos were his buddies from World War II. A shoe box that held these photos and medals was practically the only thing he brought with him to the hospital.
The nurse told me it was common for older patients to reach into their distant past for memories they cherished. It was curious to me because he had never talked about his days in the war, nor his friends from that era. Now, he could recall each one’s name, hometown, hair color, and laugh.
My uncle and I rarely agreed on anything political, but we both enjoyed the banter and ribbed each other about our candidate choices. It was a familiar rift, not a hostile one. The year was 2001. 9-11 had not yet happened and George Bush was president. When Uncle Rob was not talking about his long-disappeared friends, he encouraged me to reconsider our new president.
“Well, I’m concerned that he would use nuclear weapons,” I said. That stopped Uncle Rob cold. And then he looked at his war photos and shook his head. “Unacceptable,” he said. “We weren’t trained for that. Fight, yes. Die, maybe. But a nuclear bomb would get us all. Allies, enemies, animals, land, everything. It just wouldn’t be fair.”
As we honor our veterans this Veterans’ Day, we embrace the prospect that the U.S. Senate will a strong step toward ensuring that many of the world’s nuclear weapons are never used. New START, a treaty between the U.S. and Russia, should be voted on before the end of this post-election Senate session. In September the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved New START with bipartisan support. Now the treaty is ready to be considered and voted on by the full Senate. The original, fifteen year-old START treaty, initiated by Ronald Reagan, expired in December 2009. For almost one year, there have been no on-site inspections of Russia’s large nuclear arsenal. New START must be promptly ratified by the full Senate in order to reestablish inspections. This is vital to a transparent and stable relationship with nuclear – armed Russia.
As a veteran, my uncle, patriot to his dying day, and honoring his fighting partners, knew without question that using a nuclear weapon would be wrong. Therefore, it should be no surprise that New START has the unanimous support of the United States military.
It’s not just the military that supports the treaty. The Senate heard testimony in favor of the treaty from Republican national security heavyweights like James R. Schlesinger, George Shultz, James A. Baker III, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. An open letter in support of the treaty was published from 30 former national security officials from both political parties – including Colin L. Powell, Frank C. Carlucci, Madeleine K. Albright, Chuck Hagel, and John C. Danforth.
Immediately after this midterm election, the President announced his support for the post-election session to approve the treaty. “This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue, but rather an issue of American national security I’m hopeful that we can get that done … and send a strong signal to Russia that we’re serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also send a signal to the world that we’re serious about nonproliferation.”
The recent election demonstrated a clear desire by voters for bi-partisanship. New START would be a huge step to show the country that Republicans and Democrats can work together for the good of the country and the world.
The United States Senate can validate veterans with this vote. I know my Uncle would love to know that the country he and his buddies fought for understands that ratification of New START is good for American security, improves international stability, supports the fighting soldiers, and makes the entire world safer.
Susan Shaer is executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions, WAND, a national peace and security organization that supports the New START Treaty.