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Col. Smith discusses war
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U.S. Army Col. Rickey E. Smith talks during his Veterans Day presentation on the importance of studying war to prevent future wars. - photo by Bethany Porter

McMinnville’s Noon Rotary Club held a special Veterans Day program on Thursday.

U.S. Army Col. Rickey E. Smith was the special guest speaker and the Warren County High School award-winning Pioneer Battalion JROTC was in attendance to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. 

“Some people say you study it therefore you must want to have war and nothing can be further from the truth,” said Col. Smith. “But if we don’t study it as the best means of preventing it, we will face it more often. We also need to connect the military community with the civilian population to preserve the warrior ethos and to make sure you understand why we fight in your name.” 

Smith began his military career in 1978 at Fort Sill, Okla., and quickly moved up to higher levels of command. He served as an assistant inspector general at VII Corps headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany from 1988-1990. He assumed command of 2nd Battalion, 2d Field Artillery in 1994. He compiled an impressive record in analyzing and re-engineering laser target seeking and tracking procedures throughout the Department of Defense and was later appointed chief of the Nuclear Treaties Branch of the Nuclear Arms Control Division, J-5, with the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. 

Smith has decades of academic study and military experience and focused on the careful analysis of war as a means to prevent it as well as the need to provide context and connection in order to connect with the military past the Veterans Day presentation. 

Smith explained how the American military has often been unprepared for war due to either wishful thinking or a failure to consider war’s political and human aspects.

“There has been a tendency in the United States to confuse the study of war and the study of warfare with some militarism, but clearly thinking about war and preparing for it is really necessary and the best way to prevent war,” said Smith.

He quoted George Washington saying “To be prepared for war is the most effectual means to promote peace,” in order to support his point.

“This is not a new issue, but it is one that continues to come back and in some ways haunt us in patterns in military history,” said Smith. “We are known for being unprepared.”

Smith said that before World War I, many prominent voices such as Jan Bloch and Norman Angell thought that war had become irrational as a means to settle disputes and that sensible people would never fight one again. He also said Orville and Wilbur Wright believed the invention of the airplane would bring an end to war, but they were clearly wrong. 

The inventor of the machine gun, Hiram Maxim, was even under the wrong impression about his invention and war. Smith said when Maxim was asked if his invention would increase the human cost of war, he replied that the weapon would make war impossible.

“As it comes to find out, not only did it make it possible, it made it more lethal and more deadly,” Smith said. 

Smith also spoke about the importance of connection. He said that in our democracy, if society is disconnected from an understanding of war or is unsympathetic to the warrior ethos, it will be hard to maintain military effectiveness and difficult to recruit young men and women into military service. Smith said society needs to know that veterans do not want to be disconnected. 

He then listed five things from Chaplain Norris Burkes from Pew Research Center that veterans think members of society need to know to better be connected.

• We don’t like war. We never seek a fight, neither will we cower to one.

•Sometimes we feel alone. Less than 1% of the U.S. population has served on active duty in the last 20 years.

• Thank us, but do not worship or pity us. The draft ended 40 years ago so more recent veterans have all chosen to serve.

• We are not all crazy with PTSD. Only 37% report PTSD, but that does not mean they cannot cope. We are learning to adjust. The majority have returned without being physically wounded or without losing someone in their unit.

• Veterans believe our training and experiences give us a leg up. 

Col. Smith’s Veterans Day address to the Noon Rotary Club will air Friday, Nov. 12 at 11:10 a.m. and 11:10 p.m. on public radio WCPI 91.3. The half-hour program will be on the air again Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 1 a.m.