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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

'Four dead in Ohio'

UPDATE: Read Col. Allen's commentary on the Fort Hood tragedy.

As an African-American youth growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, my first exposure to the U.S. military was during the Hough riots of 1966, when a National Guard soldier was stationed on my block and an armored troop carrier was positioned in the vacant lot next to our apartment building.

The next time was during the Glenville riots of 1968. In both cases, I viewed the Army as protecting my family from the civil unrest that was rampant across the United States and which found its way to my town. I was not aware of the social turmoil that spawned the riots but was more concerned for the safety of those I loved during those weeks of violence. In my young eyes, the military was the protector in a society gone mad.

It was two years later when that image of protector was shattered. On Monday, May 4, 1970, I was a high school freshman, sitting in an English class, when the news broke of the National Guard firing on college students at the nearby Kent State University. You may remember the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young chorus, "Four Dead in Ohio"-- I certainly do. The protectors were thrust off the pedestal upon which I had placed them and that positive image was shattered.

Each year, I tell these stories to our new students at the U.S. Army War College. They have experienced tremendous appreciation and support from the American public and its elected representatives. Our officers are uniformly grateful for that support. As the Harvard study suggests, the respect the military has engendered has been extremely positive relative to the other institutions in our society.

Lest we get too smug and full of ourselves, there are two things that our military must always remember: who we are and who we serve. The two stories I related above show how the trust the American people place in its military is as fragile as it is precious.

Our oath of commission has us swear to "protect and defend" and to "bear true faith and allegiance." I took this oath in June 1974 at the base of the statue of George Washington at West Point. I had faith then and do now that our military will earn that trust by continuing to be an institution of people who willingly place the good of our society above personal interests.

This is what the American people expect of our military leaders and its service members. It would be a mistake to take the respect that our citizens currently have for the military for granted. Trust and respect for the military hinges on the extent to which we remain worthy of it, and that is no secret.

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  November 5, 2009; 1:43 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Standing and delivering | Next: Ft. Hood reveals hidden wounds

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I was a mother with a nearing draft-age son at the time of Kent State. Had he turned 18 and been drafted, I probably would have sadly let him go.

After Kent State, I never saw either the war (or any subsequent war) as being justified to the extent that our own Armed Services would kill its own young.

After Pat Tillman's death and the subsequent discovery of friendly fire and its aftermath cover up, I have decided that, for me, supporting our Armed Services comes with a heavy price of serious distrust overall.

Posted by: limpscomb | November 6, 2009 6:46 AM
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I have 2 complaints re the military:
1) I am opposed to the military-industrial complex that has built up since WWII, about which General Ike warned us in his 2nd inaugural address (I think it was), and 2)the military has become the political tool of the conservative extreme right. It is time to turn to a major emphasis upon peace-making and we need to reduce military self-justification, as illustrated at the death of Pat Tillman, in which the Army just did not tell the truth--military personal put careers ahead of truth--while trying to use the former NFL player turned soldier to promote military purposes & politics.

Posted by: kitwaywashingtonpost | November 5, 2009 6:28 PM
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Sadly, Colonel, you can't expect any more serious commentary on this site anymore than "Count" posted. It's a sad day for the Army, with the shootings at Ft. Hood, but the Army is our first line of defense.

Thank you for your service then, and for your teachings now.

Major Confusion

Posted by: MajorConfusion | November 5, 2009 4:13 PM
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Dear Colonel, I was in college at the Univ. of MD when Kent State happened. And to this day, to me, there is a really big difference between real Army and the local folks who are in the National Guard. The difference was very wide in 1970, but it is less so today since these Guard troops are getting deployed to real theaters of conflict and not college campuses.

Posted by: MikeV2 | November 5, 2009 3:10 PM
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