Starbucks Honoring Veterans with Concert Shines Light on a Great Divide
By Brewster S. Rawls on November 10, 2014
In a recent New York Times column, Maureen Dowd wrote about how Starbucks and its president, Howard Schultz, have taken on the mission of supporting our veterans. Mr. Schultz and his company have organized the “Concert for Valor” being shown on HBO this Veterans Day. He is leading an effort to have other large companies hire more veterans. His family foundation has pledged $30,000,000 to support research on PTSD and brain injuries. Of course, Mr. Schultz and his company get great P.R. from all these efforts, but there is no reason to doubt his sincerity. What I found fascinating — but also somewhat disturbing — was the description of how Mr. Schultz came to be concerned about veterans. In 2011 he was invited to West Point to speak about leadership. He admits that before this trip he “had never even spoken to anyone in uniform.” To his credit, he admitted being embarrassed “looking back.” Mr. Schultz is 61, only two years older than I am, and he did not have a privileged upbringing. His father was a truck driver. Having grown up in a Navy family and having served in the Army myself, I am flabbergasted to think anyone could get into their late fifties without having had any interactions with service members - and then only in the context of being a celebrity speaker at West Point. What’s going on here? Here’s my take: For all the public acknowledgment we now give our military service members and veterans, there is a huge swath of our society for whom this is just an abstraction. They never served. Maybe a parent or grandparent did long ago (long ago now being World War II and Korea), but that is ancient history. No sibling, friend or schoolmate actually took the oath and put on the uniform. Many would certainly panic at the thought of their own children going into the military. During the Vietnam era, veterans and service members were spat upon, sometimes literally. That was wrong. Thankfully, we have moved beyond that shameful and embarrassing moment in our nation’s history, but sometimes I wonder if we have really moved as far as we would like to think. We talk about service being honored and respected, but for much of our society, especially among the affluent and educated, the sacrifice is someone else’s to make. Enjoy Mr. Schultz’s concert. It sounds like it will be a good one. And there is certainly nothing wrong with patronizing Starbucks. I do so myself - more than I care to admit. But on this Veterans Day let’s also remember that good words and warm feelings are not enough. We all have to be willing to do our part to protect our nation and defend the liberties we so frequently take for granted.