I see the world when I run. The Marine Corps Marathon was held on Sunday October 26th. I registered to participate in April. At that time, I had just left active duty military service and was living abroad in Oman; I wanted to run this marathon to pay tribute to all the servicemen and women who serve their nation.
My training began on the beaches of Oman, a beautiful country. That there is a warzone involving the United States a thousand miles in either direction is hard to believe. Oman is a model of stability and civility. I learned a lesson in foreign policy while living in Oman: Democracy is not necessarily the only means to good governance. How do you measure happiness? Economic stability? Freedom of movement? Education and job opportunities? As I ran across the sands in the mornings and evenings I saw thousands of people (of all race and color) playing football together just out of reach of the surf. In the bustling mall and hotel complexes I enjoyed cuisine of diverse nations and immersed myself in an environment as multilingual and multicultural as any cosmopolitan city better known to western tourists.
The next stop on my marathon journey was Japan, where I stayed with family. This was perhaps a sentimentally appropriate place to train because the finish line of the marathon is at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial – commemorative of that infamous battle ground for US and Japanese forces in World War Two. My brother’s landlord was a young boy during the war, and now the two of them are friends. This period of my training gave me hope: that the horrors of war can be replaced with finer things given time and diligence.
With business school matriculation approaching I made my way back home to the United States and immediately became immersed in the main stream media issues of the day. Campaigning for the Presidential Election was in full swing and if I were to take front line articles at face value, the most important thing facing Americans was the price of gas. Would you believe that it cost me about ten US dollars (equivalent) to top off my rental SUV in Oman at the same time that gas was over $4 a gallon here in the US?
During this stage of my training I ran along portions of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. I reveled in the beauty of my country, and was inspired by the people I encountered who were continuing their way north for another 1069 miles. I had walked these trails years ago with my father when we learned I would be going to war. Returning here reminded me that being a citizen means being part of something larger than yourself. These hills were unchanged since the last time I tread their paths, but in the interim I had been overseas and gone through a profound maturation. Citizens have a responsibility to serve when called upon by their nation, the government in turn should take care to exercise that call to arms with care.
Race day was unforgettable for many reasons. Imagine over 35,000 people running through the nation’s capital, accompanied by enthusiastic crowds at almost every step of those 26.2 miles. Additionally, the aesthetics of the race route alone would have been enough to merit the race’s attempt: along the Potomac River during early morning mist, down the streets of Georgetown and tracing throughout the monuments to the base of the Capitol. What was eminently more inspiring than the environment or edifices was the occasion when I was passed by a wounded veteran competing in a wheelchair. Sometime later when on a long incline, fellow runners spontaneously moved to his assist during the steepest of the uphill portion. I witnessed what that man, like so many other men and women in the armed services – sacrificed for his country.
The number one issue facing this country is that we are at war. The current financial crisis is a profound tragedy to be sure. But like moths attracted to light, we focus on the credit crisis at the expense of the war at our own peril. If a person is mugged at knifepoint, I imagine the imminent loss of wallet, while distressing, is probably not as forefront in their mind as the potential of dying. Our nation is battling for survival – yet we do not give the same sense of urgency to the wars we are fighting as to ephemeral domestic concerns. Though press coverage of the wars may come and go, let there be no mistake in anyone’s mind that our military, over one million strong, is stretched thin fighting a two-front war.
The election is upon us. As I ran the last mile in Sunday’s marathon, uphill to the Iwo Jima Memorial, I realized that no single issue is more important to the United States and its relevance on the global stage than the outcome of the wars it is embroiled in. I urge the next administration to reinvigorate the national debate on how to end these wars responsibly. And if you still need to cast your vote, please reflect on whom you think can lead this country in a time of war. The query is not hypothetical.