Memorial Day: Separating the war and the warrior

This Memorial Day weekend I was taken away from my preoccupation with work and politics by the memory of my late brother-in-law. Dave Watson was a warrior. He had surgery to get into the Marines to get to Vietnam when many were finding ways to avoid the war. He was wounded and decorated. He bore the scars of war, both physical and emotional, for the rest of his life. Like many who fought, he was followed home by his war, and only truly found peace decades later.

Dave Watson receiving medal in his hospital bed from USMC Brig Gen JA Feeley, 1968

Along the way, Dave taught me an invaluable lesson. He taught me I was wrong. I was among those who didn’t like the war but never had to make a personal decision about fighting it. I sat in comfortable disdain of both those who got us into the war and those who fought it. Dave showed me how wrong I was. He taught me to separate the war from the warrior. From him, I learned the importance of respecting the warrior even if I did not respect the war.  I will always be grateful for many things Dave showed me, taught me and shared with me, but that lesson may be the most important of them all.

This Memorial Day, though, that’s a lesson we may need to relearn. Political wars shouldn’t be mistaken for real military wars, though one can lead to the other. But there are lessons that carry over. There are indeed political wars that need to be fought now. They may be the most important political wars of my lifetime. But along the way, our political life has been cheapened and threatened by our inability to respect the political warrior with whose cause we may disagree.

Over our history as a country, true change has come from coalitions and not just crusades. Real progress has come from diverse groups who made common cause on things that matter, even while disagreeing deeply about other things.  That is only possible when those fighting political wars respect the opposing warrior.

One of the best ways to honor this Memorial Day is to heed the recent words of Senator John McCain, a true warrior in both kinds of war.  I have disagreed with his positions on many topics (and Dave probably would have agreed with him on many), but now Senator McCain is calling us all to account.  In his new book The Restless Wave, McCain writes:

We’re citizens of a republic made of shared ideals forged in a new world to replace the tribal enmities that tormented the old one. Even in times of political turmoil such as these, we share that awesome heritage and the responsibility to embrace it. Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect, as so long as our character merits respect, and as long as we share for all our differences for all the rancorous debates that enliven and sometimes demean our politics, a mutual devotion to the ideals our nation was conceived to uphold that all are created equal and liberty and equal justice are the natural rights of all.

This Memorial Day, if Dave Watson were still alive, I can guarantee that he and I would disagree about a lot of political issues. And I can guarantee that we would be sitting down, cracking open a few beers, disagreeing loudly and talking and laughing. I miss him. I honor him. And I think about the lessons he taught me.

[Opinions in this blog are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of Nadler Strategy’s clients or partners, or those cited in the post. To share this blog, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to]

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