MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – “You can’t be neutral on a moving train” is a famous quote, and the title of a memoir and documentary about the life of author, historian and activist Howard Zinn.
What this means is that things are happening all around us, and everything in life is moving in a certain direction. In the Air Force, we see force shaping, raising of the enlistment age and the countless other changes happening daily. We also currently see the events unfolding in Gaza and Iraq, the crisis at our border, social and economic inequality. All of these things affect us, whether we care about them or not, and to not be informed or have an opinion on these things is to follow the status quo, an often times dangerous path, especially in times of moral crisis.
Elie Wiesel, who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald concentration camps, knows all too well what neutrality means in a world filled with moral, political and social crises. He said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
One could take this rationale as a false dichotomy, or black and white thinking. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” This isn’t the case. The bystander is not equally as guilty as the tormentor or oppressor, but a world full of bystanders wouldn’t exactly be considered a beacon of morality or progress.
This is also something Air Force leaders take seriously, especially in regard to sexual assault and harassment. Classes like bystander-intervention training teach Airmen the importance of being a good wingman and stepping in when they see another Airman being mistreated.
In matters other than sexual harassment, such as in politics and current affairs within the Air Force, being informed is a critical component. I urge everybody, whether in uniform or not, to read up on contemporary issues from a multitude of sources and viewpoints, and think critically about them.
Democracy cannot properly function without well-informed citizens who care about what’s happening and are willing to stand up for what they believe.
Take, for instance, the recent outrage from veteran’s organizations, retired service members and many lawmakers when a 1 percent cut in the cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees under 62 was announced. When enough veterans, service members and advocacy groups spoke out against the cut, lawmakers quickly moved to repeal the cut, passing it almost unanimously.
In this case, if all those veterans and retirees would’ve just stayed neutral by not reading about these issues or standing up for their convictions, they would’ve followed the status quo, meaning those retirees would’ve likely lost their benefit.
So be an active and informed member of society. Don’t just hop on the train without knowing where it’s going or why. We all have to live in the world and in the Air Force, so why not be a positive force and have a say in where the train is going.