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Veterans Day: To regain trust, Congress should take a cue from US military

This Veterans Day, the military is one of America’s most trusted institutions; Congress is one of the least. Confidence in many public institutions is low because they lack a sense of duty, trust, loyalty, and teamwork – qualities US troops hold dear, and which all Americans can practice.

Commentary: Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Juliette Kayyem talks about the challenges of reintegrating America's war veterans.
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It’s Veterans Day 2012 and the US military is one of the country’s most trusted institutions. Seventy-five percent of respondents in a June Gallup poll either had a “great deal” of confidence in the military or “quite a lot” of confidence in it. By contrast, only 6 percent of respondents had a “great deal” of confidence in Congress, which finished at the bottom of the 16 institutions included in Gallup’s survey.

How is it that Americans have maintained deep confidence in our troops and veterans, while the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have become unpopular?

For a service members to become veterans, indeed, to survive their introduction into the military, they must immediately accept that they are part of a team. It is upon that team that military men and women entrust their lives. They must be prepared to put aside any lingering misgivings and follow orders that, by extension, come from the American people. Failure to get along is not an option.

At first blush, that level of trust may seem incomprehensible to many Americans – but it shouldn’t. It should sound familiar. Thomas Jefferson, in laying the contours of a new Republic founded and developed upon humanitarian ideals, wrote: "We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

When Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence he wasn’t just writing a creed for an all-volunteer army 200 years later, he was writing a pact. All Americans are a part of this pact. Our troops have rules in place to live that pact every day – but they don’t have to be the only ones that live that ethos. Any American can, and all of us should. Only 1 percent of Americans serve in uniform, but all Americans can live that ethos in their school, at their work, in their community center, and elsewhere.

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