“I thank God that I was born to the gridirons of the Middle West and not to the battlefields of Europe.”
— Nile Kinnick, remarks to the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City, Dec. 6, 1939
Like many Iowans, my Hawkeye football pre-game routine includes a visit to the statue of Iowa’s only Heisman award winner that towers outside the south end zone of the stadium that bears his name.
This weekend was no exception, but as I stood alongside Kinnick’s 20-foot bronze likeness, it wasn’t reclaiming Floyd of Rosedale or continuing Iowa’s improbable climb in the college football rankings that occupied the space in my mind. With Friday’s Paris terrorist attacks not yet 24 hours old, I was struck by my surroundings.
Iowans, as far as the eye could see, were eating, drinking, listening to music, hanging out with friends, and looking forward to forgetting about the stresses of life for a few hours while cheering on their beloved sports team. In other words, Iowans doing the very things thousands of Parisians were doing when terror struck.
Standing there, Kinnick’s quote flashed in my mind. It is one many Iowans know by heart and serves as a stark reminder of the reality of his times and of the changed reality of our times. The battlefields have changed.
Today, we are the battlefield. Not just where we live, but how we live. Yes, this battlefield was forever changed on Sept. 11, 2001, but Friday’s attacks, though a continent away, strike at the heart of all free people and western civilization.
How do we respond as Americans, as Iowans, to this changed battlefield, beyond changing our Facebook avatars or tweeting out #PrayersforParis? In Iowa, part of answering that call means engaging in the presidential Caucus process and demanding candidates answer tough questions about their national security principles and policies.
In less than 11 weeks, Iowans have the privilege and bear the responsibility of initiating the process that will produce America’s next commander-in-chief.
In recent presidential debates, a leading Democratic candidate for president cited climate change as America’s most pressing national security concern, while some Republican contenders advocated policies that ranged from allowing Russia to lead in Syria to dramatic drawdowns of foreign engagement all together. One of the campaign’s strongest voices on national security and foreign policy was not even invited to participate in the most recent Republican debate.
All this comes at a time when, according to Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, “the next president will confront the most varied and unstable national security threat matrix of my lifetime.”
It is against the backdrop of these threats that Iowans must take the lead in vetting our presidential candidates to ensure they are prepared to lead. Throughout history, Iowans have answered the call and shouldered responsibilities far beyond our borders. That time has come again.
It was Iowa that sent more of her sons per capita to fight in the Civil War than any other state in the Union. It was an Iowan from Cresco named Norman Borlaug who sparked the Green Revolution saving millions of lives around the globe. It was Iowa, under the leadership of Gov. Bob Ray, who first opened America’s doors to refugees fleeing religious and political persecution in Southeast Asia.
And it will be Iowans, understanding of our rich history and unwilling to accept the new normal of these changed battlefields, who must lead the way to make sure the next leader of the free world understands the stakes and is prepared to lead from day one.
Matt Strawn is an Ankeny businessman and serves as a national advisor to Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security (www.peaceprosperitysecurity.org). He served as chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa from 2009-2012. Contact: email@example.com