Guest opinion: What is becoming of our democracy? |

Guest opinion: What is becoming of our democracy?

PJ Falten
Park Meadows

One of the most terrifying moments of my early life was the night I sat alone on the starboard catapult of the USS Saratoga waiting my turn to launch. I had already flipped on my exterior lights signaling the catapult officer that my jet engine was roaring at 100% and I was ready to go. Thankfully, this “cat” officer was very experienced. He knew when to touch the deck, initiating the sequence of events sending me hurtling down the flight deck from zero to 150 knots in 2.1 seconds. That particular night the Saratoga was operating in unusually heavy seas. When I close my eyes, I can still see the bow spray breaking over the bow and landing on my canopy. As unnerving as that was, I had faith in the catapult officer. He knew how to time the ship’s movement. He launched me into the black void when the bow was pointed down towards the angry sea. Theoretically, and in practice, if the catapult officer knew how to time the ship’s motion, the deck would be rising as I reached the end of the “stroke.”

Back then, during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, aircraft carriers were one of many deterrents that kept the Soviet Union in check. Today, I realize how ancient I am. There are at least two or three generations that cannot relate to nuclear brinksmanship. I mention this only because of the stunning contrasts from the ’60s and ’70s to today’s headlines.

Attached to that catapult, I could always rationalize my choice of careers by saying this small effort on my part was keeping the United States safe while promoting democracy around the world. My airwing lost seven airplanes during that deployment. Several of my friends did not return. Down in the squadron ready room we used to laugh at Russia’s Premier Brezhnev and his attempts to suppress freedom within the Soviet Union. Every one of the 5,000 crewmembers aboard the Saratoga knew we were supporting a just cause … democracy.

In recent weeks, those of us who were interested enough to fully grasp what is happening across our beloved nation witnessed a coordinated dismantling of the democracy we have taken for granted.

Once again, I am old enough to remember sitting in front of my parents’ black-and-white television watching the network news broadcasts. Since I lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I distinctly remember having trouble relating to the problems Black people faced in the southern United States. I stupidly watched and wondered why they had to march for equal rights. What were segregated schools and busing? It all came crashing home when I was in high school and visited South Carolina. That is where I saw a sign over the water fountain plainly stating, “Whites Only.”

The parallels I witnessed in the Soviet Union as a young man sitting on that catapult and the recent changes meant to suppress the right to vote in many of our states beg the question:

Was it worth it?

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