In 2013, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) established an annual Veterans Day lecture to honor General Josiah Bunting III, a charter member of AHI’s board of directors.  For the ninth lecture in the series, AHI is honored to present Brigadier General (Retired) Michael R. Eastman.  He speaks on “Understanding Today’s Veterans.”

General Eastman, a 1991 graduate of the United States Military Academy, was deployed overseas in four major military operations: Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Spartan Shield, and Operation Inherent Resolve.  In trying to “recalibrate our collective thinking” about today’s veterans, he draws on his extensive service as a commanding officer, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.

General Eastman contrasts the experience of the post-9/11 veterans with those who fought in the major conflicts of the twentieth century. He underscores the “moral and intellectual confusion” that resulted from the more recent unconventional conflicts in the Middle East.  United States soldiers fought enemies not clearly defined, often working in the shadows from within the ranks of the troops themselves.  The uncertainty and indiscriminate nature of both the mission and the enemies’ attacks, their randomness and impersonality, took a heavy psychological toll.  General Eastman’s lecture also has much to offer on how we should treat our veterans as they transition back from the battlefield to civilian life in the United States.  In 2021, he was named executive director of the ETS Sponsorship Program, an organization “dedicated to assisting active duty service members of all branches in their transition from military to civilian life.”

General Eastman appeared as a featured speaker this summer in AHI’s Washington Program in National Security (WAPONS), which offers a select group of undergraduates the opportunity to engage with some of the best thinkers on and practitioners in the field of national security.  AHI thanks the program’s director, Dr. Juliana Pilon, for helping to arrange General Eastman’s participation in the lecture series.

General Josiah Bunting, for whom the series was named, served as an infantry officer in Vietnam with the Ninth Infantry Division. He received the Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Honor Medal–2nd class, Presidential Unit Citation, Parachute Badge, Combat Infantry Badge and Ranger Tab. Subsequently, he taught history at West Point and at the Naval War College. He served as President, Briarcliff College (1973-1977); President, Hampden-Sydney College (1977-1987); and Superintendent, VMI (1995-2003). He published four novels, including The Lionheads (G. Braziller, 1972), a best-seller that was selected by Time Magazine as one of “The Ten Best Novels” of 1973.

Veterans’ Day honors American veterans of all wars.  The commemorative holiday grew out of the end of World War I and the armistice that called a halt to the hostilities, signed in 1918 on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”  Veterans Day succeeded Armistice Day.  It recognized the obvious:   that World War I was not, as many had hoped, the great war to end all great wars. And so, in 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law Congressional legislation that traded the name Armistice Day for Veterans Day and broadened the purpose of the commemoration.