“Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.” — General Douglas MacArthur
General Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1880 and ended his earthly sojourn on April 5,1964. He was a five-star general in the United States Army, field marshal of the Philippine Army and supreme allied commander of the Pacific Front during World War II.
Following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, MacArthur served as the supreme commander of the Allied Powers in Japan during which time, he directed that country towards a new political regime for five and a half years.
General MacArthur was credited with the stunning 1950 victory at the Battle of Inchon during the Korean War. Although he was one of the most controversial figures in American history, General MacArthur was viewed simultaneously by many around the world as both admirable and repulsive. He is the most decorated military officer in the history of the United States of America.
In his farewell address to the U.S. Congress on April 19, 1951, General MacArthur stated: “I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away.’
“And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.”
I can vividly recall, as if it was yesterday, a 1960s Life Magazine edition that featured the general’s contribution to modern history, recounting his distinguished, albeit controversial, military career.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — like General Douglas MacArthur, at the end of their years of public service, do we allow our Bahamian “old soldiers” to just fade away?
Bahamian old soldiers
There are many Bahamians who, in the face of enormous adversities, valiantly fought to develop the modern Bahamas. Most of them, like Sir Milo Butler, Sir Lynden Pindling, Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, Sir Randol Fawkes, Sir Clifford Darling, Sir Kendal Isaacs and Paul Adderley, to mention a few, have gone too soon.
We are fortunate that other old Bahamian soldiers who were signatories to The Constitution – The Bahamas Independence Order, 1973 are still with us including Arthur Hanna, Sir Arthur Foulkes, A. Loftus Roker, Sir Orville Turnquest, George Smith and Philip Bethel.
We would be remiss not to recognize the enormous contributions to national development that also were made by members of the then ruling United Bahamian Party (UBP), notwithstanding their adherence to a philosophy that propagated and perpetuated a Bahamian form of apartheid, albeit not of the sadistic South African vintage. Included among those old Bahamian soldiers are Sir Stafford Sands, Sir Roland Symonette, Sir Geoffrey Johnstone and Eugene Dupuch. Their contributions must not be diminished.
The wisdom of their experience
We habitually make the mistake of allowing our national “old soldiers” to fade away without deliberately seeking the wisdom of their experience.
I remember speaking to a newly appointed Free National Movement minister after the general election of 2017, querying whether he was briefed upon assuming office by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) minister who preceded him.
The new, first-time member of Parliament and minister responded in the negative.
I further inquired whether he thought it was advisable to seek out the former minister. To my disappointment, the new minister responded that he had no intention of conferring with his predecessor.
In contrast to this behavior, it is well-known that two veteran former prime ministers often conferred with each other on matters of national importance after succeeding each other.
These two former prime ministers recognized the wisdom of seeking the counsel of each other’s experience.
There is invaluable insight to be gained in drawing on the experience of those who have previously served to understand the context in which decisions were taken by ministerial predecessors.
Such actions demonstrate a degree of maturity and confidence in seeking to comprehend exactly how public policies were determined. It also recognizes that public policies are not developed in a vacuum.
Unfortunately, there is a general perception that newly elected and appointed Cabinet ministers rapidly adopt an attitude that once appointed, they automatically and miraculously become omniscient about their portfolios.
All too often, elected members of Parliament and appointed Cabinet ministers sincerely subscribe to the theory “Ad victor spolia” — that is, “to the victor go the spoils.”
This attitude often results in newly minted Cabinet ministers making careless and unnecessary missteps and mistakes.
It has been this author’s profound good fortune to often speak to some of the “Bahamian old soldiers”, including Sir Arthur, Roker and Smith, to understand the historical contexts of decisions taken while they were in office.
I always leave such encounters with a deeper sense of the historical and social background of public policies adopted when they served our patrimony. Others would be well advised to follow suit.
Our society’s overall failure to regard with respect and honor those who have labored to build our Bahamas, regardless of any political affiliations, after they have left the front lines is a systemic problem.
By allowing our old soldiers to virtually disappear into silence, our country is undeniably deprived of precious experience that could help to guide us to greater accomplishments.
This behavior demonstrates an overall disrespect for work done, time spent and lives dedicated that is often dictated by the loud braying of political animals who thrive only on the thrill of victory, never considering that by sending the defeated out “to pasture” we are wantonly wasting precious national resources.
The time is long gone to rectify the shortcomings of the past, relative to some of those who superlatively contributed to our national development.
However, it is never too late to do the right thing for those still with us.
The moment has now come for us to do that right thing and provide those who contributed so valiantly to the development and growth of our Commonwealth, the honor and dignity their actions so richly deserve.
As a country, we should find a way to permanently acknowledge and recognize those old Bahamian soldiers who gave so much to so many for so long.
We seem to lack the ability to say, “Well done good and faithful servant of the people; thank you for your service” and to uplift them and their contributions to the patrimony during its infancy.
We should encourage all newcomers to public life to take advantage of the wisdom of their predecessors who hold public office, learning from their successes and from their failures.
Equally, it is critically important to fully appreciate that those old Bahamian soldiers who are still with us have much more to contribute to our national development.
We need to create a comfortable climate for candid conversations so these veteran nation builders can inform us about their life experiences and share their unique understanding of The Bahamas, regardless of their political stripes.
While they are still with us, let us proactively continue to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
If we fail to do so, like General Douglas MacArthur, we would forever regret that they would just fade away – and take their vast knowledge with them, leaving us poorer and our nation devoid of golden opportunities to realize its full potential.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.