Discipline, direction, brotherhood—each of these attributes is what led a group of veterans who spoke at Clayton State last Thursday to join the military. Like many men and women, these individuals sought to do something greater with their lives.
"For someone who was 19 years old and undecided on what I wanted to do in life, it was the best thing that happened to me," said Terrance Demps, who served 24 years in the Marine Corps and earned his bachelor's degree in History from Clayton State in 2014.
Demps along with two other veterans shared their experiences in the military as part of Clayton State Library’s commemorative event, World War I and America.
Organized to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the nation’s entry into the war in 1917, the project brought members of the veteran community together with the public to explore the transformative impact of the First World War.
Other panelists included Marlon Collins, an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Army and currently a History major at Clayton State; and Allen Jimenez, who served 7 years in the U.S. Army and is currently a Business Administration major at Clayton State.
The presentation focused on three areas of conversation: the similarities and differences between why citizens joined the military during World War I versus why they do so now, race relations in World War I and race relations in the United States today and lastly, whether or not America should impose a democratic government on other nations.
All three panelists expressed that they had been trouble makers as young adults, unsuccessful in their first attempt at college and were looking to do something worthwhile. The panelists agreed that there were men who joined the military during World War I for similar reasons to theirs but also acknowledged the many African American soldiers who joined for a different cause.
Collins stated that some African American men at the time joined the military because they felt they needed to prove their ability, bravery and patriotism to their white Americans.
Demps spoke of the Harlem Hellfighters, a highly decorated African American infantry regiment during World War I, who joined the French military to escape the racial violence in Harlem, New York.
"African American soldiers during World War I fought three wars: the war for equality, the war for opportunity, and the war for the freedom of their nation," said Demps. "When you fight for something that is not materialistic, the true spirit of courage emerges."
Panelists and audience members discussed race relations in the United States then and now. They noted the hypocrisy of the United States to fight for the freedom of other nations during World War I, while still oppressing its people back home.
"Our country is still dealing with hypocrisy when it comes to race," Demps said. "Until we get past race as a country, all the other issues are going to be elephants in the room."
Jimenez emphasized how important it is for people of all races and backgrounds to focus on their similarities before their differences.
"We can learn so much from everyone's differences, but we first have to focus on the basic things that make us human," he stated. "Knowledge builds unity."
To end, the panelists spoke on whether or not the United States should impose democracy on other nations.
They agreed that the United States should address the issues at home first before trying to change government systems in other countries.
The veterans also stated that the U.S. has to respect the wishes of countries who do not want America to interfere with their policies.
"Everyone doesn't want democracy. Everyone isn't used to a democracy," stated Demps. "We have to protect other countries, but that doesn't mean nation building."
Jimenez pointed out the difference between helping other countries and trying to control their government systems.
"We do a lot in these foreign countries for the citizens' basic needs," he stated. "When you see these people are lacking things like plumbing and basic technology, you realize there are more important things than just being Team America."
The presentation and discussion are part of two-part event sponsored by Clayton State, the Veterans Resource Center and the Student Veterans Association. The second presentation will take place October 25th and will focus on women and war. Clayton State students, faculty and community members are invited to attend.