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Dr. James N. Miller

In an era where it increasingly seems as though "might makes right" we found comments by a Waterloo-raised career defense official last week refreshing and noteworthy.

James N. Miller, a 1977 graduate of West High School, who has served under four U.S. secretaries of defense in a career spanning more than 25 years and has twice received the Defense Department's highest civilian medal, was the keynote speaker at the Waterloo Schools Foundation's Sparking Academic Excellence Breakfast.

In an interview, Miller maintained solid public school education also is a key part of national security.

"The opportunity for public school education in the United States is one of the most important enablers of our economy, even of our democracy," said Miller, noting his five children, in high school college and graduate school, all have attended public schools. "I think everyone who cares about the future of this country ought to care about the state of our public schools.

"I had the greatest opportunity, growing up in Waterloo, Iowa, to have excellent public school teachers, great support from the schools and the community. That really has been foundational for everything I've been able to do professionally -- a combination of that and the support of my family. That's what it's all about."

He learned his first foreign policy lessons in the history class at what was then Hoover Junior High School; about research and analytical procedures in chemistry at West; and about teamwork and mutual respect on the tennis courts for the Wahawks.

"I can think of literally dozens of teachers I can refer to," Miller said, with an overriding message, particularly from his family and longtime West tennis coach Bill Lane, of fair play and doing the right thing.

"Acting in a principled way is not a sucker's game," Miller said. "It's not just the right thing to do -- which it is -- but it produces the best results over the long term.

"The foundation of it all, to me, is family," and family support, Miller said. "I had this opportunity, from being read to as a youngster; great public schools; a comfortable, safe home. And high expectations," not to be channeled into a specific vocation, but to do well.

"If you look at the human capital of this country and how our public schools shape that human capital and enable our children to succeed and compete in a global economy and produce people capable of succeeding and innovating in today's and tomorrows economy. It's fundamental to me. It's foundational to national security as well."

Miller is now president of Adaptive Strategies LLC, a consulting firm, and is a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab and Harvard University's Better Center for Science and International Affairs.

We agree. America's greatness does not come from the size of its arsenal but by the breadth and character of its collective consciousness -- our ability to aspire and inspire to do great things, not only in the area of technological achievement, but in raising the quality and standard of life for everyone, not just for this nation but for humankind -- including the concept that every living soul has value and deserves respect.

As venerated newsman Edward R. Murrow once said, "We can compete, and successfully, not only in the area of bombs but in the area of ideas."

James N. Miller realizes that, and people from Waterloo should be proud to claim him as one of their own.

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