On the one hand, says Admiral William H. McRaven, who ended a 37-year career as a Navy SEAL serving as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces, we shouldn’t overthink the Fourth of July. On the other, he sees it as an important day to consider the uniqueness of the American experiment: the long-lasting, but often imperfect, balance of the Constitution, the rule of law, tradition, and decency.
Admiral McRaven’s military bona fides—he’s often credited with rewriting the book on special operations tactics and, later, playing a crucial role in tracking down Saddam Hussein and overseeing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden—make him an indispensable voice on not just the holiday but what patriotism means in politically divided times.
Over the years, Admiral McRaven also hasn’t been shy about sharing what he’s learned about leadership. Prior to his three-year run as chancellor of the University of Texas system, he gave a 2014 commencement day address to the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin about the lessons of his Navy SEAL training. A video of the address went viral, and last year, a book based around the speech—Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World—became a number 1 New York Times Best Seller.
Our conversation for The National Podcast of Texas, recorded Monday in Austin, touches on the core principles outlined in the book, but also covers the differences between patriotism and nationalism, America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants, and why McRaven remains as hopeful as ever about America’s future.