On November 14, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain delivered the keynote address at Penn Law about the importance of military values and civil civic discourse.
The event, titled “United We Stand: A Discussion with William M. McSwain, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,” was sponsored by the Penn Law Veterans Club as part of the Law School’s Veterans Week programming. McSwain, who supervises a staff of approximately 130 Assistant U.S. Attorneys as the U.S. Attorney of one of the largest districts in the country, talked to law students about his four years of experience in the Marine Corps as well as his career in government afterward.
Penn Law’s Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger opened up the keynote with an introduction of McSwain, highlighting his career in both the private and public sectors as an example of how a lawyer can do both at the highest level. McSwain worked as a partner at private law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath prior to his appointment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2018.
In his keynote speech, McSwain talked about the significance of Veterans Week as a time to honor and acknowledge those who serve or have served in the military. He pointed out that Americans are united in their support of veterans across the partisan divide, according to a recent Pew Research poll that found 80% of Americans said they have confidence that the military will act in the best interests of the public.
“In an era of a lot of divisiveness, the public’s confidence in the military is, I think, stronger than ever,” McSwain said. “This level of support is a remarkable thing and it’s one we shouldn’t take for granted.”
At the same time, McSwain also emphasized the need for Americans to strive for better civic discourse, embrace core military values like honor, courage, and commitment, and ask hard questions to themselves as well as others. McSwain used the recent event of comedian Pete Davidson apologizing on Saturday Night Live to Republican Congressman-elect and veteran Dan Crenshaw as a good example of civil, respectful interactions that he said the country could benefit from more of.
“Are we willing to enter a real discussion about the problems that we face, or are we just satisfied to be entertained by people shouting on talk shows? Are we willing to really listen to views different from our own, and give holders of such views a real chance to speak?” McSwain asked the audience.
McSwain credited his time in the military for teaching him the core personal values he tries to live out daily, and for inspiring him to be a better person. As a Marine, he was often responsible for leading other more experienced soldiers, including during his deployment in the Persian Gulf. He recounted one particularly memorable moment in Jordan in which his platoon played a prank on their new leader by putting a heavy cinder-block into his backpack. However, McSwain carried it without a word throughout their hike to their destination, setting “a blistering pace” for the rest of the group. This moment, he said, was a key bonding moment that allowed him to prove himself to his fellow soldiers.
McSwain closed his remarks with an emphasis on preserving the unity of the country even in the current political climate.
“There is more than unites us than divides us,” McSwain said. “We’re united by a commitment to recognize right from wrong. Let us listen to one another, choose our words carefully, and rise above the temptation to behave otherwise.”