Posted tagged ‘US Military’

The Appropriateness of Participation

June 10, 2014

The Appropriateness of Participation

April 2012

There is a fascination among Americans today that they want to participate, or feel like they are involved.  This desire seems to be without consideration of (1) what it signifies and (2) its appropriateness.

I recently flew from Honolulu to Atlanta on business.  After landing a solemn flight attendant announced in a trembling voice that today’s flight was special.  The cargo hold contained the remains of a Marine Corp Corporal.  He was recently killed in combat in Afghanistan and was being transferred home for burial.  The deceased’s wife and her mother were accompanying his body.  The passengers were asked to remain seated and permit them to disembark first, continuing their journey unimpeded.  This respectful gesture seemed a small something I could offer to a suffering family for their loss in safeguarding my freedoms.

After the aircraft completed taxiing and opened its doors, a junior enlisted Airman rose from her seat.  Clad in her formal Class A Dress Blues, she hurried forward with her mother.  She looked in her mid-20s, tired, sad, almost haggard.  Beneath red eyes her face seemed set to accomplish the heart-wrenching task before her: burying her husband.  After several rows, scattered and then a full applause filled the aircraft.  Service members, especially junior enlisted members, generally receive the “thank you for your service” from civilians awkwardly; to them, this is just a job.  She seemed very uncomfortable with the attention and sped, just short of a run, off the aircraft.

I looked around bewildered.  The applause seemed congruent with welcoming troops home from combat, eager to see family and familiar comforts; its presence clashed horribly with reality: this was a funeral procession.  Her presence under these circumstances implied pain, loss, and a solemn task best left for late in life.  The applause seemed as inappropriate as a standing ovation while a widow approached her husband’s casket at church.

I ask, why did the passengers applaud, a term that by its very definition means approval or praise1?  Was this because of the awkwardness they felt just sitting there?  Perhaps it was what he or she felt was the right thing to do?  If we offer the parents of a screaming child moments of quiet dignity on a flight, can we offer it to a grieving spouse?  Perhaps the question best question to ask is: what does the widow want in her moments of grief?  If in doubt, perhaps the best thing to do is nothing.

1. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

A Time for the Somber

May 1, 2013

I wrote the thoughts below in the days after Osama bin Ladin was killed by US Special Forces.  My original thought was to publish it soon after the emotional noise passed.  I have since grow concerned about the level of publicity being focused on the inner workings of covert US military units, especially the US Navy Seals.  Clandestine special units work best when they are just that; however, this does not exclude the absolute necessity of civilian oversight.  I am disappointed by the recent spate of books and movies that add a romanticized Hollywood spin to the harsh truths of that profession’s actions.   The opening moments of Spielburg’s epic movie Saving Private Ryan, offered an unvarnished look at combat’s brutality to both the Greatest Generation–who fought–and those that have followed.  We seem to be losing the humbleness that generation has shown us in the pursuit of profit.  “Nobody wants to fight, but someone better know how,” is a quote from long ago.  When we must, it should be short, focused and decisive.  These are my thoughts as the second anniversary of his death approaches.


May 3, 2011

I watch the news with a mixture of confusion.  There are celebrations by the uninvolved, criticism from usual corners and passing praise from political enemies, the bravado of those not involved garnering recognition.  I read the words used to describe the killing of Osama bin Ladin.  I hear the fashionable contemporary phrases of “9-1-1” to reference the horrific events in fall 2001 that forever altered my generation.  I watch government officials, describing with astonishing forthrightness, operational details and capabilities in apparent efforts to show transparency.

The unvarnished story is not glamorous.  The US deployed a venerated clandestine team to accomplish a difficult task within a defined set of parameters across international borders.  This mission included the capture or killing of a specific individual.  He was shot, his body removed and buried.

Elaborations to fill airtime and hyperlinked articles will embellish this thread.  These will be furthered by news agencies striving to stay current and be relevant in today’s society.  A new phrase or two will be grasped upon by audiences who crave details with the instantaneous sense of understanding provided by social media.

Are we collectively seeking the meaningful details?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which his body, a man violently ideologically opposed to the US, was cared for.  “A society can be measured by how it treats its dead,” it was once said.  If the United States wishes to lead by American values, the respectfulness and sensitivity shown to honor the Islamic traditions is noteworthy.  Irreconcilable debates will ensue over its exactness by an unsatisfiable few.  I wonder what the moderate majority sees?

It is not what we do when it is easy, but rather when hurt and in a position of strength, that shows our true mettle. Practicing these values when convenient to “win hearts and minds” is shallow, hollow.  If American values are cherished, are they ingrained in our actions, our intentions, as a whole?

In a world of violent games, graphic movies, and instant connectivity, what has the gravity of this action imparted to us?  Were our actions consistent with our stated aims and our values?

I believe yes.