Friday, July 04, 2008

Breaking the Code

Yesterday the head honcho at [government agency redacted] where I'm currently under contract released the typical political appointee message for a national holiday. It ended with the obligatory paean to the military:

And I also hope you’ll remember all the men and women who have sacrificed in so many different ways to build our nation, especially including those who have given or risked their lives in the armed services.

Nice, but unremarkable. Why did it irritate me so much yesterday? We've heard these on every remotely applicable occasion, since September 11, 2001. What was different this time?

I've broken the code.

Asking people to remember those who serve in the uniformed services always leaves out one part: so I don't have to. Veterans never say shit like that. Their phrasing is more to the point. None of this And I hope you'll remember… Could it be any more mealy mouthed? If it wouldn't be too much trouble? If you think of it? Don’t put yourself out, but…

Too many people praise the military now as sops to their own nascent consciences about who serves and who doesn't. Let's call a spade a spade. Just once I'd like to see someone come clean and send out one of these:

And I want to praise all those brave men and women who allow our government to place them in harm's way so I –or my kid—can pursue an MBA (or play college sports or get likkered up on weekends or work the commodities markets). Thank God we'll always have people like that. It's hard enough making the decision to send them without having to worry about going ourselves.

One last thing. Today, of all days, take a look at the paraphrase on the masthead above. The next time you're debating someone about FISA and warrants and torture and freedom, remember Benjamin Franklin said all we really need to know about the topic two hundred plus years ago: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Happy Independence Day, and many more, for as long as we deserve them.

3 comments:

Runs With Scissors said...

When I was a professional camper with the Second Marine Division, I had parts of this written on my helmet camouflage cover. It is as appropriate today as when it was written; with one exception. To quote a Marine Corporal, “The American people have just changed the channel on us.”

Poem lyrics of Tommy by Rudyard Kipling.
I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

Runs With Scissors said...

The Knock on the Door
By George F. Will
Sunday, July 6, 2008; B07
"The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know."
-- Maj. Steve Beck,
U.S. Marine Corps
Sometimes Beck would linger in his vehicle in front of an American home, like that of the parents of Lance Cpl. Kyle Burns in Laramie, Wyo. Beck knew that, as Jim Sheeler writes, every second he waited "was one more tick of his wristwatch that, for the family inside the house, everything remained the same."
Beck -- now Lt. Col. Beck -- was a CACO, a casualty assistance calls officer whose duty was to inform a spouse or parents that their Marine had been killed. He is the scarlet thread -- like the stripes on Marines' dress-blue trousers, symbolizing shed blood -- that connects the heart-rending stories in Sheeler's "Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives." The book, which proves that the phrase "literary journalism" is not an oxymoron, expands the meticulous and marvelously modulated reporting that he did for the Rocky Mountain News and for which he received a Pulitzer Prize. His subject is how America honors fallen warriors.
More precisely, it is about how the military honors them. The nation, as Marine Sgt. Damon Cecil says, "has changed the channel." Still, Sheeler sees civilians getting glimpses of those who have sacrificed everything. The glimpses come as the fallen are escorted home. When an airline passenger, noting an escort's uniform, asked if the sergeant was going to or coming from the war, he repeated words the military had told him to say: "I'm escorting a fallen Marine home to his family from the situation in Iraq."
The situation. Sheeler:
"When the plane landed in Nevada, the sergeant was allowed to disembark alone. Outside, a procession walked toward the cargo hold. The airline passengers pressed their faces against the windows.
"From their seats in the plane they saw a hearse and a Marine extending a white-gloved hand into a limousine. In the plane's cargo hold, Marines readied the flag-draped casket and placed it on the luggage conveyor belt.
"Inside the plane, the passengers couldn't hear the screams."
The knock on the survivors' door is, Beck says, "not a period at the end of their lives. It's a semicolon." Deployed military personnel often leave behind, or write in the war zone, "just in case" letters. Army Pfc. Jesse Givens of Fountain, Colo.: "My angel, my wife, my love, my friend. If you're reading this, I won't be coming home. . . . Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone." To his son Dakota: "I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play together. . . . I'll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life." To his unborn son: "You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love."
The manual for CACOs says, "It is helpful if the [next of kin] is seated prior to delivering the news. . . . Speak naturally and at a normal pace." Sometimes, however, things do not go by the book.
Doyla Lundstrom, a Lakota Sioux, was away from her house when she learned that men in uniform had been to her door. She called the father of her two sons -- each serving in Iraq; one as a Marine, one as a soldier -- and screamed into her cellphone, " Which one was it?" It was the Marine.
Sheeler says that troops in war zones often have e-mail and satellite telephones, so when someone is killed, communication from the area is stopped lest rumors reach loved ones before notification officers do. "As soon as we receive the call," Beck says, "we are racing the electron."
When the Army CACOs came to the Arlington door of Sarah Walton, my assistant, she was not there. She rarely forgot the rule that a spouse of a soldier in a combat zone is supposed to inform the Army when he or she will be away from home. This time Sarah forgot, so it took the Army awhile to locate her at her parents' home in Richmond.
Her husband, Lt. Col. Jim Walton, West Point Class of 1989, was killed in Afghanistan on June 21. This week he will be back in Arlington, among the remains of the more than 300,000 men and women who rest in the more than 600 acres where it is always Memorial Day. This is written in homage to him, and to Sarah, full sharer of his sacrifices.
georgewill@washpost.com

Dana King said...

Runs,
I hadn't seen the Kipling poem before. That's a keeper, as is Will's piece.