- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This ran as a comment a few days ago. I think it is a powerful meditation on personal sacrifice in public service. If you missed it then, read it now. If you read it then, please do so again.
This subject goes to the heart of all I (now) believe. I’m wrong to spit anger your way.
Brotherhood and respect for the Fallen are two very romantic notions that I believe in fully, but I still question them. I’m afraid these days that I question just about everything. My notions when I was a young Midshipman are far from where I am now. Hell, I even voted for Ronald Reagan twice. In my twenties, I quite enjoyed one year when I received 4 pay raises: annual COLA, promotion to Captain, going over 4 years, and a Reagan COLA kicker. I look at politics and economics differently now.
The profession that you are about to enter is an honorable and, dare I say, very enjoyable one. But as you progress, you will view things differently. Maybe you won’t question things — you state that you will subjugate yourself to the government. But to subordinate yourself totally and blindly to the actions of said government is to denigrate yourself. Hogwash to think that everything your government does is the correct thing. If you so believe that, you have lost all your undergrad education to wasted time.
I do not advocate government overthrow, but I do plead for citizen and soldier participation in formulation of legal, moral and honorable actions of the government. I won’t preach to you about the sins of the last decade. Whether the USA was correct or not in wars upon Iraq and Afghanistan is yours for personal analysis.
I saw wrong when I stood at the upstream end of TSA one day with tears in my eyes watching my son walk away never to be seen alive by his mother and me again. Some in this forum say I wear my heart on my sleeve, because of my personal loss, in my comments. No, my son’s signature is tattooed on my right bicep for all the symbology that is probably obvious with that. My heart on my sleeve is for my country and our lost way since 9/11/01.
I understand the essence of brotherhood — I served 7 years on active duty as a USMC officer. I hated the Iraq War, but allowed pride of service to guide me as I watched my Marine son walk toward combat. I understood that he had to follow orders; I would expect nothing less of him. I didn’t protest the war until he died, out of respect for him and his platoonmates, many of whom I had already met and today treat like sons. Afterwards, I took to the streets (literally) and joined the failed attempt to stop the Iraq war. As it was, the war drifted off to some "honorable" withdrawal, nearly 3,300 American KIA’s after my son later. For what was it all for I will continue to search and reflect until I die.
It was not foreseen in 1997, the year my son enlisted, that the USA would be committing itself to multiple ground wars in Islamic countries. I have in-laws who still spout shit: "He signed the papers himself didn’t he? He knew what he was getting into didn’t he? He wasn’t drafted was he?" Superficially, these inane comments are true. But, in my opinion, none of us signed up for Executive Branch stupidity. Blindly following immorality is not service or courage, it is stupidity.
Politics, professional soldiering and parenting ARE all pushed together. We live in that world. I hope you can incorporate that notion in your future studies. Love is hard. Strange to see those two words in the same sentence but it is true. And there is nothing selfish about demanding that the country shows the same duty and honor and service as does the soldier.