Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Some reflections on being told by the guy at the base front gate that I should ‘smile’

Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on March 28, 2016.

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Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on March 28, 2016.

By “Clare Voyant”
Best Defense guest pissed off columnist

 

Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on March 28, 2016.

By “Clare Voyant”
Best Defense guest pissed off columnist

It’s one of those weeks. You know the kind. You roll into the office hours after your eyes first crack open, you’re desperately behind on caffeine intake, your coffee may be strong enough to burn a hole in concrete, you have 12 things that need doing an hour ago, and here you hand your ID to the gate guard.

And then, for the second fucking time this week, some guy says, “Hey, you should smile!” Followed by a summary of the great stuff that smiling will cause.

What, nobody’s taken the liberty to suggest to you that you’d be prettier if you just changed your facial expression before? How would you take that? On a semi-weekly basis some weeks?

Here’s how I take it:

I think you should go eat shit, but you don’t see me going around saying that to everyone it applies to. I’ve got a demanding mission to support, a ton on my mind, more meetings than hours to have them, not enough time to care for my own interests after those of my subordinates, hardly the time to stop and collect the milk that gives my infant life, and after all that I’ll turn around and do the work of being a parent, a spouse, a family member…

…but yes, let me also be concerned about being visually pleasing to some random fuckwit checking badges this morning. Because that’s important. And rather than hold up traffic to pull out the riot act and read it emphatically, I move on to more important things.

Do not mistake my intent. This isn’t about looks. I put on a uniform so I look like everyone else, so I don’t stand out. I do that on purpose. This is not about safe spaces. I’ve never spent a day feeling that there is such a thing in this world and that’s why I’m comfortable with the Army mission. I am here to do work. Judge me by my presence, my effect, my competence — and go right ahead and be afraid of what I’m capable of. I don’t give a single fuck what you think of my face. I can do the work that needs doing just as soon you leave me the hell alone to do my job.

I am no less crude and filthy in the field, no less subject to any given Army regulation, and no less comfortable with violence than you are. So why the fuck should I smile while nobody cares what you do with your face? I’d love to be a fly on the wall where someone tells a male officer that he’d be more attractive if he just smiled already, or how much more pleasant it would be to sit across from him at this meeting if he were smiling. I’m sure he would take it as exactly the compliment it’s intended to be as well.

“Clare Voyant” is a female Army officer, probably someone you know. Think twice before you fucking tell her to smile, OK?

Image credit: Sabbian Paine/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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