Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Quote of the day: For what purpose would you need a combat rocking chair?

Answer: For a military chaplain to hold and comfort wounded and dying Iraqi children.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Pearce sits next to a young boy during a visit to Shiek Burhan Al Asee's house during a patrol of the Riyahd village in Iraq on March 8, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Pearce sits next to a young boy during a visit to Shiek Burhan Al Asee's house during a patrol of the Riyahd village in Iraq on March 8, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

“It was after that girl passed that he asked the Seabees, a group of military engineers, to make him rocking chairs, ‘combat rocking chairs,’ the corpsmen called them, with which he could rock the dying children for as long as they held on to life.

Over the course of his time in Iraq, Chaps McLaughlin would rock 11 children in those chairs. Eventually, before redeploying, he took the chairs to a unit bonfire, threw them in, and watched as the embers rose heavenward to, as he put it, ‘the children that once occupied them in my arms.’”

“It was after that girl passed that he asked the Seabees, a group of military engineers, to make him rocking chairs, ‘combat rocking chairs,’ the corpsmen called them, with which he could rock the dying children for as long as they held on to life.

Over the course of his time in Iraq, Chaps McLaughlin would rock 11 children in those chairs. Eventually, before redeploying, he took the chairs to a unit bonfire, threw them in, and watched as the embers rose heavenward to, as he put it, ‘the children that once occupied them in my arms.’”

The essay, by the estimable Phil Klay, also has a provocative conclusion, that really made me stop and ponder: It means accepting that being responsive to suffering and attuned to joy are not different things, but one and the same.”

I am not sure I agree with that sentence, but it sure speaks to my experience of war. It made me think for hours, and I am still not sure of the answer. An essay everyone who reads the Best Defense would profit by reading.

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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