It's been a great three days in Seattle. I coordinated with my dispatchers and weather people at work to ensure that the rain held off for a few days explicitly for my visit. And so it did. (It's nice to have influential friends. Of course, THEY had to perform an anti-rain dance and appeal in prayer and ritual animal sacrifice to their personal weather sprites, but hey, they owe me.)
My brother is a captain in the Army and is based out here in Seattle. We went over one day to take a tour of the post, and for him to show me his office and all the adjacent facilities. I'd never seen any of this. We finished up our walking and car tour with lunch at the PX.
This is a new world for a civilian, and it brings a whirlwind of thoughts and impressions. I think the civilian world thinks of the armed forces as a tool of government, as an arm that implements a government's policies (or at least a certain kind of policy). We are accustomed to following the messy news of the executive and legislative branches of government as they wrangle out policy (or sidestep the wrangling), and our military is seen as an extension of the business of government. This is how it seems to me, anyway.
But the view from the army base is entirely different. The sense of unity, the sense of pride and of sacrifice, and the love of country that is both required and engendered by this environment is palpable. Not everyone is on board, of course--there are always behavior and discipline issues with 100,000 young people--but overall it is a radical change from the civilian world. There is mind-boggling complexity to an army, looked at as a whole, and a gigantic amount of complex and ongoing training. I was not prepared for the aspect of fresh-scrubbed goodness that emanates from these young men and women, and for the enthusiasm and pride that comes from tackling an exceedingly difficult job and making a success out of it. Regardless of one's take on the policies themselves, this is more than most of us accomplish in life; and it's moving to see.
As for our opinion of the policies, I guess this is probably my biggest epiphany: we do an unspeakable disservice to people who are volunteering to lay down their lives for their country--for us--when we fail to differentiate between those who make the policies and those who implement them (actually, I have long held this conviction, but it was very much reinforced by my time spent on base). I have been quite outspoken about my opposition to our present policy in the Middle East, and in particular about the nature of the way we worked up to war. I have stated that it would please me to see our president removed from office, for this and many other reasons. But there are regular protesters here around the army base, and they remind one that every exercise of free speech is not informed or helpful. These base protesters are biting the hand that seeks to feed them. There are many stories about Vietnam vets being spit on--by Americans!--when they returned home from the war, and I cannot imagine how, as citizens, we could be lower.
I certainly do not propose that we do not protest, nor that we support a war effort if it goes against our convictions. But we DARE not spit on a soldier that is willing to take a bullet for us, and I think if our heads are on straight we would have no desire to. The soldiers do not get to choose who is shooting at them; theirs is but to go where they are told and to do the job that is laid before them.
No, our protests belong at the feet of our policy makers. We need the information to make informed judgments, and our elected officials need to be accountable to the citizens who elected them (we will all be accountable to history). For my part, I have a renewed gratefulness to these men and women, and an appreciation of their skill and sacrifices. I think we owe them a lot.
Here endeth the sermon.