Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

I just don’t have the time or the energy today to crank out another essay.  As such, I’m going to recycle last year’s post and go take a nap. Enjoy your day // JW


The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked [the author] I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment

Yesterday, I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

Now, it doesn’t matter which author or which novel or exactly where the conversation took place – though I’m certain a number of folks reading this can figure it out in short order.  The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military. 

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies. I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass in his name, while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of its author whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.

And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.

That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are.  

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war. But it must be done in a certain way. You see, it’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to? To write of those who find a home in the military? That is a sin. Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met yesterday … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military. And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day. 

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.

Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.

Perhaps we are. Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the bailout bill, the election, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards. Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform - all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of cheap beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram. They won't talk about honoring veterans, they areveterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Alaska. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, the mills and mines and rigs are still running. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by livingwithout having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security, without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. 

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war. It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it. We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can, and should, strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more. Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. Me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be a better citizen.  

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them. For my comrades in arms, for those I served beside, I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.


Yesterday I met a man who despised me.


But you know what? That, that right there, is what we were doing in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

Yesterday I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.


  1. You may not want to hear it, but, I'm going to say it anyway. Thank you for your service, for what you did for this country, for what you did for me and my daughter. Thank you for all you do every day by informing, entertaining and delighting me with your wit, your candor, and your intelligence. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Jim, SFC Beck, Captain Mac, LTC Nic, Admiral Mike, and the millions of others, known and not known.

  3. Its going to bug me until I figure out what book...

    1. Pretty sure it is Starship Troopers by Heinlein.

    2. I'm getting bug-eyed trying to figure it out.

  4. Thank you for putting into words what I have held in my heart regarding my service. I enlisted in the Air Force in 1968 spent three years bouncing around Southeast Asia. I returned in 72 with life experiences, good and bad, that I would not trade for anything. No one owes me a thing. I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to serve. It is a large part of the man I am today.

  5. Even though you don't require it I just want to say thank you. Not just for your service but for opening my eyes. Much respect to you.

  6. Me, I thank you for being you. You keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and by so doing recollect us to ourselves. You are intelligent, insightful, and, yes, wise. You know what? You're still in service, just in a non-military capacity. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

  7. Thanks Jim, great read and spot on. Please share the title of the book. If I haven't read it,I'm pretty sure I'd like to.

  8. Thanks, Jim. As usual it still resonates. The points that RAH made are still as relevant as when written. I was in High School, and would soon join the Naval Air Reserve. (I was in a squadron on the Yorktown, in Hong Kong harbor when Viet Nam blew up.) I didn't find a home, but rather the knowledge that I was able to (and preferred to) make life's decisions on my own.

  9. Chief, This old Marine has only been reading your words of wisdom for a few weeks, but have enjoyed reading the words that I lacked to express my feelings. This is another one for the ages. Semper Fi

  10. I, too, have read and reread this book. So many times I can't remember. Bought, loaned out, lost, bought again, And again. When the movie came out, I rushed to see it and was APPALLED! Damn director missed the whole point. But on another note, you ARE aware that Nehemiah Scudder now sits one heartbeat away from the top.

  11. I hope you are having a good Veterans day. I read the post by Garrold on Facebook. I wanted to comment but I think only certain people get to comment and not sure how I can be a part of that. I wanted to comment here hoping you may read it and provide some insight: Those that call to go for being more centered, its hard when progress was made already to go back, and to how others will be effected negatively. If center means, don’t force churches to perform gay marriages (which I don’t think they are forced to anyway or to recognize it) , then fine but don’t take away gay marriage back to civil unions or go back to don’t ask don’t tell. If improving Obamacare means leaving all the benefits and cost savings but make it actually better , or not forcing enrollment, thats fine, but to privatize it or health savings accounts or state competing that will not make it better,and go back to a place way farther back then Obamacare.
    I don’t know if what Garrold is talking about is “center” but more progressive with improvements. I don’t think anyone wants to make the church accept LGBTQ , but when religious people own business, is it OK to not hire gays, Muslims and so on or not pass out birth control to appease the religious right? How far is the rope?

    1. It's "Gerrold," as in the world renowned writer David Gerrold, a man I admire and consider a friend. For the record, David knows something about gay rights, since he's gay and has been fighting for equality out in the open since the days when doing so could very likely get you killed.

      You've asked some tough questions, ones that don't have easy glib answers. I'm going to ask you to be patient and give me a day or two to finish an essay I'm working on. I'll post it here, that should address your questions and give you and others a forum to discuss it. Ok? // Jim

    2. Thank you so much for your reply. I ll wait for the essay, and I apologize for getting your friend, and famous writer's name incorrectly. I ll remember it now.

  12. Some people can't see the difference between anti-military and anti-war.
    And I split "war" into good wars and stupid wars. Both unfortunately have to be fought and the people who do it are providing a service for which we are all indebted.

  13. I'm one of those who didn't find a life in the military - I did my hitch, acquitted myself as well as I had it in me to do, and returned to civilian life. It took me some years to realize that despite my lack of intention in doing so, I had in fact proven some things to myself, and made myself a better citizen in the process.

    I won't thank you for your service. I will thank you for your words. You've clarified for me at least a portion of the vague unease I feel when others thank me for serving, and clarity's a precious thing.

  14. Dear Mr. Wright,
    Never commented here before, so firstly, I appreciate your conscience, outspokenness and style. I'm someone who has never had to risk my own life, I never served, both because I don't qualify, and more honestly, because I'd be too scared. That has also made me cautious in speaking about security policy and its real costs in lives, because I#m not the one paying the price. So yes, I hope do respect those who are warriors - whether they fight voluntarily or because they have no choice.
    But - and there's always a 'but' - here's the problem I can't answer: I grew up in a town that has a memorial proclaiming 'To those who dies for us, our gratitude; to those who remain, the responsibility for peace.' It's a lovely sentiment. But the town is in Germany, and I don't care whether they, including my grandfather, had no choice about fighting that war, I am not willing to say they 'died for us' and I am not grateful, I am appalled. In fact, it is the American veterans you are talking about that I am grateful to, and they are part of the reason I am still willing to respect America as a nation today.
    But stupid wars are one thing; evil wars are another - and, contrary to the prior commentator, I have to believe neither stupid nor evil wars have to be fought. You cannot excuse bad citizenship by civilians that leads to those wars; but no, the people who fight those wars are not for that reason alone providing a service for which we are or must feel indebted.

    It's easy when the bugs are out to destroy all humanity. For much of the last century, America was mostly on the side of the angels. But really, are we still? Can we still accept that as the baseline? I don't know how, as an individual and as a society, to respect what all warriors have endured in the face of unnecessary and unethical wars. Does respecting veterans oblige me to give them a pass on the most basic moral imperatives of evaluating the causes they were told to fight for? Because that I am not willing to do. Especially those who did have a choice, do you think it is fair to hold them accountable for that choice? Because frankly, I think we could all use a rather hefty dose of political and moral accountability, civilians and veterans alike.

  15. It is a shame, and a not wholly-undeserved irony, that the author in question has been co-opted as a spokesman for views that would make him most earnestly want to spit.

  16. Thank-you for your service. The ideals held by the military are very inspiring and speaks to an America that does not exist anymore. I love that American ideal. It is one of the reasons that I have such an interest and appreciation for WW2 era movies. All of the veterans have tried to preserve the American ideal, but what changed it was not on the war front but the politicians who say they love veterans then cut their funding. Thank-you for your insight and honesty on what is a core value in your life. I respect veterans but I always get so deeply sad at all of the men and women who served that suffer from PTSD. I have PTSD from domestic violence. I know that PTSD from war must be so horrific.

  17. Roger W Norman Viet Nam Odd missions he only hinted at and that I understand not at all. An angry crochety sweet Good Man. Pretty fair dinkum songwriter.
    Cancer got him a few back. I miss him.

  18. .. and a note for you Mr W... while RAH has done MISERABLY as to film adaptations all round... however: one slipped right past me a year or so back. if you haven't, grab a copy of PREDESTINATION (by Australian filmakers the Spierig brothers) and fall well into it. Don't prep... don;t read anything about it (I dare say I'm sure you;ve read the short story it's built around)... come at it blind but ready for something very well done all round.

  19. Excellent post. Starship Troopers knocked me flat when I first read it, and I've gone back to it many times since. It permanently changed my feelings about the military, which could perhaps have been described as "unthinking pacifist". The Forever War was good, but I haven't been back to it for a while.

  20. I was raised in a pacifist church, and have never felt that military service was an option for me. Yet my copy of Starship Troopers is as well-read as anyone else's. It helped that once upon a time in grade school, they showed us a black & white short film about Roger Young. In hindsight, a pure propaganda piece, yet stirring. And when I read the book and Johnny hears the recall, I hear the song in my head. "Shines the name, shines the name of Roger Young!"

    May it shine indeed. Today I'm as agnostic about pacifism as I am about religion. I'm proud of my relatives who have served, and also of the elders in my childhood church who went to prison rather than join the military. Unlike some, I would never call a soldier a murderer. The world is much less black & white to me now. I do believe that war between nations is dangerous and obsolete, yet so are a lot of things (Denying global warming comes to mind.)

    My favorite counterpoint to Starship Troopers is Bill, The Galactic Hero. But for all its political realism, gleeful satire and unerring accuracy, it fails to inspire.

    Today I'm remembering my great-aunt Ruth, a WWII nurse who fell in love with and married one of her patients, knowing that he would die of tuberculosis. They had a few short years together, and she survived him by decades. Today they're buried together at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

  21. Jim, I agree with your asseement except you left out or ignored a critical factor in our election process. The most likewly reason Hillary lost is that the Republicans have gamed the election process and the Democrats are not even paying attentions to what is going on. If you really want to know why Hillary lost the election, do two things. 1. Research the Crosscheck Program that is being used in Republican controlled states to eliminate the voter registrations of hundreds of thousands of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians from the registered voter rolls. For starters look at this http://www.gregpalast.com/. 2. Understand that the congressional districts were redrawn in states with Republican governors who were elected in 2010 and as happened previously, those districts were redrawn to ensure that to highly favor Republican candidates. To fix this problem was must have a more objective, rational approach to setting congressional boundaries and take it away from political party control.

  22. Excellent piece. I am the daughter of a military lifer and the sister of a disabled Vietnam vet. For quite a few years, I've been shouting into the wind about the overly-romanticized notion that everyone who shows up to do their job in the military is a hero. We aren't the land of the free because of the brave, What a load of crap. Thank you for your clear-eyed, well-stated reality check. I respect those who served, and I respect those who didn't whether for moral reasons or because they were too scared or too selfish. Every military brat knows the reality of military service and the realities of war. Thanks for your well-written insight.

  23. Thank you for your postings here and on FB. Always enlightening, entertaining and thought provoking. Please use my donation to help keep your bar stocked as you sift through your hate mail. Cheers!

  24. Sumi here. I'm glad you don't want thanks, because I have no idea how to thank you.

    The words 'thank you for your service' have always seemed dull and hollow to me. I told you in another comment that I'd studied atrocity and come away with a deep horror of war and respect for soldiers. And I *do* want to thank veterans, whether you personally want to be thanked or not, because all of you you did something that benefited me enormously and paid a terrible price for it. The fact that you weren't thinking of me when you did it seems as though it shouldn't matter.

    I do get a little of what you're feeling. I work in East St. Louis sometimes. I do it because I love helping patients understand what's happening with them and I'm good at establishing a rapport with people who have every reason to distrust white coats. But I don't like it when those patients thank me. They are owed much more than I can possibly give them. It's a different reason from yours, and a different set of circumstances, but I do understand your not wanting to be thanked.

    But if, as a hypothetical, you *did* want to be thanked--when I speak to those veterans who *do* want to be thanked--what do I say?

    How do you thank another human being for sparing you from *war*?

    1. "Welcome home" always works for me. Remembering that the veteran, draftee or volunteer, stood in your place.

    2. I'll try that. And yes, that is always what I'm thinking. Maybe "thank you", as well.

      Thank you.

  25. Veteran's Day always gives me pause to reflect on all that service to one's country entails.

    I am not aware of any previous president elect who did not telephone veterans, did not visit wounded veterans in hospital, and/or failed to attend even one Veteran's Day ceremony.


  26. Let me tell you a little story.

    Many years ago I was eating dinner in a local restaurant. As I do in such cases I was reading and that book was on warfare. Modern warfare to be precise. It was comparisons of weapons in the mid-80s. Everything from assault rifles to ICBMs.

    The policy of the restaurant was that the server also took payment for the meal. I went to the cash register and put my book on the counter. When my server saw it he said, "If I had known you were reading that I wouldn't have served you."

    My reply was, "If I was reading a book on cancer would you assume I was in favour of that too?"

    My point wasn't that I was in favour or against war. I simply agree with Sun Tzu that it is a subject that "must be thoroughly studied."

    This, to my mind, is the problem with many of the anti-war people. Those who demonize and loathe people who serve. They have no knowledge about war. No knowledge of what causes it. No knowledge of how wars proceed. No knowledge of the price that war demands. With such ignorance their blind opposition is no more than sour grapes. Acting from ignorance ensures failure.

    For the record my own view of war is it should be like surgery. The very last option to deal with a problem and when performed it must be done with speed and skill. Otherwise it simply adds one problem on to another.

    I'm sure you already know this Mr. Wright but if you enjoy military SF I'll recommend any of the 'Hammer's Slammers' books. In spite of being SF they do as fine a job of transmitting what it is like for a soldier at the sharp end as anything I've read.

    Thanks, as always, for an excellent read.

  27. We are all in this world safe, we are all in our countries safe because of the veterans. Hero's are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.

  28. Both the adults in this house are veterans. He was Army, in 'Nam with 101st Airborne. I was Marine Corps, a REMF stationed at HQMC, writing computer code. He'd been ROTC in college; there was no ROTC for women there. As did most in the military in those days, we took some heat from people who despised the military and took out their anger on those in it. I had read That Book in junior high. But my determination to serve in the military (despite being female, near-sighted, and ambidextrous enough that "right" and "left" in terms of body parts slow down responses until muscle memory finally got it) started years before that. So I "got" that book right away. Read it more than once.

    I'm not entirely sure of the origin of my own attraction to the military, only that I felt it before I needed glasses. First grade? Second grade? Somewhere in there. Husband's father had been in the Army Air Corps in WWII; he had spent early years on military bases. My mother had been a liaison engineer for the Army Air Corps at a Douglas Aircraft factory in WWII, making sure the planes were built according to spec, even if someone wanted to cut corners. It was the only engineering job she would ever hold. My father had a similar job in a different plant; they lived in a trailer in a former orchard near Chicago. But where I grew up, most adult men--my friends' fathers and uncles--were veterans. They didn't talk much to kids, but (being inquisitive and a determined reader) I read military memoirs and nonfiction, and some military fiction, at the library.

    I'm uncomfortable with "Thank you for your service." Nobody thanked us at the time. The Army screwed up his pay, then dumped him in Seattle on his way back, with no money ("You were overpaid while in country") and only the combination of time zones and my mother's oil-company boss made it possible for him to get to D.C. the next day and not spend a hungry night on the street. (Banks were closed already in D.C. and Texas--and no ATMs then--and my mother got to Western Union with her boss's cash fifteen minutes before they closed.) We got dumped on repeatedly. So what--it wasn't lethal. But the decades later shower of thanks feels...way less than sincere. More like those TV spots where a network is braggging on itself and announces [Network] CARES. Yeah right.

    But anyway. The most valuable years of my life, in terms of shaping my adult self, were the years on active duty. I cannot imagine who I would be...what kind of books I would be writing instead of the ones I write...if not for that. The lessons were unceasing (I'm not the world's fastest learner) and sometimes painful (as real-life lessons tend to be) and God knows I'm not anywhere near a perfect person now--or perfect citizen--but from the bone-marrow out, that oath I swore, and those values I saw lived by the men and women I worked with, those are in every cell of my body. And when I get off course, there's a cloud of witnesses in my head, reminding me.

  29. Jim,
    Thanks for your service. I do not say that to be flip but I that I agree with what you said. I did not serve in the US Army for the adulation of those who didn't. I served because I needed to prove to myself I was who I said I was. My actions backed up my words. Was there some patriotism? Sure. Was there a financial need? Yes. GI Bill? Of course.
    I did not join because I like to wear camouflage or fire automatic weapons or blow shit up. I joined because I was bored and was losing sight of who I wanted to be. What did I get?
    I am more disciplined in my approach to things. My shoes are always shined and my clothes always pressed. I know how to fill a sandbag and I add hot sauce to almost everything. Oh and I can shoot straighter than most ( I could before I went in because my dad was a weapons specialist when he served). Most of all, I know who I am and what I want out of life.

    So when people thank me for my service- no I do not go out of my way to let people know I served- I am polite but I do add that I did not join to be remembered every 11/ 11.

  30. I was born in 1963, so the Vietnam war reporting was occasionally not turned off before we saw things Mom thought we were too young to see. However, I have always believed that the military personnel would rather be training in Ft Dix, then in a war. It seemed illogical to me to think someone would want to go to war, just like my firefighter Grandpa was happy to stay in the firehouse. Spending time keeping equipment and personnel ready is better than using it. Since we live in the real world, we need the military, but we should strive to minimize its use. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    (I have a special respect for my calibration department co-workers. Most are ex-Navy and therefore have an appreciation for well-maintained equipment that can only be fully understood by others who have been in a submarine in the middle of the ocean dependent on the equipment. Or so they claim.)

  31. As always, excellent piece, Jim.

  32. I don't recall reading Starship Troopers but that idea parallels one I have long considered. It has seemed that to me that it would be useful for everyone to perform 2 years of public service; not necessarily military service but Peace Corps, Americorps or something similar to the CCC during the Great Depression would work as well. This would serve 2 purposes. First, everyone would feel like they were contributing (and could even be rewarded with free college or something similar as was done under the GI Bill). Second, since everyone would be randomly assigned to their units, it could foster more tolerance and understanding of other Americans, as the military was used to start desegregation.

    Another person brought up the fact that anti-war is not synonymous with anti-military despite the fact that many on both sides confuse the two. The original post also brought to mind C.S. Lewis' discussion (I think in The Screwtape Letters) about how both pacifism and military service are valid Christian approaches to war (at least just ones) but that the current (at the time) approach of being doleful about service prevented those serving from getting the natural emotional rewards/compensation from that service. So Screwtape should encourage his subject to think he was choosing pacifism from cowardice if that route was more likely or to feel badly about the comradeship and extolling of bravery if he choose the military.

  33. Your prose reminds me sometimes of a blogger I used to know named Bartcop.

    I'm thankful I've found you, because in these dark days I need to remember to think and laugh - and you make me do both of those.

    A good description of Terrance Coppage:


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