Editorial by Barbara Cornell.
Syndicated from Barbara Cornell’s personal blog.
The country was in a horribly unpopular war somewhere way far east of Main Street. The President decided to hold a lottery, the first since Shirley Jackson hosted one that nobody wanted to win.
My father was 20-something, had just finished college, had his first «real» job and a pregnant wife when he won the lottery, and won big. There was no possibility of honorably avoiding going to war, and being college-educated and drafted meant being an infantry officer for either the Army or the Marines, the life expectancy of whom was famously 17 minutes. It didn’t matter if the number was accurate. The reality was.
So, he did the only thing that made sense. He applied himself to getting a pilot’s license as quickly as he could, doubling and tripling up on instruction, then presented himself to the Air Force, voluntarily, qualified to be a pilot. He served his tours in Viet Nam, and once the war was over, he decided to make a career in the military.
The military was a place where duty, honor, respect, organization, integrity were rewarded and laziness, irresponsibility, entitlement were not. It was a place where doing one’s duty was expected and shifting of one’s duty was punished swiftly, a place where leaving your fellow soldiers hanging out to dry was dealt with harshly and immediately. It was a place where everyone understood his responsibilities and carried his own weight, where personal achievement was rewarded and effort was made to direct each individual’s talents to the place where they could be best shaped and utilized.
After my father lead the way, 4 out of the six brothers in his family followed in his footsteps and served in the military. And after them innumerable sons and daughters also served and continue to serve. I have family pictures with 15 or more of my immediate family in their uniforms. And it still amazes me how much pride that gives me. The man who shares my bed has served in Iraq and faces another deployment soon to Afghanistan. I always took for granted that I would serve in the military. I looked forward to it. But … there were many forks in the road.
I was born at Ft. Sam Houston Medical Army Hospital. I spent my life in the military community and graduated from a military High School in Germany, where armed MP’s lined the halls, not because drugs or gangs were a problem or violence among the student body was a danger like many of the schools in the States, but because bomb threats were literally a daily occurrence (by my senior year, the buses dropped us off at the soccer field every morning so that we could wait for the dogs to sniff out the truth or lie of the current day’s threat of a fiery death to children). We all knew terrorism’s face long before Al Queda was a household name. We all had friends and family who had suffered terrorism’s wrath.
It makes me smile a little bit that my fellow Americans were able to maintain the illusion that terrorism didn’t exist until September 11, 2001, wrapped in gauze because men like my father were able to give you years of peace more than his own family had.
I watched my father, the most honorable man I’ve ever seen, serving his country, mentoring the men under his command, tending to their families, concerning himself with what was best for the troops, their families and the nation. I watched him pace the halls of our home in the wee hours of the morning preparing himself to deliver the news to mothers and wives that their men would not be coming home. I’ve held friends in my arms, silently, while they cried because their husbands would not see their unborn children. I’ve seen up close the terrors that follow men and women home from war. I’ve listened friends agonize and second-guess themselves for choices they made in a split second whether to live or die. I’ve known and loved these people as a group and as individuals. I’ve seen the best and the brightest, I’ve seen the strong and the broken.
I’ve seen what the US military produces: pride, joy, anger, frustration, community, belonging, alienation, hope, despair, ambition, patriotism, duty, honor, obedience, insubordination, victory and loss.
What I’ve never seen in the US military, even once, was a man whose individuality was destroyed to the point that he «follows orders without question» nor have I ever met a man whose goal in life or training prepared him to «kill civilians and destroy cultures.»
And it makes me smile that, even this far down the road, impossible as it may seem, we have a nation where we still have the luxury to think of bombs and mortars, pogroms and atrocities as things that happen «over there.» Wherever «there» is.
Way east of Main Street.