It is the night before Thanksgiving, and here I sit eating potato chips and promising myself a glass of wine when I finish this post (neither of which is good for my blood pressure or my cholesterol, speaking of the choices theme), needing to make stuffing and cranberry sauce tonight, shallots and brussel sprouts tomorrow, one son downstairs viremic, the other just here from SoCal out on the town, and me, trying to sort out what has been swirling in my mind.
What to post? Oh yes, and Allie the aged dog is scratching at my study door. If I let her in, she will whine for attention. If I don’t she will not go downstairs and bug the 25 year old. I could post about how my sons already see me as a daft old woman. NO that is for another day.
Keeping it simple, I’ll stay with the theme of the single story.
I have a lot of friends who are anti military. I don’t agree with many of the actions we have taken in the world either. And I want there to be more than the military as paths towards maturity and upward mobility available to poor, struggling in school, and minority youth. If it were on an equal footing with college, vocational training, being an entrepreneur, and if it did not involve a higher risk of dying, well, I might feel differently. Point is, as I see it, though no country is without a military. So I’m not going to dis its existence; it seems to me it has to be. I have many thoughts about war and its consequences and about our politics that have led us into war, but that too might be for another day. I do accept that we will have a military. Do I want my kids choosing it given the recent decades of engagements? no. Would they have my support if that were their choice? A reluctant yes, because I do not live their lives.
Second point is: how do you see people in the military? Regardless of your political positions, how do you see them? Do you have a story for the soldiers? the marines? the navy? the enlisted vs the officers? the policy makers vs those who follow the orders? How does it break down for you?
I suspect many of us have a single story, whether it is pro or con.
Try to put yourself back to the early 1950s. Picture a navy ship, a destroyer. It’s during the Korean conflict. Many if not most of the sailors on this destroyer are 18-20 years old, their first time away from home. Sure, they had their basic training, but this is really away, three months “at sea.” There is a captain of this ship. His job is to get them to the part of the Pacific where they can do what the Department of Defense tells them to do. It is a war in the eyes of the US Government and the military.
Draw a picture in your mind and start with the story of these young sailors and life on the ship in the middle of battle. Do the same for the guy at the top, the captain. His job is order, following orders, keeping everyone on task and the ship afloat. Maybe jot down your thoughts.
My father was the captain, in his thirties. Fast forward to 1969, and he was in some major position and stationed in Newport RI. I could not drive my car on base (where my parents lived) with my anti-Viet Nam war stickers on my car. People hearing I was raised in the navy often gave me a single story: how I could come from that family? They gave my dad a single story: military brass are authoritarian and militaristic. On the other side, some could not understand the complexity of my beliefs. I was not anti-American The contradictions and the huge space between two absolutes are sometimes so hard for people to handle, when in reality they are what define and embrace us all.
How could my father, this person who was in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed, on the USS Minneapolis when it was torpedoed, losing many men (and limping into a harbor to rebuild the hull out of bamboo and sailing back to mainland) be anything more than a true military man? How could he then go on to serve in both Korea and Viet Nam and not be locked into one view? Both ends of the spectrum would see it that way. Do you inhabit the ends of the spectrum? And how many actually do?
I have many stories that round him out to the complex person he was. He was a true military man who loved his profession, not war, his profession—and he was more. A few years ago, some of those 18 year old sailors, now in their 80s found my sibs and me. One shared a letter that his parents had saved, sent to them back in those Korean War days. It is below and I hope it shifts your lens from the picture you had. If you click on the image, it should enlarge so you can read it. As we approach Thanksgiving, my hope is that we all will be thankful we have the capacity to use our lenses to be wide angled.
If you missed it yesterday, I still recommend the talk by Chimamanda Adichie.