Thoughts on the Election

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.” Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the LORD. So the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.” – 1 Samuel 8:10-22

Here we go. I’m violating my own rule. I’m about to delve into politics. Forgive me!

Yes, I’m going to talk politics; no, I’m not going to say who I voted for or why. What I want to talk about is the way politics are conducted in the United States. I’m relieved that the presidential campaigns are done and over with. It didn’t talk me long to get tired of the mudslinging, the rumors, and the slander. Unfortunately, much of that continues and probably will continue for a very long time. An example is the recent suits that have been filed challenging President-elect Obama’s American citizenship. This is pathetic, really!

Did you know that . . .

· Barack Obama is close, personal friends with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers?

· Senator John McCain is a traitor who gave up secrets and issued anti-American statements while a prisoner of war in Vietnam?

· Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim plotting to implement Islamic law in America?

· Governor Sarah Palin embezzled government funds as governor of Alaska?

· Barack Obama was sworn in using a Koran when he became a Senator?

· John McCain wants to invade Iran, Russia and Syria?

· Michelle Obama is a racist?

· Sen. Joe Biden is a racist who hates immigrants (especially the Spanish-speaking type)?

· Sarah Palin advocates secession of Alaska from the United States?

· McCain has Alzheimer’s disease?

If you are naive enough to buy into the (mostly internet-produced and propagated) rumor mill of American politics, you probably believe at least one of the above, although none of them is true, and there are dozens of other similar rumors bouncing around out there, based on half-truths (Palin’s plans for Alaskan independence) or outright lies (Obama swearing-in on the Koran). Unfortunately, there are very few Americans who seem to have not bought into at least one of them. This is a disturbing trend in a country that prides itself on being the world’s beacon of democracy; in order for a democracy to function, it has to be based on the free flow of reliable information. The key word there is “reliable.” An election based on lies and misrepresentations is not a truly democratic election.

I have been an admirer or Senator McCain since long before this election, and even before he ran for the Presidency in the 2000 election. I think that he is a war hero, an American hero and a man of great principle. I have an endless amount of respect for him. This is why I was so disappointed to see the kind of campaign he ran in this election. I expected much more from him. I think that most Americans thought this was going to be a “different kind of election.” It wasn’t; it was just more of the same, if not worse than before.

Sen. McCain’s television advertisements that implied a close connection between then-Sen. Obama and Bill Ayers, the founder of the Weather Underground terrorist organization, are example of the very opposite of what I expected from McCain based on his past. Governor Palin’s statement about Obama “palling around with terrorists” was also disturbing in this sense. The only shining moment in the McCain-Palin campaign, the only moment in which he actually practiced what I had earlier expected from him, was when he corrected a woman at a town hall meeting who implied that Obama was a closet Muslim. I was also very impressed with Sen. McCain’s concession speech after it was officially decided that he had lost his bid for the Presidency. I think that if he would have run his campaign with the same principles in mind, the results may have been different.

I think that, overall, President-elect Obama ran a very clean campaign. This is not to say that they were not guilty of starting a little gossip, like the reports that McCain is so “old” and “out of touch” that he can’t check his own e-mail; I’m only saying that, overall, Obama’s was pretty tidy when compared to McCain’s campaign. Most importantly, Obama himself seems to have gone out of his way not to endorse any of the rumors. McCain and his supporters seemed to find and dwell in any evidence they could, even making it up at times, that Obama, or someone somewhere in his family tree, was a terrorist, a racist, a Communist or any other “ist” that Americans are afraid of. Obama and his supporters, on the other hand, in large part avoided this mudslinging, even given the overwhelming amount of ammunition they possessed.

McCain’s decision against commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Arizona is an example. At no point in the campaign did President-elect Obama use this against McCain, although it would have been very easy to point the finger and scream “racism!”. The only mention I heard of it came from McCain, when he apologized in his speech last MLK Day and admitted his mistake.

In the end, I have to say that I was very disappointed with the campaigns leading up to this election. I was hoping for much more, especially from President-elect Obama and Sen. McCain. Both of them appear to be intelligent, honest men with positive values and a real love for our country. I only wish that they would have acknowledged those attributes in each other more often. I’m not saying that I expect politics to be a love-fest by any means! I’m saying that I look for the day in American politics when two (or more) candidates, and their respective followers, can campaign against each other for office without questioning the patriotism or morality of the other. I look forward to a political debate based on the issues at hand with a common love and hope for our nation and for the world at large, and not on a dirty rumor from a mass e-mail forwarded to you by your Uncle Bob.

You want to talk issues, I’m more than happy. I enjoy talking politics. I’ve got my opinions and I’m pretty passionate about them, but I’m willing to listen to and consider yours. As soon as you mention that McCain is rich old man who can’t use e-mail and might have Alzheimer’s or that Obama is secretly a Muslim terrorist who takes his orders from his Black Nationalist [Christian] pastor, I’m done with the discussion.

Bad Habits

“Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honor, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?” – Plato

Interesting note on Veterans’ Day that I forgot to include in my last post: I have not spent a single Veterans’ Day at home since becoming a Veteran myself; every Veterans’ Day that I’ve spent in the Army I have either been deployed or training to become deployed. Something I realized today.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it will be like to get out of the Army in a couple of years. I think every Soldier spends a lot of time daydreaming, especially during downtime on a deployment, about what it will be like to be a civilian again. It’s still a few years away, but it’s often on my mind. I’m looking forward to it.

It will be great not to have to worry about deployments or training exercises anymore. It will be great not to have to wake up before the sun to do PT (“Physical Training”). I definitely won’t miss doing push-ups. And I can’t say I’ll miss wearing combat boots every day, either.

In other ways, though, it will be difficult. I notice every time I go home on leave how “out of place” I feel amongst civilians. I get agitated by the “disrespect” they show, and have to remind myself that they’re not programmed to follow up every sentence with a “sir” or “sergeant.” I get frustrated with what I’ve come to consider “petty” concerns, “whining,” and complaining. I’ve gotten pretty steamed at sports games as I watch the people around me leave their baseball caps on and chit-chat or fail to even stand up for the National Anthem. Even the haircuts and expanded waistlines get on my nerves after a while. And don’t even get my started on what I think when civilians start telling me they‘re opinion on “the War”!

I don’t expect the civilian world to adjust to make way for me, though. I’d like to make a few changes, certainly, but I know it’s me who has the most changes to make. As much as I’ve enjoyed being a Soldier and much as I love Soldiers, I’ll admit that we’ve got a lot of bad habits. I’ve been working on correcting a few of them lately, in preparation for my entry into the “real world.”

The biggest issue I have is the cussing. I don’t know who coined the phrase about “cursing like a sailor” but I doubt he ever met a Soldier. The Navy has nothing on us when it comes to the swears! Not only do we use them more frequently than any other group of people I know of, but we use them more creatively. I learn new and innovative ways to curse every day. We especially enjoy combining them with animal names. A couple examples: when somebody steals all of the “good stuff” out of an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) it’s called “rat-f***ing” it; when there’s nobody in charge of a group of Soldiers so a mission ends up in chaos, it’s called a “goat-f***;” when somebody tries to usurp another’s rightful authority, the individual may kindly ask if they might be allowed to “f*** this chicken.” In spite of what the media might be saying about us today, we don’t practice bestiality, I promise. Another example of typical Army ingenuity is that classic military-ism “FUBAR;” everybody already knows what that means.

It’s a hard habit to break. I do it often without even thinking about it; it’s just the way I speak anymore. The vocabulary of a single one of my sentences would easily be enough to get a movie an R rating. When I write e-mails home to grandparents, clergy, my wife, friends outside of the Military, etc I have to go over the e-mail a couple of times to ensure I didn’t accidentally tuck a four-letter word in there somewhere. It limits my selection of words when I’m speaking with the “uninitiated” as well. I often have to think hard and pause to remember what the “civilian way” (that is, the not vulagar way) of saying something is.

Another hard habit to break is a tobacco addiction. There aren’t many Soldiers who don’t use some form of tobacco. Unfortunately, I was a smoker coming into the Army, which gave me a base that I’ve steadily built upon. My half-pack of cigarettes per day has expanded to 1 and ½ packs, as well as the occasional chewing tobacco, cigar, or, in honor of the love for all things Arab we’ve picked up, hookah. Trying to stop the tobacco habit does nothing good for the first habit, either!

I’m going to try to break myself of these bad habits and others completely before I re-enter the civilian world. I’ll also try not to judge others as “lazy slugs” if their idea of fun isn’t going for a 5-mile run at five in the morning or “dirt bags” if their haircut isn’t “within the standard.” Show a little understanding for me and I’ll show some understanding for you. You better stand up, shut up, and take your hat off when the National Anthem is played, though!

Veterans’ Day Reflections

As for man, his days are like grass;

As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

And its place remembers it no more.

But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting

On those who fear Him,

And His righteousness to children’s children,

To such as keep His covenant,

And to those who remember His commandments to do them.

The Lord has established His throne in heaven,

And His kingdom rules over all. – Psalm 103:15-19

My unit lost two good men early last month. One of them was somebody I had worked with briefly in the past; another was a good friend. I will remember both of them every day for the rest of my life.

Having another friend killed brought back to me a lot of the same emotions and thoughts I experienced while I was in Baghdad two years ago. There’s a part of me that wants to cut and run. My first thought both then and now was that I want to get myself and those I care about as far from this place as possible; that I don’t want to lose any more friends.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be a veteran of a war like Vietnam. There must be a lot of pain in knowing that you gave up so much for a lost war that the majority of Americans look back on as a mistake. I don’t know how I would handle that and I pray, if for no other reason than to “justify” the loss of so many lives and the personal sacrifice of so many, including me, that this is not the case with Iraq. I want to see Iraq at peace. I want to see Iraq prosper. As things are right now, though, it’s hard to picture that.

All I can do is keep “soldiering on.” That’s all that any of us here can do. We do our job the best we know how and obey the orders we’re given. I know it’s a worn-out cliché to say this, but that’s exactly what Reuben (my friend who died October 12) would have wanted.

I don’t think I have met any Soldier who seemed to love Iraq or its people more than he did. He had a way of relating to anybody no matter who they were. Language was no barrier for him. Every time we went out, he would take the opportunity to find a group of kids with whom to kick around a soccer ball. One “that’s so him” story that was told by a friend at his memorial was about a recent trip his platoon took to the Iraqi Army compound.

While everyone else was waiting by their vehicles to leave while the brass had their meeting, he wandered over to the Iraqi Soldier’s barracks. A few minutes after he left, everyone outside could hear a group of people inside singing some cheesy American pop song. Reuben wandered out with a big grin on his face. That was just the type of guy he was. I will miss him and so will everyone that knew him. And, for his sake and for the sake of so many others we have all lost here, we will keep “soldiering on” till the end, no matter how or when this war ends.