Wrestling With a Young Man's Duty
As I write, the little son whom God had once given to me as one gives a diamond to a vagabond is set to begin another tour in that loathsome Middle Eastern meat grinder of Men. He is a West Point commissioned Special Ops Captain who cannot even tell us where he is bound or the scope of his mission. Years ago, he left the arms of my wife and I, scant days after a much distinguished high school career, to join the company of our finest young men and women who aspire to great deeds -- and not the mere finery of glib words. Too many of those same spirited officers who are forged links in that Long Gray Line have already given all. And with no more left for them to give, they pass from the daily thoughts of many; and perhaps only a few will continue to wrestle alone with these silent sacrifices for the sum of their wearied days. Yet the Patriot's Dream lives on. And as lovers of the noble we should strive to remember how to rightly interpret that dream so that it need not be treated as a gift offered in vain.
My son's knowledge of Arabic and his training in negotiating disputes will surely place him at risk in the company of a people who for millennia have traded in shadow and feint: whose moral compass needle orients its resting point at equivocation and treachery as it spins like a carnival wheel. In light of this, how easy it is to talk of the sweet blood of martyrs when you lack skin in the game. The love of one's own way of life is a strong bond, and the subtle line between patriotism and nationalism sometimes grows indiscernible as you crawl deep into the monster's belly. But how do we balance assets and losses thoughtfully when we weigh the value of one's own life, or the life of one's only begotten son?
The memory of older men can be faulted much, but it seems as if scant years and not decades have passed since I ran alongside his bicycle after I had pried off the training wheels: alternately beaming and wincing as he both prevailed and yielded to the task at hand. In sports and academics, it was important that he succeed and overcome because every father, rightly or wrongly, redeems himself through his son -- if but only in his own eyes. To be accepted at the most prestigious and storied institution on earth located on the banks of the eternal Hudson River was as much my glory as it was his. And upon graduation with distinction he presented me a class ring of my own -- the most cherished honor that I have ever or will ever receive.
But in the wake of 9/11 life changed: who could have guessed that the pandemonium that broiled at the outer edge of the world would endure beyond a Plebe's wide-eyed pledge and a Firstie's final oath; and that more than a decade hence: more time than it took us to battle two world wars -- yet we linger on. At what cost and to what end have we sacrificed sons and daughters to a people who: eschew our noble sacrifice, covet our gold and despise our magnanimity as if it were some morality alien to the human race? Can we possibly win hearts and minds in a region where brother contends with brother, tribe battles tribe, and the fatalistic stench of a death cult permeates the DNA of a population seemingly congenitally predisposed to Allah's imperative that the earth should erupt as a volcano of malice, ribboned flesh, and abject servitude?
If it were possible to find some saving grace that we might use as a means to redeem this Middle Eastern tragedy, then maybe we could dive again headfirst along with our articles of political faith and reconcile America's sacrifice in the interest of some greater human good -- however abstract or distant to our naked eye. But given the bleak alternatives between these competing warring interests that are both Jew-hating, tribal-bound, misogynistic, Christian despising, imperialistic, fundamentally non-democratic (for all intents and purposes) and differing only by a few modest variations around the edges, there is little to recommend to Westerners who might be looking for a bargain-basement place to purchase a time-share condo. America is fighting to salvage a brutal fluid morality that is only perhaps separated from its foe by a difference in degree, but surely not in kind. Few of us could probably recognize that distinction between the two unless you are a devotee of kite-flying in exotic Kabul.
Listen then: How much of a cognitive disconnect is the following litany of insanity under the aegis of our American name? We are fighting Islamicists in Afghanistan and arming Islamic rebels/Al-Qaeda in Syria. We pronounce a blessing towards the overthrow of an authoritarian quasi-ally in Egypt and replace him with a Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece that is turning a blind eye to gang-rape crews, napping while his partisans are kidnapping and massacring Copts, and reportedly reopening the door to chattel slavery via the Shari'a shuffle. Moreover, we give millions to fund a wicked and treacherous Hamas and in turn scold the uber-patient Israelis for the atrocity of self-defense. In truth, Obama gave a wink and a nod and the entire African arc caught fire as if on cue. Our current regime seal barks at Iran while tireless centrifuges spin 24/7 and feces-stained Persian fingers can be found mucking everybody's pie. And all the while, we hunker down in Afghanistan, that Golgotha where great empires go to die, like it was Fort Apache; and except for some token drone strikes, we turn our forces into a travelling "Meals on Wheels" burlesque of good will. To the warrior, the prevailing meme is this: Leave your Bibles at home and try like hell to shoot the AK-47 out of Hadji's hands -- or you might just earn a charge in Leavenworth. George Orwell, more oracle than author, as usual holds up the mirror and augurs the necessary judgment from beyond the grave: "We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." Having proven ourselves unable to stomach truth, the availability of such intelligence perishes when heroic statesmen are eclipsed by men with soft hands and flinty hearts.
In this region that more descriptively approximates a mausoleum than modernity, America has been reduced to a state of political sclerosis. We are both afraid to act and afraid to withdraw because we lack a unified vision to proceed with. Venal politics have either corrupted or checked our military's upper echelons: leaving us frozen in a posture of policy-induced paralysis because the Commander-in-Chief and his band of ideological Pharisees are nakedly incompetent as to the fundamental art of world realpolitik. Their devolution into ideologues of the lowest order has bought them the inability to understand the enigmas of human nature. Like Judas, Obama took the foreign blood money and ran with it. Unlike Judas, he doesn't have the strength of character to... but some things are best left unsaid.
Near the eve of my son's redeployment, what can I say to him? "Sorry Captain, I should have steered you to a state or private university where you could have partied any night of the week like all your friends back home who didn't have to worry about Beast Barracks, ten o' clock curfews, walking punishment hours, or the Cadet Honor Code." And moreover, he wouldn't have to be stymied while trying to prepare for a mission that turns successfully on getting crucial information with life and death as the high stakes of a most dangerous game. How frustrating it is to be made to run the gauntlet between a callow bureaucracy on one side and politicized nomenklatura on the other. A virulent cynicism sets in when you have prepared yourself as a warrior, yet you cannot move forward at a necessary velocity to accomplish your objective: something every little boy understands when first riding that bike.
But frankly, he would have none of a middle aged man's blubbering about "what if's." Whatever transpires, he has been trained to bear it stoically and to above all care for the welfare of his men -- even to prize their lives above his own. At night, alone with God and those thoughts that assault me when the earth is quiet and cool, I can't help but think of the unthinkable -- but I quickly banish that miserable demon away and curse myself for such weakness. Strong men with broad shoulders have a way of overcoming even the most onerous of circumstances, and surely they are a beacon to be utilized in illuminating and ransoming places and situations that are more hellish than old men can bear. As for me, I will stand by the gate and watch the horizon till he comes back -- and finally catch my breath when I find that the strong noble countenance ambling up the path is my own young Captain come home.
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He blogs as The Eloquent Professor at http://www.palookavillepost.com/ and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.