I couldn’t help but perk up when I heard my pastor mention “London” as he led us in prayer this morning. My folks are in London vacationing. I just figured he misspoke, but then he also mentioned Manchester. Having not checked the news since early yesterday, I inquired of my pew-mate. Then I cried. My parents are fine. But this scene from Cooper’s classic came to mind.
So long as their enemy and his victim continued in sight, the multitude remained motionless as beings charmed to the place by some power that was friendly to the Huron; but, the instant he disappeared, it became tossed and agitated by fierce and powerful passion. Uncas maintained his elevated stand, keeping his eyes on the form of Cora, until the colors of her dress were blended with the foliage of the forest; when he descended, and, moving silently through the throng, he disappeared in that lodge from which he had so recently issued. A few of the graver and more attentive warriors, who caught the gleams of anger that shot from the eyes of the young chief in passing, followed him to the place he had selected for his meditations. After which, Tamenund and Alice were removed, and the women and children were ordered to disperse. During the momentous hour that succeeded, the encampment resembled a hive of troubled bees, who only awaited the appearance and example of their leader to take some distant and momentous flight.
A young warrior at length issued from the lodge of Uncas; and, moving deliberately, with a sort of grave march, toward a dwarf pine that grew in the crevices of the rocky terrace, he tore the bark from its body, and then turned whence he came without speaking. He was soon followed by another, who stripped the sapling of its branches, leaving it a naked and blazed trunk. A third colored the post with stripes of a dark red paint; all which indications of a hostile design in the leaders of the nation were received by the men without in a gloomy and ominous silence. Finally, the Mohican himself reappeared, divested of all his attire, except his girdle and leggings, and with one–half of his fine features hid under a cloud of threatening black.
A tree which has been partially or entirely stripped of its bark is said, in the language of the country, to be “blazed.” The term is strictly English, for a horse is said to be blazed when it has a white mark.
Uncas moved with a slow and dignified tread toward the post, which he immediately commenced encircling with a measured step, not unlike an ancient dance, raising his voice, at the same time, in the wild and irregular chant of his war song. The notes were in the extremes of human sounds; being sometimes melancholy and exquisitely plaintive, even rivaling the melody of birds––and then, by sudden and startling transitions, causing the auditors to tremble by their depth and energy. The words were few and often repeated, proceeding gradually from a sort of invocation, or hymn, to the Deity, to an intimation of the warrior’s object, and terminating as they commenced with an acknowledgment of his own dependence on the Great Spirit. If it were possible to translate the comprehensive and melodious language in which he spoke, the ode might read something like the following: “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! Thou art great, thou art good, thou art wise: Manitou! Manitou! Thou art just. “In the heavens, in the clouds, oh, I see Many spots––many dark, many red: In the heavens, oh, I see Many clouds. “In the woods, in the air, oh, I hear The whoop, the long yell, and the cry: In the woods, oh, I hear The loud whoop! “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! I am weak––thou art strong; I am slow; Manitou! Manitou! Give me aid.”
At the end of what might be called each verse he made a pause, by raising a note louder and longer than common, that was peculiarly suited to the sentiment just expressed. The first close was solemn, and intended to convey the idea of veneration; the second descriptive, bordering on the alarming; and the third was the well–known and terrific war– whoop, which burst from the lips of the young warrior, like a combination of all the frightful sounds of battle. The last was like the first, humble and imploring. Three times did he repeat this song, and as often did he encircle the post in his dance.
At the close of the first turn, a grave and highly esteemed chief of the Lenape followed his example, singing words of his own, however, to music of a similar character. Warrior after warrior enlisted in the dance, until all of any renown and authority were numbered in its mazes. The spectacle now became wildly terrific; the fierce–looking and menacing visages of the chiefs receiving additional power from the appalling strains in which they mingled their guttural tones. Just then Uncas struck his tomahawk deep into the post, and raised his voice in a shout, which might be termed his own battle cry.
And these scriptures.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Pray for mercy. Preach Christ.
Receiving WordPress’s latest auto-reminder email that suggested I need to renew this blog made me feel like WP was growing impatient and about to put another persuasive turn into the vice. That said, I gave in, spilled the beans, forked over the cash–however you want to think of it–I succumbed to the belief that my words might matter. Here is an overdue post to mark the occasion.
My Evangelical, protestant, Christian seminary might just embody the most defeatist attitude I have ever seen.
As some of you know, I began to notice this after the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando (which occurred after 9/11, which occurred after the first attempt to knock out the Twin Towers in 1993).
As well-read academics, the professors and most of the students are aware of the English language’s five letter word “dogma.” But I am convinced they do not know what it means. Do you?
All I would like to suggest here is that dogma has nothing to do with giving up. Here at school, dogma is treated as the thing at the end of the argument. The fail-safe. When all else–when all logic, when all argumentation–fails, the Christian simply declares, “dogma.” Come to think of it, it’s almost used like saying “uncle” when wrestling around with older siblings or cousins. (Or Uncle Bob).
This approach, dogma as the fail-safe, is a grave, grave mistake. Ohio State was another data point.
The Christian knows we have the victory in Christ. That’s primary and ever will be. Start there and end there. Never stray from there.
The tangible way to do this is with Christian love. With the only real love. With the love that is rooted in the Cross.
The conversational way to do this is asking questions until you demonstrated that you actually are listening and curious to discover what he or she thinks. Don’t stop when he repeats Wolf Blitzer or Obama or Trump or Clinton or Megyn Kelly (why is she in the headlines so much?) or John Stewart or Trevor Noah or John Oliver or whoever. I don’t even watch TV and I can’t help but hear what these people think. And I don’t care what they think. I don’t know them. Neither does the person you’re talking to. Keep questioning. Become an expert in listening.
It is our Christian duty to restore dignity to people. It is our Christian duty to announce the available redemption. This starts with Christ, not fails with Christ.
Being dogmatic does not mean giving up. It means honesty. It means integrity. It means that from the ‘get go,’ you proclaim, “I know my assumptions. Do you know yours?”
One final way I can offer to help re-frame ‘dogma’ in your mind is by comparing it to confidence. Think of any person you would call confident. Then ask yourself, “Would anything meaningfully different be communicated if I called them dogmatic?”
Michael Jordan = confident or dogmatic? Trump = confident or dogmatic? Obama = confident or dogmatic? Your pastor = confident or dogmatic? Your military members = confident or dogmatic? Joel Osteen = confident or dogmatic? Moses = confident or dogmatic? Muhammad = confident or dogmatic? Paul = confident or dogmatic? Martin Luther = confident or dogmatic? Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, any A-List Actor or Actress etc.
Confident living is not silent. Dogmatic living is not giving up.
Being dogmatic is not giving up. Christians, don’t give up.
A friend at work asked me what an “Evangelical” is. He asked because the group “Evangelicals” keeps getting referenced during the election. I told him that to the best of my knowledge it is more about what it is not, than what it is. Evangelicals are not Catholics or Orthodox or Quakers or Amish. I still have to ask someone from school what distinguishes Evangelicals from Protestants. I think the main difference is that a person uses “Evangelicals” when they intend to be pejorative, but would say “Protestants” if they didn’t. However, since I am an adult man, calling me names really falls on deaf ears so I can’t be sure. The reason this friend asked me is because I am currently a student at an Evangelical Christian seminary. Why am I an a student at an Evangelical Seminary? Because I was raised a Protestant. I don’t believe in papal supremacy, so I can’t see myself converting to Catholicism, and I don’t have much ability to interact with Orthodoxy, so I don’t see that in my future either. However, I can’t deny that the tradition and history of those two cultures of Christianity have appeal. Given that my personality always trends toward extremes I don’t mind admitting that I wish my Evangelical school was more rigorous and disciplined than it is. Here are a couple of constructive criticisms that I need to vent about.
Does everyone know what the Jewish Mishnah is? At the risk of being over-simplistic, it is essentially the written interpretation of the Torah. Unfortunately, when Evangelicals discuss the Mishnah, it is often presented as a silly, if not altogether unnecessary document and concept. “The Scripture is clear,” the Evangelicals say. Well, that’s not really what you (Evangelicals) believe. Have you seen the library on campus? What do you call that if not a Mishnah?
That leads me to Christian books. Want to publish a Christian book that will appeal to Evangelicals? Open with, “One area of Christianity that is often neglected is…” Seriously? I beg to differ. Everything has been covered endlessly. 2000 years worth of coverage. What you meant to say is, “Because I lacked wisdom and discernment (but not confidence), in other words, because I was a teenager when I converted, for a long time I believed Christianity was simply what one man told me it was. Then I switched churches after I (choose one of the following or insert your own) got divorced, committed a crime, got fired, had a kid, or experienced life in some way that wasn’t according to this man’s conception and realized the error of my ways. Perhaps my story can help you and make me a buck in the process.” My criticism is that while autobiographical accounts might have worked up until the advent of the internet, they don’t anymore. Now it’s time to interact with people. Evangelicals: Please don’t succumb to the temptation that your story can save people. Only Christ’s atoning death and resurrection possesses that sort of power. No Christian doctrine calls for believers to compete with the world on the world’s terms.
Here’s another chance for me to discuss coercion. Coercion has no place in Christianity. It doesn’t. If you believe it does then you believe in what early church fathers called a heresy. Evangelical pastors that preach war are consequently heretics. But that’s okay. Comparatively, this is an easy problem to fix. Just stop. There is no rule that says you have to preach war or believe in war and violence and there most certainly is a rule which says you can transform your teaching.
For all the Christians that served, fought, and maybe even killed people: no big thing. Sound biblically based theology says you’re forgiven. Easy enough.
For currently serving Christians, get out when you can. Maybe see if you can switch to a non-combatant when you feel convicted to do so.
Military Chaplains: you have a big job.
Parents, church-goers, youth pastors: stop. Stop encouraging teenagers to serve in combatant roles.
This brings me to Star Wars. Evangelicals love the force. In a tremendous act of projection, they consistently see the force as a redeeming metaphor of the Holy Spirit. What they miss is that Star Wars is ultimately still about violence solving problems. Christianity and the Holy Spirit are not.
Let’s zoom out to movies in general. Evangelicals love movies. But nearly all popular (blockbuster) movies believe that violence solves problems. Given that Christians don’t seem to have the upper hand in the film industry, that the industry endlessly promotes violence as a problem solver should come as no surprise. What would a Christian movie look like? That’s difficult to say. It wouldn’t look like Star Wars or even Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The fact is Christians are called to glorify God. Entertainment is hardly suited for that task. Building schools, however, and hospitals, and homeless shelters–that’s on the mark.
Lastly, this brings me to my minor area of expertise: strip clubs. Keep in mind that while I believe Christians must be pacifists, I served and on at least two missions humans were killed directly because of my service. And while I believe Christians should avoid patronizing strip clubs if at all possible (if you’re hopeless and feel compelled, please patronize away; just don’t stop going to church), I managed one. This is because I couldn’t ever see myself offering counsel on these things based on second-hand knowledge. In any case, Evangelicals need to get over sex and eroticism. We must. The biblical (Almighty God’s) standard has never been in doubt. One man, one woman, forever. Yet Evangelical leaders persist in communicating a tremendous insecurity about the matter. For example (the following is meant to be convincing in its overwhelming-ness), one professor last semester mentioned he was a virgin until marriage in his 30s at least every other class session. Another also regularly mentioned he was single very late into life. Another mentioned that a former student was involved in ministry to adult film stars and that he (the prof) wasn’t sure if that was possible. Then this semester during the opening session of a course a professor randomly mentioned strip clubs and how as he drove by them he would pray that the people would be “saved”, but the building/business be destroyed.
Seriously folks. Christianity is about more than sex. You’re afraid of strip clubs? Strip clubs are the very, very end result of a long series of events in which only fully grown adults partake. Would it be nice if all adults could be happily married in heterosexual, monogamous relationships? Sure. But if we’re going to talk about active contributors to purposelessness and godlessness, parents and the home is number one. Since we’re never going to pray for the destruction of the home, the next institution in terms of negative influence on humanity that Evangelicals should be praying for God’s intervention and destruction of is public schools. Or maybe we shouldn’t be praying for destruction.
Instead, I recommend praying for wisdom and insight regarding the tremendous amount of wealth and power Evangelicals have at their disposal. Something like, O Lord, we give thee thanks for blessing us with more power to carry out thy will than all other previous cultures. Lead us not into the resultant temptations, but guide us so that we may best glorify your most holy name. Amen.
I took a course in college called “Mass Media and Communications”. I can’t remember the reason. But what I will never forget is one of the lessons. This was back in the early 2000s, so HDTV (1080p etc) wasn’t prevalent yet. The professor taught us how a television worked. I had no idea before then. He explained that a device inside the box quickly draws a very thin line–two hundred forty evenly spaced lines actually–across the screen. Then on its return trip, this device fills in the blanks just left with another set of lines. That’s where 480i (NTSC) comes from. Old televisions in America had 480 “interlaced” lines. Now we all watch in some level of progressively scanning lines, meaning the picture is fully refreshed each trip across the screen and the image is high definition. Now you know.
What all this techno-mumbo-jumbo means to us mortals is that the images on the television screen are an illusion. They’re not really there. Different than a painting, sculpture, or the words and images in a tangible book/magazine/newspaper, which we can really see and feel and touch, the images on the television screen are an optical illusion. Our brain is able to put together all these rapidly moving lines and we think we see a man or woman or if you’re four and a half years old, it seems that all you see is an Octonaut.
But the truth is there is nothing there. There is only an illusion. Mr. Williams is not in our living room. Only a powerful illusion that our brain wants to believe is a trustworthy man named Brian Williams is there. But even that is not true. This illusion isn’t on or in the television, the illusion is in our minds.
The question then becomes, “Can an illusion lie?” I say no. I say there is no non-fiction television to begin with. How could there be?
If there is anything to be learned from current events, it is that we’ve allowed ourselves, yet again, to be fooled. The new question, the only question I see remaining at the end of this is, “How many more times will we let it happen before we turn off the TV?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about you recently. While I’d love to report that my memory of you grows fonder as the years pass, quite the opposite is true. To begin, I want you to know I feel like you took something from me. I think you took something I didn’t even know I had it until it went missing. I’m talking about care. And concern. Care and concern for things. Take work for example. How am I supposed to believe anything that is not life and death is worth spending energy on? Of course I’m capable, and of course I’m qualified. But the drive to ‘fight the good fight’, when it isn’t a fight, is gone. I think you took it.
I also feel like I’m not sure how people expect to be treated. While we were together, everyone was equal. It was beautiful. During missions the mission was all that mattered. Everyone checked their feelings at the door. Now, people’s feelings are the mission. Every experience since being with you has included not only completing the mission, but making the person feel like the mission was completed. Instead of results, people want to purchase experiences. I just don’t understand it. I know you don’t either.
Lastly, for now, because of what you taught me about what’s important and what’s not important when lives are on the line, taken together with the depth of the learning experience, I can’t shake the appearance of having a large ego. It’s like I’m expected to just forget all the lessons you taught simply because not very many people ever learn them. The trouble is, as you know, I couldn’t forget your instruction even if I wanted to. With you, there wasn’t endless debating. There was action. There was doing. Indecision was an enemy. Now, decisiveness is a detractor. It doesn’t make sense.
You know I love you, right? Don’t you? At the same time, I just can’t help wanting to blame you either.
In the end, I guess I really just wanted to say “Thanks” and “No Thanks”.
PS – This is just a little thing, and I don’t know if it’s you or just flying that is responsible, but I’m not loving how I can’t pass up a bathroom without feeling like “Might as well. Who knows when the next time I’ll have a chance to go will be.”
A difficult, challenging, and generally confusing collection of 3,000+ words–that is “Eight Acres.” The title and opening line prove to mislead the reader. Surprised by our being caught off-guard, we read on. The quick-to-read staccato dialogue encourages giving the story the benefit of the doubt, and before too long, we reach a full paragraph which acts as a barely legible legend to the story’s map and provides the basest of hopes that our travels will end safely. As we hit the first set of asterisks, we’re certain about only two things. It is war. The characters are pilots. We also are given a big clue that this Mugwump is attempting a post-modern writing style. This means that as we enter a WWII veteran named Jerry’s basement, we don’t get stuck on the question “Why?”, we simply read on.
The writing is decent enough that our curiosity begs us to give the story a chance. Continuing on, as the story jumps around, we quickly warm to the idea that, like building a jigsaw puzzle, we won’t see the picture until the end–at least that’s our hope.
As “Eight Acres” settles in, a distinct, though unconventional, picture begins to emerge. The picture gains even more clarity with the use of sparsely placed details which arrive just in time to prevent our motivation from completely diminishing.
In the end, “Eight Acres” is not light reading. It cannot be read quickly, and it does not hold the reader’s hand. But there is definitely a theme, and it is definitely one a child won’t understand. The question is will an adult?
“Okay crew, coming down.”
“Clear down right.”
“Come down four, down three, down two, down one.”
“Collective’s full down, cyclic’s neutral. Pilot has controls.”
“Pilot has controls.”
“Pilot has controls.”
Though they joked that at night it was pointless to go through the motions of holding up your hands to prove you’ve transferred the flight controls, the truth was there was always enough light to see the other pilot’s gloved hands being held up as if waiting to catch a ball. Plus, these men knew the score. They were the best at what they did because they executed their job with a studied eloquence. And so when Pete raised his hands to prove he had released control of the aircraft to his pilot, he knew it did not go unnoticed and served the greater purpose.
Two minutes later, never sooner, the aircrew began the post-flight routine of collecting their gear and buttoning up the aircraft. His plastic sleeve pad thing on the seat-belt-like strap never remained in place on the helmet bag. After adjusting it, he realized he’d put his kneeboard in the wrong pocket. Or had he? Dropping the bag to check, he discovered it was in the right pocket after all. Good. Everything was where it should be. Sliding the plastic comfort thing into place once again, he hoisted the bag up. His helmet bag now over his shoulder, he bent down to grab his go bag. Containing enough ammunition to scare away at least the Iraqi wildlife, he also kept some energy bars, and a good first aid kit within the pockets on the bag whose original purpose was to house a water bladder. He always regretted that he didn’t know the contents of that kit better. As he went to sling the bag over his other shoulder, he almost fell over. While he had un-carabineered the go-bag from the helicopter, he hadn’t noticed his M4 was still attached to both his bag and the helo.
“What took so long, man?”
“Oh, nothing. Just saw life through Beetle Bailey’s eyes for a second there.”
“I cannot wait to get back to the trailers tonight.”
“Yeah, I got a package today from the wife. If it’s what I think it is, I’ve got some good reading for the night.”
“What do you think she sent?”
“Well, she told me the other day that some stuff I ordered from this company that sells dome home’s arrived back in the States. She said she knew I was waiting for it, so she packed it up right away and sent it here.”
“I didn’t tell you about it? Are you sure? I feel like I’ve told everyone.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure you haven’t told me.”
“In a nutshell, this guy name Buckminster Fuller invented the geodesic dome. It’s essentially a perfect structure. Much stronger than a box home, it’s cheaper, has more space, and is more efficient.”
“But it’s a dome.”
“Well, where are you going to put this dome?”
“That’s the genius of it. Her dad has eight acres in West Virginia. He’s held on to them all these years, and would basically love to give them to us to use. We’re thinking about taking him up on the offer after I get out of the Air Force. We hope to start a little farm on it. It’s going to be perfect.”
“Oh yeah? Do you know anything about farming?”
“No. But I know how to read. And there are books about it.”
“Ha. Okay man. If you say so.”
Neither man would ever voice such things, but the truth was that they loved their little chats after a mission.
Closing the white Dodge pickup truck’s door had the effect of launching the men into space where they experienced weightlessness for the first time. No more pressure to perform, no more lives at stake, and no more straining to decipher unreadable radio calls. Unlike the helicopter, the truck always started, had good climate control, and there was a cd player. The truck, which was only needed to drive laughably short distances, was only fueled at great intervals at a full service station by a third country national straight from the set of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. This TCN wore a raincoat with a hand-written “COL” above the right breast pocket and gloves and safety glasses and all. The truck was the envy of many. The truck, like everything in that place, was a symbol. And it symbolized mobility. Who needs to be especially mobile in a combat zone? Important people. Aircrew. It was good to be king.
The life support sergeant was nearly asleep when the crews returned from their missions. The endorphins were contagious as the men returned each piece of their equipment to its proper place. Night vision goggles, already in protective cases, had a place on a padded table. Helmets and helmet bags went into cubbies, along with body armor. Some pilots removed the back plate of armor in favor of lighter travels, but Pete and his aircraft commander simply chose the path of least resistance. Plus, it would just be silly to get hurt in a way that was preventable. Either way, they hoisted the guardian vests into the beat-up plywood cubbies by their elastic shoulder straps turned handles. Next up, the walk to debrief, and hope that the POC crew had done their job correctly and had dinner ready. And some cookies.
Pete stopped off in the social trailer to grab a soda from his personal stash. Sure, the variety of free sodas was enough to please any fan of the beverage, but there was nothing like a Mountain Dew Code Red after a mission. And part of him just enjoyed being able to have something that was his. Something he bought. Something that no one could take without offending the property gods. Given that everything else was communal, he treasured his soda.
“If nobody has anything else to add, debrief complete.”
The first time he saw it, it was leaning against a corner in the basement. The carpet on the stairs leading down to the basement had a plaid pattern. Red with black lines. The kind of pattern that would make a great shirt or wool jacket. What was it doing on the ground? The wall was on the left and wasn’t so much a wall as a bulletin board. It was a mosaic of all sorts of framed pictures. Baseball was the theme, but a few Polish novelties could be found hanging as well. And some scales. Jerry had worked for Toledo Scales after the war.
Jerry lived with his mother still. A five year old doesn’t have any reason to think this odd. Instead, Pete just liked being over there. Jerry would give him pop. And cookies. And if they ever went into the front room, there was always hard candy in a dish. The dish was porcelain. It was a slippery white bird. Slippery, despite being textured with tiny bumps. Being portable, the cookies came from a round tin that Jerry opened by pressing it against his large belly, where he seemed to struggle just for a moment until the lid came free. Jerry loved watching Pete eat cookies. Pete loved eating cookies. But he loved seeing the sword more.
The sheath was brown. It almost looked rusty. There was a ring where a belt or some such thing could be threaded through. The handle was a very hard textured plastic. A real katana would have had a handle that was hand sewn. This clearly mass produced weapon kept up appearances, but also gave off the feel of uncertainty. Jerry had a kind of hesitation every time he brought out the sword. Who was he to deny a child happiness? And yet, Jerry brought the sword back from his time overseas where he had engaged in World War Two. Pete could tell that Jerry was great for other reasons, but for most, it was because of what men like him did during and after the war that put Jerry in the greatest generation.
Jerry would laugh off Pete’s attempts to get him to divulge the sword’s secrets. Had Jerry killed the previous owner? Had Jerry used the sword to kill? For Pete, war and guns and swords and bombs were fascinating. Everyone that was involved with such things seemed to be viewed as special, he might go so far to say they were viewed as other worldly.
“You ready to go back to the trailers, or do you need to use the computers for something?”
“I could go either way. There’s always something to read on the internet, but like I said, I’ve got dome home research to do, too.”
“Oh, right. Dome homes. For your farm.”
“Hey! Don’t laugh. In a few years, I’ll be living the good life. And what’ll you be doing? Probably be out here for the 15th time in as many years, fighting somebody else’s fight. If those are my options, I choose farming.”
“You know that those aren’t your only options, right?”
“So are you going to make me walk, or are we taking the truck back to the trailers?”
“Alright. Alright. We’ll go back now.”
Back at the trailers, the routine continued as normal. Boots were taken off, and flight suits removed in favor of almost comfortable PT gear. Every time their fingers touched their ridiculously poor fitting, lined PT shorts, each man wondered why the Air Force didn’t just contract Nike to develop the uniform.
Then, some went to work out, while others headed to the showers. Pete just wanted to read. And after reading, he wanted to talk. He was so excited about the future. About West Virginia, about farming, but most importantly he was excited for the chance to invite people on to his off-the-beaten-path property, and in to his dome home.
“Alright Tail, give the team the one-minute call.”
He knew those exact same words were said in flight lead’s aircraft. But what flight lead radioed next was not what anyone expected.
“Mongoose 01 flight, abort. Abort, abort, abort.”
“Mongoose 01 flight, go-around, go-around, go-around.”
“Mongoose 02 going around.”
Quickly scanning the ground for enemy combatants, all Pete could think was, “They’d be so small. How am I supposed to see anything from up here?”
“Mongoose 01. Confirm the tail of your aircraft has been hit?”
“Negative. My tail gunner’s been hit. Standby.”
“What the hell is Mongoose 03 doing? It looks like they landed and are unloading their guys!”
“Mongoose 01. Mongoose 02. It looks like 03 missed the go-around call. They’ve landed and are completing the infil.”
“Mongoose 01 copies. BREAK BREAK. Mongoose 03. Mongoose 01. Abort the mission. I repeat. Mission abort. Mongoose 01’s tail’s been hit, Mongoose 01 and 02 are headed to the Baghdad CASH.”
“Mongoose 01. Mongoose 02. If you’re good with it, you keep the lead, and we’ll cover you since you don’t have your tail manned right now. We can make the radio calls if you want.”
“Sounds good. We’re going direct. Try to get us clearance, I’ll listen up, but we’re going direct no matter what.”
“Mongoose 02 copies.”
The before and after black and white photos were stored loose in an old shoe box. Those pictures imprinted themselves on Pete as what should be listed next to the word “war” in the dictionary. Having no standard size or border, each photo was meaningless without its pair. A grey building, against a grey sky, along a grey street could have been anywhere and meant anything. A pile of grey rubble, against a grey sky, along a broken grey street could have been anywhere and meant anything. But when viewed side-by-side, against a backdrop of a shoebox full of photographs balanced on top of a man’s knees while he sat in his mother’s basement, the pictures contained a story. Pete interpreted the story to mean that if you need to win, this is what it takes to win.
“I know. I can’t believe it either.”
A gunner washed the blood out of the back of the helicopter with his water from his camelback as everyone else searched for bullet holes.
“It was friendly fire.”
“Apparently the team’s translator was given a rifle instead of handgun, and a rifle with a round in the chamber no less.”
Uncontrollably turning to see the culprit, Pete saw him. He was bawling. They wanted to hate him, but his genuine remorse couldn’t have insisted itself upon them with greater ferocity.
“That still doesn’t explain why he pulled the trigger.”
“I know. I know! But it sounds like when he stood up at the one-minute out call, he carelessly did.”
“Then what happened. How did you know he was hit?”
“He told us over the intercom. He said, ‘I’m hit. Tail’s hit.’”
“Yeah, no kidding. Luckily we had the Doc on board. It’s a head shot for sure, but it seems to have missed his brain.”
“What’d you get today?”
“A book on gardening.”
“Oh yeah? For the farm? You’re pretty serious about this, then.”
“When am I not serious about something that interests me? Sheesh. Why is it that I always have to be your entertainment? I am planning on buying a dome home. Yes, I will assemble it myself. Yes, I know that sounds bizarre. Yes, I plan on living off the land. Happy?”
“Touchy, touchy. Take it easy man. I’m just giving you shit.”
“Well, sometimes, maybe once, it’d be nice if you just respected that I get to live my life how I want.”
“Of course you do. You know you bring this on yourself, right? If you just talked about what everyone talks about, nobody would bother you. You see that, right?”
“Oh, I see it. I don’t think it makes any sense, but I see it.”
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’ll have a ginger ale.”
Jerry had died many years earlier. On this, Pete’s first paid-for-by-the-Air-Force commercial flight he decided to toast Jerry’s memory with a glass of ginger ale just like Jerry used to drink. It was Jerry’s parting gift that afforded Pete the opportunity to pursue his dream of gaining the kind of respect that men like Jerry received.
“For real. What are we doing over here?”
“I don’t know. I kind of like it.”
“Like it? How can you like it? We invaded a foreign country on questionable logic and evidence and we know there is never going to be a clear cut victory, no matter how hard we try. Hell, there’s not even a clear cut enemy.”
“Pete, I get it. Really I do. Don’t you think you might be focused in a bit too tight? A democracy in the Middle East will be a good thing. That’s as zoomed-in as I get. How we do that, if we are able to provide enough temporary stability to actually let the people here accomplish that, those are questions that are above my pay grade—and yours.”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone says. I just refuse to tow that line. I’m responsible for what’s happening here. Even if only on a miniscule level, I’m responsible. What’s worse is the manner in which I became responsible. I volunteered.”
The two men, two warriors, two friends, laid on separate bottom-bunks in silence. The conversation ceased being valuable. Each other’s prolonged silence said as much. Two men to a room, three rooms to a trailer, each trailer housed an entire crew. Besides the metal-framed bunk beds, the rooms were furnished with two tall metal wardrobes most commonly used as partitions to create privacy, and a desk, and a heating/ac unit. The windows were immediately blacked-out with any material that would do the trick, whether cardboard, foil, or fabric.
The Air Force, for all its greatness, severely lacked instruction regarding what to think about war and death. For some reason, it was just assumed that the men knew. The Bushido-type list of warrior attributes that he had packed and hung on the wall next to his bunk spoke volumes. Bushido—the Samurai code. He knew the Samurai were an unmatched group of warrior-poets. Their swords were said to contain their souls. And the swords were unbreakable and could cut through anything. He’d seen the videos.
Jerry’s faux-samurai sword would probably have broken if put to task. Was it even sharp? Did it ever need to be? All these years later the memory of the brown sheathed, brown handled, silver bladed sword loudly resting in the corner began to fade. Yet, in his own way, its memory still provided him with the strength necessary to do his job.
“Courage is living when it’s right to live and dying when it’s right to die,” he recited silently.
No matter what other thoughts filled his head, he knew it was not right to die. And he knew the others he served with agreed.
“So I think I found the one I want. It’s a double-dome.”
“Double-dome, eh? What’s that mean?”
“Well, you know I’ve got that piano, right?”
“The thing is, it is loud. It really should have a place of its own. So they have this home that is essentially two domes connected by a little walkway. Over three thousand square feet in all. The main dome is around two thousand, if you count the second floor, while the smaller dome is about a thousand square feet. It’s be the perfect piano room, library, study, parlor-type thing.”
“Sounds pretty good. Having a separate place to go from the main house would be nice.”
“Nice? It’d be perfect. During fights, everyone could retreat to their separate places until they cool down. I can’t wait to get back and visit the property.”
“So you’ve never seen the eight acres?”
“Nope. But I can just picture it. I know there’s already a house on it now. But it doesn’t have running water or electricity or anything. I’d probably knock it down and go from there. It’s on a bit of a slope, but nothing extreme. There is a huge shade tree, I know that. And the winters are brutal, but there’s nothing I can’t handle. All you have to do is be prepared for it, and you’re good.”
“What about the summers? I imagine they’re not exactly pleasant. What kind of work would you do?”
“The summers? They’re hot and sweaty. But the dome home stays cool. See, the air circulates perfectly because it never runs into a dead end. Its course is just constantly redirected. As far as work, I’ll be fine. Always have been. There’s a small town nearby. I already own most everything I want. And we’ll be farming, so food won’t be a huge expense.”
“If you say so.”
“You know, one thing I can’t picture though, is how to hang things on the walls. Tons of people have dome homes, but I can’t say I’ve seen enough pictures of the interiors to know if people still hang portraits and stuff. I only ask because we have this awesome framed set of Samurai swords. You know, with the three swords. The two pretty big ones, and then the smaller blade they used as a back-up, or when fighting in very close quarters.”
The special operations warriors segregated themselves from the rest of the soldiers in the DFAC. “Deefak” is how everyone referred to the dining facility–the chow hall. After only a matter of days in-country, it became apparent to all how to distinguish those who worked inside “the fence” from those who worked outside “the fence”. These men worked outside the fence. They weren’t necessarily more dedicated, or smarter, but they had always wanted to do what they were doing and happened to be good at it. And they were dedicated. And they were smart.
On the ceiling of the DFAC hung flags. There were flags of the different nations of the world that were in the coalition of forces, and flags of the 50 states.
Suddenly, after a break in the conversation, one of the men spoke up.
“Hatu. Huh, where’s that country? It sounds familiar, but I can’t seem to place it. South America? Africa?” he asked.
“Definitely Africa,” chimed in one of the men more respected for his book knowledge.
“I don’t know,” said another.
“It doesn’t have an African ring to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in South America,” challenged a third.
Without the internet at their fingertips, the hard men were left with all the nuances of communication to determine who to believe–conviction in the voice, the tone of voice, facial expressions, and look of the eyes. Lastly, all waited to see if somebody would wager that they were correct. No one was so bold.
At last, all eyes found themselves gazing at the flag, trying to look for clues. The stocky mustached reader finally broke the silence.
“Hatu. Ha. Morons. It’s not Hatu, it’s Utah. You just read it from the back side of the flag.”
In all caps, it was an easy mistake we suppose, but one that silenced this proud group of men for some time.
“Does everyone understand?” the professor asked. She just finished explaining a nuance regarding citations in academic writing. “Once more then, common knowledge doesn’t need to be cited, but other than that, it’s best to cite the source of your material. For example, that Pearl Harbor was attacked on December…9th..?” Snickers from the class. “…was it the 9th?” she begged for help.
“7th,” he spoke up. “December 7th.”
“That’s right, thank you. Now you all know that I don’t ‘do’ dates very well,” she joked.
“And that you don’t love your country,” he remarked half-joking, but seeking a status increase in his classmate’s eyes as well.
“Haha. Yes, apparently that too,” she laughed, genuinely appreciating the comment.
His helmet on and secure, he slowly backed the motorcycle out of its parking spot as he prepared to head home from class. Recognizing that a motorcyclist’s every movement is exposed, he concentrated on making his scan for obstacles look as cool as possible.
Finally, he was on the road. Warm air, no seat belt; he was one with the machine. “This will never get old,” he thought to himself. Seeing brake lights in front of him he looked up to see yellow become red. Downshifting, he slowed to a stop. The car in front of him had a sticker that caught his attention. It simply read, “9-11-01.” He couldn’t place the date. Adam and Eve themselves couldn’t describe the shame he felt as he realized his mistake. How many times did it have to happen until he learned that pride comes before the fall? Less than 10 minutes after enjoying a good laugh at the professors expense for not remembering the date Pearl Harbor was attacked, he didn’t recognize a sticker whose purpose was to help us never forget the events of September 11, 2001.
Frustrated he rode the rest of the way home analyzing how this could have happened. Suddenly, an interesting thought: “Wow. It has been 12 years. I wonder how everyone felt in 1953 about Pearl Harbor, compared to how we feel now about 9/11. I always hear about how great the 50s were… Will people in 2073 look back and romanticize this decade too?” It seemed unlikely.
Insecurity. Individuals feel it, nations feel it. In either case, it is a problem that should be stomped out as ferociously as possible. The attack on 9/11 spoke to life’s uncertainty. How long are we going to pretend that this was new information? No living thing is free from a risk of dying. Why are we still insecure?
Given the occasion to ‘get the jump’ on the yearly discussion, I don’t mind taking the first stab. We’re still insecure because we don’t understand where security comes from.
Here’s the situation as I see it: After taking until the mid-1980s to repress Vietnam’s memory, we built a military of overwhelming strength. The end of the 80s saw the end of The Cold War. Less than a few years later, we literally obliterated Iraq’s military during Gulf War One. (Our pilots were shooting down Iraqi pilots before they could retract their landing gear on takeoff.) This victory made it impossible to resist feeling invulnerable.
The trouble, however, was that the “we” that became invulnerable included the greatest generation. By 9/11, “we” no longer included the greatest generation or their experience-based (vs secondhand) knowledge and wisdom. What did they know that would have helped us? What might we have learned from existing with them, rather than reading about them? What information do we need to internalize so we can rid ourselves of the wasting disease called insecurity?
Security comes from within.
It won’t come from Obama. It wouldn’t have come from Romney. It won’t come from Clinton or Christie.
Whether Hippocrates ever intended his paraphrased oath to be applied by everyone is inconsequential. “Do no knowing harm.” That goes for everyone. All the time. Whether at work or at play. In your personal life, in your professional life.
Is life complicated? Yes. Has our government acted honorably all the time? No. Do people capitalize on every opportunity to take advantage of each other? Yes. These questions and answers do not paint a pretty picture. So what. Not one of them has any bearing on the decision you are about to make right now.
The only way to overcome this problem is to stop doing knowing harm. Today. No matter who is telling you, “It’s okay.” Whatever consequence you fear will happen if you disobey, you must risk it. Past mistakes are irrelevant. The rest of the planet is longing for Americans to wisely use the power we hold. You know what I’m talking about. You can’t feign ignorance any longer.
I need your help. The only way to get there is together.