War is Hell

It’s hard to predict before a year starts what the big stories might be. For 2012, “End of the World” and “Mayan Calendars” were a good bet. But, like often happens, #1 seeds can easily be taken out by upstart wildcards.

Who would have guessed that approx. 100 years after the sinking of the Titanic we’d still be trying to figure out how to safely navigate people around the ocean in boats? In the biggest understatements of all time, headlines are screaming, “Cruise ship went off course.” Ya think? That seems so patently obvious I doubt even Sherlock Holmes himself would dare to mention it as “elementary” to Mr. Watson.

The ship has been scraped open like a tin can. “Off course” seems to be the least of its problems.

Tom’s Law #42:

All of the nautical knowledge and scientific advancements acquired by our society since the the 1912 sinking of the Titanic can easily be overridden and defeated by a single human being.

And that’s pretty much the way a year works. In 2011 I’d never ever heard of a ship called the Costa Concordia. Now we all recognize that name.

And it’s only Jan. 16th. The odds of the biggest story of the year will come in January are approx. 1 in 12. And in the first half of the month? The odds are about 1 in 24. So it’s very likely there’s still so much more to come.

In my world, however, even that story is dwarfed by the news out of Afghanistan. The video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers. I’ll have several thoughts about this, hopefully cogent, and I hope I can remember to get them all out before I forget what they are. My brain sometimes goes in too many directions at once.

I hated the Taliban before hating the Taliban was cool. There, I said it. This was back when they were in the news for blowing up archeological sites because they contained statues representing the human form. “False idols” or something like that. The idea was so wacky it defies remembering by my humble little brain. And, even more importantly, there was the way they treated women. I remember trying to buy the domain name TALIBANSUCKS.COM only to find out it was already taken by someone more clever than me. And this was decidedly before the events of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan.

I’m a veteran. No, not in a military sense. I’m a veteran of many flame wars. On the internet. Like on forum/bulletin board websites. In fact, that sot of thing has existed much longer than the internet itself. Before the internet was a thing known as a BBS. (Bulletin board system.) This was a single standalone computer with a dedicated phone line and a modem. Other people (who also owned a computer, phone line and a modem) could connect and leave messages and transfer files. And there was also the USENET, which had email and was a precursor to the internet except it was basically text-only.

And on all of these, I was a combatant on the field of battle of discussion wars. I guess you could say I’ve seen action in several theaters of war. During that action I’ve seen it all. Debates on topics ranging from things like politics, religion, abortion, burning the flag, etc. I learned that open-mindedness was the most precious commodity of all and the person who actually was informed by the debate enough to change his/her mind was as mythical as unicorns playing leapfrog on a rainbow while ignoring the pot of gold beneath their hooves. (I’m pretty sure unicorns have hooves.)

When it comes to things like law enforcement and the military, there was always someone who would say something along these lines: “Unless you’ve been in their shoes, then you don’t know, so shut the hell up.” This came in many variations, but was always (in my view) a logical fallacy in terms of debate. It’s a non-argument. I call it the “you haven’t walked in my shoes” strategy.

I willingly concede up front that another person can never know what another person feels. But I reject in entirety the argument that says such a person can’t have an opinion or form valid thoughts and conclusions without that exact same experience.

On that basis I’m willing to venture forth and share my opinions regarding the urination video.

One of the same guys I battled on the forums who used the “you haven’t walked in my shoes” strategy really hated John Kerry’s guts. This was because of testimony that Kerry gave when he was younger about atrocities allegedly committed by Americans during the war in Vietnam.

I reasoned, if Kerry is telling the truth then why hate him? My opponent’s argument was basically he’s lying and even if he’s telling the truth he’s undermining us.

The addendum to his statement – “truth doesn’t matter” – was implied.

It’s hard to debate with someone who states they will not recognize truth. In that fairy tale land they are free to believe anything they wish, as long as it makes them feel good. Since I don’t care about feeling good, I guess I can be more open to the truth than some.

We Americans see ourselves as the good guys. And when we are at war with someone they are obviously the bad guys. We expect that we uphold a certain standard, like truth, justice and the American way. And if anything threatens that self image, we become uncomfortable and angry. That’s not the way it is supposed to be.

I have a different theory. One based on the concept that we’re all humans and that war is hell. This theory states that all people, regardless of nationality, are pretty much the same. We are all human beings. As such, when it comes to a situation like combat, we all react in somewhat similar fashion. I’d like to think that our troops adhere to a higher standard but there is one simple truth. We’re not there. We can’t see the truth of reality with our own eyes. Quite literally everything we know about the events in a war are, by definition, hearsay.

A small snippet of video, taken out of context of the extreme totality of that theater, can provide a small slice of truth that isn’t hearsay. Now that our government has admitted the video is “authentic” (government speak for “it actually happened”) we get a glimpse of this human being sameness I’m talking about.

I’ve never been in combat, but I surmise that something about the possible immediacy of death changes a person. I think that if I was in combat, besides laying on the ground and soiling myself a lot, I’d also take up smoking. Why worry about lung cancer in 40 years when you could be dead in the next 12 seconds?

The lines between right and wrong get blurred when you are surrounded by death, and attack, and could be the next one killed at any moment in time. The brain does what it can to survive in such situations. And then weird decisions can start to happen. And, again, I don’t think this is something that happens to all peoples of the Earth except those of a particular nationality. That would be totally illogical.

In the movie A Few Good Men it is suggested that we say “thank you” to the people who provide the blanket of freedom under which we all sleep. I couldn’t agree more. At the same time, we must not turn our backs on truth. We have to have both. It’s no insult to recognize who we are. Failure to take that painful step makes it harder to do better.

War is Hell, and that makes it something to be avoided.

Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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