The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

I’m an Army brat through and through. I’ve watched my share of Army-Navy football games with my Dad and rooted for the “right” side. My first flight instructor was an Army helicopter pilot of the Vietnam era who enjoyed challenging Navy pilots to bar fights while I cheered him on. I’m basically anti-war, but I love my Army. I admire people who serve in any of our armed forces. I won’t devolve into cliches here, but, okay, freedom isn’t free, yadda, yadda. Oh, I have my issues with the military because it takes kids and turns them into killing machines, and sometimes it forgets to turn them off. However, I owe my existence–and you do, too–to everyone who served in World War II and saved the world from the most base villainy ever seen.It was only a few months ago we learned that “U.S. Special Forces” had killed Osama bin Laden. My ears perked up at “special forces,” because I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. We ask them to do disgusting things for the country, and they do it without question; most of the time, it makes us safer. (I’ve settled the ethical issues internally and really don’t want to debate them.) Special Forces are the elite, and, frankly, I’ve always felt that if we’d turned the war in Afghanistan completely over to them in the beginning, it would be over now, but for that whole Iraq distraction. I quickly “got over” the fact that it was Navy Seals, not Delta Force, not the Rangers, who stole into Pakistan in the dark, did the deed on bin Laden, and safely evacuated.

“Seal Team Six” became an everyday word. I even had a water treatment system solicitor come to my door a few days’ after all the bin Laden publicity and, when he saw he wasn’t making the sale, pulled the “I’m a former Navy Seal” line on me. Trust me, if he was a Navy Seal, I was, well, someone younger, stronger, and fiercer.

Then came the news over the weekend of the shoot-down by the Taliban of a Chinook helicopter carrying members of Seal Team Six (including a specially trained Seal dog), an Army aircrew, two Airmen, and several Afghan commandos. At first it seemed like a non-military event because what military wants to admit that the rag-tag Taliban could bring down a U.S. helicopter. Just ask the former Soviets how naive that concept is. After the admission that the helicopter had been shot down, some weekend anchors heard “Seal Team Six” and started mourning the crew who had taken out Osama bin Laden, not realizing that a Seal Team has several hundred members. I will admit when I first heard someone say that I wondered what idiot officer (Dad was a career non-com) had put the team members from the bin Laden raid back in a country where keeping secrets isn’t easy. Some anchor then compounded the idiocy by “thanking goodness” it wasn’t the same team. Idiot.

I’ve tried all weekend to come up with words to express my feelings. I feel every loss in both these wars. When the Washington Post prints pictures of the fatalities, I look at each picture. I read each name and home town. No war since World War II has touched my family in that way. Cousins came through Vietnam and Desert Storm physically unscathed, so I felt I owed that to the families who suffered the ultimate loss, an acknowledgement of their sacrifice. I’m a born Virginian (yes, there is a distinction), and Seal Team Six is based in Virginia Beach, VA. In that way, it was a home-state loss, and Virginia will step up and comfort these new widows and fatherless children, these parents who have lost sons who gave the last full measure of devotion.

The Seals would say they were just doing their job. In this instance it was rescuing some Army Rangers who had been pinned down in a Taliban stronghold. Had it all gone successfully, the two groups probably would have met up in the Green Zone and traded jabs about how the Navy had to come to land and rescued the Army. There would have been a lot of macho posturing I have little patience with, but everyone would have understood you don’t leave your people behind, regardless of which service they belong to. And the Rangers would have begrudgingly given the Seals their due. Begrudgingly.

Instead, there will be too many funerals, too many flags pressed into the shaking hands of next of kin, too many 21-gun salutes, too many playings of Taps. Too many tears will be shed, too many nights will be spent alone in a bed meant for two. There will be too many nightmares where children wake wanting their Daddy. In the past ten years, there has already been too much of this, but that’s another matter. Right now, families and a country will come together to mourn and, then, carry on. The Seals would expect nothing less.

The title of this post is an unofficial Seal motto. How apt for the weeks to come as bodies are identified and sent home to be honored and laid to rest. For the families, it can only be a mantra.

Dead or Alive Redux

Just a little mini-post today while I’m working on the next post for National Short Story Month.

I’m still reflecting on the death of Osama bin Laden. Really, I have no choice. Almost two weeks into the aftermath, it is still often the lead topic on a news cast.

After an initial, albeit reluctant, show of support for the President’s authorization of the mission and its parameters, the extreme right and extreme left have twisted themselves around on this until they somewhat agree. The right is in high dudgeon because they feel W didn’t get enough credit. Excuse me, but how can a person who has been out of office for more than two years get any credit for instructing the CIA to recommence its search for bin Laden and then authorizing a mission that requires the go-ahead from a sitting President? Oh, it was the enhanced interrogation techniques which W, who’d never fought in a war and who perhaps had the barest minimum of SERE training in his air guard days, insisted we use? Wrong again. As interrogation professionals (if there is such a term, and if there is, god help us) iterated then and now, putting someone in extreme pain or in fear of his or her life only gains you “white noise,” bogus intelligence given only to make the threat go away. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, whom the right asserted, incorrectly, was the source of the tip that let us to the compound in Abbotabad, was waterboarded 183 times and never gave up the courier’s name. It was another detainee in a CIA rendition center who gave it up after his interrogator “made friends” with him. My eroded respect for Sen. John McCain (R.-AZ) is somewhat rebuilt after his recent Post op-ed and his Senate speech setting the record straight about the use of torture and also for the fact he calls it what it is–torture, not the harmless-sounding euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

And, excuse me, we near-drowned someone 183 times in a three-month period, just about twice a day. Let’s not forget that. Khalid Sheik Mohammed is a despicable person, yes. He videotaped himself beheading reporter Daniel Pearl, but we should not have lowered ourselves to his level.

On the left, we have Michael Moore, whom I adore, and Rosie O’Donnell, whom I can’t abide because she doesn’t bother to get her facts straight, questioning the legally of hunting and killing bin Laden. “Double-tapped an old man in his pajamas” is about how Moore referred to it. First of all, bin Laden was a few years younger than I, and I’m not old. He was in his mid-50’s, not old and apparently not as infirm as we were led to believe. He was of an age where he still could have mounted resistance with any of the weaponry found nearby. Yes, he was in his nightgown-like sleeping attire, but when a Seal says, “Don’t move,” and you do, you accept the consequences. As I said in an earlier post, bin Laden would have shown that Seal no mercy had the roles been reversed, and the Seal’s death would not have been quick as bin Laden’s was. Again, as I said before, it would have been preferable to take bin Laden into custody and provide him the unique kind of American justice which has no equal in the world, and I’m not talking about a midnight raid with high-tech stealth and silenced guns. Though a trial would have offered its own problems, it was a desirable outcome, but we train our Special Forces quite well to make on-the-spot decisions and changes in tactics. Because I’ve never been trained that way and my research only gives me a theoretical perspective, I’m going to give the Special Forces the benefit of the doubt and accept they made the right call under the circumstances. And the President did, too.

I wish this incident would pass into history, already. It’s over and done with. We can’t, nor should we, change anything; however, as altruistic human beings we need to accept that bin Laden’s family can mourn the loss of their brother, uncle, father, husband, a death he brought to his own door, unlike the thousands of deaths he ordered then sat back and relished.