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February 01, 2007

The Virtues of Gratitude

The technology of ink on paper is highly advanced, and has over centuries accumulated a major institutional culture that screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness.

- Joseph Rago

What could more clearly demonstrate the superiority of traditional journalism over that unruly gang of upstart bloggers than William Arkin's well reasoned column in yesterday's Washington Post? A representative sample of Mr. Arkin's work shows, not just the time and thought that clearly went into crafting his argument, but the obvious editorial oversight which must forever distinguish the more deliberate mainstream media from that inchoate herd of rabble bloggers rushing to foist their ill considered thoughts on hordes of ignorant and biased readers. In such a stultifying atmosphere, one can only thank the stars above for the refreshing honesty of a William Arkin:

I'm all for everyone expressing their opinion, even those who wear the uniform of the United States Army. But I also hope that military commanders took the soldiers aside after the story and explained to them why it wasn't for them to disapprove of the American people.

These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

Sure it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail, but even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We just don't see very man [sic] "baby killer" epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

How gracious of Mr. Arkin to approve of the Bill of Rights.

And how very liberal of him to suggest that it might apply, not just to upright citizens like himself who have done absolutely nothing to earn the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, but to the men and women of the United States armed forces who risk their lives to protect those rights! And he has a point. The military should indeed be grateful that after fighting and dying to guarantee the rights every other citizen of the United States gets for free, civilians like Bill Arkin are willing (even if only in theory) to allow even those who wear the uniform to express an opinion or two! Should we scorn such largesse simply because it has been purchased through the generations with the blood of our own brethren? Surely not! After all, beggars cannot afford to be choosers.

As the author is quick to remind these errant soldiers, "it is not for them to disapprove of the American people", for when they donned the uniform surely they gave up their citizenship, did they not? They are no longer our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts. No, we do not know "them" anymore. None of those soldiers has a right to speak as though he was one of "us". He lost that right when he put on the uniform, along with so many other rights "we the People" take for granted.

And those young men should be grateful, Mr. Arkin reminds them, that the American people (who disapprove of the war and the President) still offer their support and respect to the military.

Support. This word is bandied about quite a bit these days. But what does it mean, and in what sense can the public truly be said to "support" the troops? Webster's dictionary defines it thusly:

1 : to endure bravely or quietly : BEAR: Oh my. Is the presence of our military so odious a thing that it must be endured bravely? How quaint, and how noble of the public. If this is so, it seems Mr. Arkin has made his case.

2 a (1) : to promote the interests or cause of Ah, this is an interesting one, especially as definitions are listed in order of preference. How can one support the troops but not the mission? This is the very question these young men asked. Does the public as a whole "promote the interests or causes" of the military? In other words, winning the war and achieving their mission? No. Hence the comments that prompted this column.

(2) : to uphold or defend as valid or right : ADVOCATE Same comment, with the caveat that the public defends the military so long as their individual actions are worthy of defending, as they should.

(3) : to argue or vote for b (1) : ASSIST, HELP (2) : to act with (a star actor) (3) : to bid in bridge so as to show support for c : to provide with substantiation : CORROBORATE The public as a whole cannot be said to provide any of these types of support. They do not argue for the mission, they do not provide logistical support, they do not provide tangible aid. In fact, Mr. Arkin, by his language, seems to bitterly resent the need even to pay the military a "decent wage" for working a full day, to "provide for their families" (something I have not, in fact, noticed the "public" doing: my husband, on the other hand, goes to work every day - something for which he is paid a salary like every other American worker and for which he has a health care plan with a copay like most other American workers. Apparently we should be "grateful".) Oh. And we have "obscene amenities" (huh?) and "vast social support systems" (like Key Volunteers, manned by unpaid military wives). Truly, my cup of gratitude runneth over, almost unto guilt.

3 a : to pay the costs of : MAINTAIN b : to provide a basis for the existence or subsistence of Here, the public DOES support the military. However, this support is a quid pro quo: money in exchange for value rendered. One very much doubts Mr. Arkin would show up for work tomorrow, were his paycheck to be cut off. Military personnel work for their pay.

Of all the types of support, most are not provided by the public as a whole and the one that is, is provided in exchange for value rendered. As for respect, respect is not a gift. Respect is earned.

Military people do a difficult and dangerous job competently. A recent Pew poll found the military was the most respected institution in American life:

Another area of continuity is views about the military, the most highly respected institution in American life. In this poll, 70 percent rated the honesty and ethical standards of people in the military as high compared to a third who felt that about public officials in Washington. I think the military’s mission in the minds of many Americans is narrowly and clearly defined and carried out well, and that may explain the institution’s success across so many different polls.

According to Mr. Arkin, however, though the rest of America sees the military as more honest and ethical than other institutions, we should be grateful we are not all condemned wholesale when, as happens in any human institution, a few bad apples commit crimes:

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

What an interesting smear by insinuation: precisely in what does this "indulgence" lie? Perhaps it is to be found in the apparently bizarre premise that it is not statistically unusual in a population of 130,000 to 150,000 young males for rape and murder to occur? One wonders what world Mr. Arkin has been living in.

Should blacks feel "grateful" to white America that we don't paint them all with the same broad brush with which Mr. Arkin apparently wishes to tar the United States military? After all, a rather alarming number of young black men commit violent crimes. Still, they are in the minority of all blacks, who are decent, law abiding people just as the accused at Haditha and Abu Ghuraib were in the minority of all military personnel who are also decent, law abiding people.

There is, however, a difference. A large number of young black males have adopted a misogynistic thug culture which openly brags of killing law enforcement officers (of which my son is one), raping and abusing their "bitches and ho's" (excuse me, young black ladies, who deserve better treatment), making threatening gestures and fondling their genitals in public. Yet we are urged not to judge them, told it is racist to view black men as threatening or violent. Though many talk, sing, and act as though they mean to be all of these things, apparently it is wrong of us to take them at their word. We are told that on the inside they are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures who simply yearn to participate in the authentic urban culture of seething black anger. But by Mr. Arkin's logic, blacks in general should be "grateful" we don't all think they are natural born killahs and rapists. That's a pretty offensive idea.

Likewise, we may want to consider abolishing the teaching profession. After all, how long is the American public expected to go on believing the rash of teachers who insist on sleeping with their students is merely "the product of few bad apples" rather than systemic evidence of "some administration order"? These problems always start at the top, and it's always the little people who pay. "Logic" like Arkin's is hard to refute, isn't it, because the military are all pre-programmed drones incapable of acting without direct orders from the White House.

But it is Mr. Arkin's final premise that truly stuns:

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

Since 1981 my husband has gotten up every day at 4 o'clock in the morning and headed off to work.

He rarely comes home before seven at night. For the past several years it has been more like eight-thirty. Something in me doubts William Arkin puts in anything even approaching those hours, but they are not untypical for a Marine officer. The American taxpayer is well served. And despite the yammerings of partisan politicians like Charles Rangel and John Kerry, he is not "stuck" in the military.

He applied, and was accepted to, several Ivy League universities. He was a Merit Scholar whose SAT scores were in the top 2% of college graduates. I remember because I helped him fill out his applications. He has a Masters Degree. If he were not in the military, I have little doubt he would be making three times his present salary, yet over and over again through the years he has chosen to serve his country over a more financially rewarding life in the civilian sector.

We have spent years - literally - of our married life apart.

And yet, Mr. Arkin thinks my husband should be "grateful" for the salary he has earned; competently, honestly, faithfully, diligently, for twenty-six years. To him, I say no sir. YOU should be grateful, and this nation should be grateful that men and women like my husband continue to step forward to defend the right of people like you to gratuitously sneer at and insult them, in print and over the airwaves.

Because I can well envision a day when, having tired of listening to men like William Arkin, the men and women of the United States armed forces may well choose to put down that heavy pack and return to their homes and their families, to cease the long toil of defending a nation that thinks they shouldn't have to graciously "let" them face sniper fire and IEDs and shrapnel; that sees nothing wrong with publishing the vulnerabilities of their body armor to show terrorists just how to kill them more efficiently, that spits on wounded combat veterans like Joshua Sparling and then tells readers in print that such incidents don't happen anymore.

The men and women of the United States military and their families are grateful - truly grateful - for some things.

We are grateful when a civilian walks up to us and says, "Thank your husband for his service." It doesn't happen often. Maybe once a year. Maybe. But it does happen, and when it does it makes up for all the other slights, all the other nasty things one overhears. And that is what we remember, and hold in our hearts.

We are grateful when we see an American flag and know that it doesn't stand, as people like Arkin will tell you, for ugly Americanism but for an enduring belief in the values that made America great: freedom, democracy, the rule of law. Yes, we are far from perfect, for we are only human. We will never, and we can never, perfectly realize those lofty ideals in our Declaration and Constitution for in a democratic republic we do not control the behavior of every individual. But we can try.

Democracy is a journey toward a distant ideal and so long as there is true freedom of choice and action there will be human error, bigotry, hatred, and injustice.

We are grateful even for those yellow ribbons on cars everywhere. They are a reminder that our sacrifices are not forgotten. But we do not confuse them with true support, just as the sympathy American garnered after 9/11 was not to be confused with a willingness to support our nation. It was a sentiment. The proof of true support is not in feelings, or even in words, but in deeds and if America means to truly support the military she must support what the military is trying to do; not necessarily by suppressing dissent against the war as Mr. Arkin falsely suggests the three soldiers in the MSNBC video requested. For they said no such thing.

Their remarks were right on target. I would really like to know exactly what Mr. Arkin disagrees with, in anything that was said:

Tyler Johnson thinks critics "should come over and see what it's like firsthand before criticizing."

Is this an unreasonable criticism? A constant complaint of the troops has been the biased coverage of the war by the media. He actually suggested in his opening paragraphs Tyler Johnson should have been counseled for daring to exercise his First Amendment right. Or is it the fact that he obliquely criticized the media that bothers Mr. Arkin?

"You may support or say we support the troops, but, so you're not supporting what they do, what they're here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for.

Honesty time here. Many, many critics of the war do maintain that our troops are the problem in Iraq. Tim Robbins said this last night. And as far as the troops are concerned, vague feelings of "support" are useless if the public they defend undermines their mission at every turn while they are under fire. Why should they risk their lives when at any moment, the rug may be pulled out from underneath them?

Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun, who is on his second tour in Iraq. He complained that "one thing I don't like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don't support the war. If they're going to support us, support us all the way."

Note the use of the word "IF". Mr. Arkin dishonestly implies these soldiers are demanding unconditional support from the public. Nothing could be further from the truth. This word appears twice for a reason. Translation: there is no obligation to support us, or the war but "IF" you say you support us, make that support meaningful. Lip service does us no good while we are risking our lives half a world away. The ugly truth is that "we support the troops" has become a meaningless slogan for the anti-war left. They use it to cover the fact that they do NOT in fact support even the existence of the military, not to mention their mission. Many, if you examine their charter, want the military abolished entirely.

"If they don't think we're doing a good job, everything that we've done here is all in vain,"

It's hard to argue with the logic of this comment. Again, "IF" the public loses confidence in the military's ability to carry out the mission, all their efforts to this point will come to nothing in the end.

Many things have grieved me deeply since we went to war in March of 2003, but few have sickened me more than reading Mr. Arkin's column yesterday. It reminded me of turning over a rock and seeing ugly, crawling things scurrying away from the light; I was filled with a sense of shame that my countrymen would reward men like Bruce McQuain in such tawdry fashion.

But what do I know? I am just another of the blog mob, nipping at the ankles of vastly smarter professionals.

I suppose I should be grateful for the chance to savor such accumulated wisdom. So should we all.

Other ankle-biters:


Jules would be grateful if Mr. Arkin took a stroll down Haifa street... heh.

I can quite figger out what Jimbo thinks. Wish he'd quit beating around the bush.


Posted by Cassandra at February 1, 2007 06:21 AM

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Posted by: Fausta at February 1, 2007 08:09 AM

The egregious Arkin has done many people a favor by writing this column.

He has brought all his loathing and bile, however well disguised as a piece of intellectual discourse, out into the open. He has staked out a position, no matter how loathsome it is. Now we can see who defends him and stands with him, and guage just where the "commoners" and the "elites" stand on the issue of the military and the war.

He was pretty clear about what he thinks. There is no masking of it.
Cassandra was pretty clear about what she thinks and how she has "voted" for her adult life.
Now, where does the rest of the country stand, and what do they think??

PS, Cass. I know the "Unit" doesn't read this blog, but tell him I appreciate the career he has given in service to the United States of America, regardless of what this country is becoming.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 1, 2007 08:34 AM

This is clearly a cultural divide issue. Arkin cannot identify with the dedication exhibited by our military to their country, their units, to that ideal of being an American, and the code which they revere. Lacking such values or principles, the Arkin type anti-military or anti-war argument is symbolic of hatred for those are their betters. They characteristically spew venom as a substitute for anything meaningful.

Posted by: jhstuart at February 1, 2007 08:55 AM

All I can say is AMEN! And AMEN to Arkin volunteering for an embed gig as well!
Jackass. Of. The. Year.

Posted by: Beth at February 1, 2007 09:16 AM

The Left has chirped so often how they really really DO "support the troops"... Arkin is just another leftist revealing his true feelings...

and wtf is he talking about "obscene amenities"???

Great post, Cassandra!

Posted by: Darleen at February 1, 2007 09:22 AM

my head is just going to explode

Posted by: Jane at February 1, 2007 09:28 AM

Darn. I was going to suggest in the comments that he self-perform a colonoscopy (sp?) with a acid-dipped rasp file, but I would have had to stand in line behind the hundreds of others sharing nearly identical opinions.

I'll bet he hasn't got a tenth of the testicular fortitude it would take to respond to his commentors.

Posted by: daveg at February 1, 2007 09:28 AM

Brilliant, Cassandra! Calm, logical and eviscerating.

Posted by: FbL at February 1, 2007 09:28 AM

and wtf is he talking about "obscene amenities"???

Darlene -

I'm all, DUH! When I try to get a flight to Baghdad on Expedia, here is the reponse I get:

Destination Currently Unavailable - Expedia.com is unable to sell tickets to one or more of the destinations you have chosen. Please select a different destination. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Those ungrateful soldiers get to fly there FREE!

Posted by: MathMom® at February 1, 2007 09:54 AM

As unbeleiveable as it sounds Arkin was an Army Military Intelligence analyst in the 70's. He obviously doesn't know anything about the current US Military. But because he has some kind of background with the military (don't know if he was a uniformed or civilian analyst), according to page 46 in the Liberal Playbook, he is afforded moral authority on anything military.

Posted by: Sluggo at February 1, 2007 10:22 AM

Some are suggesting he embed. So am I, but with AQ instead of US troops. Assuming he survives the beheading, he'll be a much better person for it.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at February 1, 2007 10:43 AM

Dammnnnn Girl, I couldn't have said it better myself.

I like how you worked in the definition of support.

I think we qualify on all counts.

Posted by: unkawill at February 1, 2007 11:05 AM

Most excellent piece, Cass. This, "reporter," clearly doesn't have a clue. I agree with Don, though. His loathing and bile do come through.

And of course we're back to the old free-speech double-standard. The soldiers are permitted to say what they think....BUT their military commanders should take them aside and chastize them for doing so. How dare they, "disapprove of the American people?" They should just shut their mouths and nod their heads when the American people voice 'disapproval' of them.
What a clueless jerk this guy is.

Misha, on the AntiIdiotarian Rottweiler, has an excellent rant on this, as well, for those who are interested.

Now, I'm going to check the links to the other blogs from the bottom of Cass' post!

Posted by: JannyMae at February 1, 2007 11:20 AM

The Blackfive piece was the best!

**sauntering off to read the new post**

Posted by: JannyMae at February 1, 2007 11:43 AM

Decent wage? Going off of what my work days were on the ship-- we almost never get Sundays off and usually work 14 hours-- I loosely figure that, minus the 30 days leave, military works 282 12 hour days. That's 3384 hours. That's 25,756 in minimum wage; in other words, a mid-level enlisted supervisor with less than three years in makes *less than minimum wage*-- and that doesn't touch the overtime that 24 hour "duty" shifts bring into the equation.

Technically, I didn't even make minimum wage after five years in, with second class. Decent work? As a civilian, the starting for my job is $25 dollars an hour, plus travel, etc. I don't even want to go into civilian hazardous duty pay-- it's more than 250 a month!

Posted by: Sailorette at February 1, 2007 11:52 AM

Regarding Arkin being in MI in the '70's:

Following is a quote from a letter posted at Jerry Pournelles' "Chaos Manner", from a former MI specialist, who went through training in the mid '70's. I read this just last night (from the previous week), and thought it fit Arkin to a tee.

"I was at Defense Langauge Institute for language training when the collapse of April, 1975 came. No one even blinked among the younger recruit students, and the older troops at the school, most of whom had been in Vietnam, just said "To hell with it", "Good riddance" and similar statements.

M.I. at that time was full of "soldiers" who had contempt for warriors, felt they were superior in every way as a class, and basically felt like the Army was merely a way-station on the way to something bigger and better (either the Company or a think-tank or University). The "career" M.I. people were the exception: they tended to be senior NCO's and Warrant Officers who were tired, bored to tears most of the time, and just wanted to get their twenty in and go fishing somewhere..." (snip)

"I hope, with some evidence to believe in the hope, that things are somewhat better in M.I. now. However, M.I. by design and nature looks for and attracts people who think they are "smart cookies", and arrogance is a real danger with them. I was one of the worst in that regard. You taught me a lot about the danger of that when I discovered you about that time in the pages of Galaxy magazine. What wisdom I have gained since then, little or none, is from the recognition of that arrogance gleaned from reading contrary views from such as yourself on matters such as Vietnam. Thanks for that!"

The mindset of Arkin is probably traceable to those days. Now he's just out in the open with it.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 1, 2007 11:55 AM

I notice that all the venom of folks like Mr. Arkin are directed at the soldiers serving in Iraq. He never mentions Afghanistan or soldiers asking for support there.

Maybe he forgot we have soldiers there like the rest of the American folks. Then again, maybe he forgot that there are not two armies: one for Iraq and one for Afghanistan. There is one army, one navy, one air force. Units from all have served in both countries.

But, apparently, they are a volunteer force defending this country as dutiful citizens, but a mercenary bunch of idiotic murdering rapists when they cross the Iraqi border.

The moment that stupidity was let out of this wind bag, the rest of it was worthless.

Posted by: kat-missouri at February 1, 2007 02:49 PM

Beautifully written Cassandra.
Have you considered shortening or tightening it up a little and then submitting to various newspapers? Not thinking of as a letter to the editor but as an op ed piece. It would be well worth it.
Must be hard for you to put up with this all the time. Keep on keeping on, girl.

Posted by: Michelle at February 1, 2007 06:43 PM

*Clap* *Clap* *Clap*
Excellent response! Now I have to keep moving forward to catch the rest of what I missed recently...

Posted by: Barb at February 2, 2007 09:48 AM

Wow! Thank you! What excellent writing and you skewer Arkin. In fact - this post really skewers a lot of those critics who have been working so hard to comfortably straddle a barbed wire fence!!

I've said it many times, but I'll say it here as well. THANK YOU to everyone who serves, has served, or is planning to serve!!! THANK YOU!!

And Cass, and all others like you - what amazing people you are for holding down the home front. Many Many Thanks!!


Posted by: Nina at February 2, 2007 04:08 PM

Thanks for reading Nina :)

Posted by: Cassandra at February 2, 2007 04:12 PM

Anytime! I've learned a great deal from reading your blog!

BTW - Love the title of this post. Very apt.

Posted by: Nina at February 2, 2007 05:16 PM

I've added several of your posts to a list, made a copy of the article and sent it off to a portion of my friends and family who are a little... technolgy-shy, but still have email.

Posted by: Sailorette at February 3, 2007 11:46 AM

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