For the missing
Two soldiers are missing after an incident Friday night.
Learning of a death or series of deaths of soldiers is hard enough, but at least the matter of their end state is known. Missing troops is another matter entirely.
The notion that they could be in a house just miles away, tucked in some basement with masked men holding knives to their throats, it’s just debilitating.
The story was making its way through the news channels yesterday and my office was in rapt attention to the TV when I walked in.
“What’s going on?” I asked, just back from a picture-taking outing.
“Two soldiers are missing,” someone said, eyes still fixed on the screen.
Wow. That hadn’t happened in a while. Not taken alive.
“They were at a checkpoint? How’d they get taken alive?” our admin Lt. asked.
“They wouldn’t get me. I’d fight to the end. They’d have to shoot me,” another of the gathered crowd bragged. Fobbits all, never left the base before. I found the discussion in poor taste.
“You say that, but it’s another thing when you’re living through it,” I offered, but was run over by the continued discussion. I hardly am out as much as some, but more than others.
“Yeah, f*** that! I’d go out two guns blazing! You’d never get me.”
“How’d they sneak up on a checkpoint?”
“They must have been sleeping. That’s the only way you could do it. That’s it; see what happens when soldiers get complacent?”
“Sir, we weren’t there. We have no idea what happened,” I tried again, but realized I sounded like some stereotyped journalist ideologue. Besides, no one was listening.
“Ya, that must have been it. Not paying attention. They probably had one guy out checking vehicles and the other sleeping.”
I let the rest of the macho “were it me” discussion play out. At first I was really bothered by all the judging and “blame the victim” talk, but there were multiple dimensions to all of this.
It emasculates soldiers to keep them locked away on a base, shuffling paperwork, attending briefings and stressing over issues like whether or not we can wear PTs to the dining facility. Those sorts of things aren’t what are depicted in our legends — movies of troops storming beaches, saving the day, pulling dozens of men from withering enemy fire.
You see, we all secretly want to be Tom Hanks in “Saving Private Ryan,” or at least that bad ass sniper guy. We all want to be the paragon of courage, strength and honor that we grow up watching. That’s why you’ll see Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Braveheart and Band of Brothers on almost every GIs hard drive. We live in the shadows of these made up characters.
So when we parade off to war — after kissing goodbye our girlfriends, families and loved ones; and find out that our lot is to pull dining facility guard, escort the Iraqi cleaning crew through the bathrooms everyday, or even to just drive a truck, it tosses a big ol’ bucket of water on our dreams of glory.
“Grandpa, why do you walk with a cane?”
“I was wounded at war.”
“Wow, tell me the story!”
“Well, I had just finished watching the Iraqis mop the floor for the 46th week, I got off work and went to play basketball. I fell and tore some ligaments in my leg. That’s why I limp.”
That’s part of the reason for all the talk about “would of” and “what I’d do.” These poor bastards are nine months into their deployment with naught to show for it but the dreamt up stories gleaned from news and other troops who go “outside the wire.” Like it’s some huge honor, and I suppose it is, on a strange level.
Another dimension to the macho talk is to reassure ourselves that our military might could never fail.
It’s downright scary to think that these missing Joes could be snatched from a heavily armed and adequately manned checkpoint. So, we say they were sleeping — that they weren’t paying attention, and were caught. We sort of blame them.
You see the same thing in rape cases. Well, what was she wearing? Did she say anything? Instead of recognizing the fact that people blatantly commit evil acts on innocents, the system is defended by blaming the victim.
Yes it’s in poor taste, but I chalk it up to guys being afraid, and let them have their bit of talk.
After a few minutes, there was a lull in the conversation. “Hey, what are they talking about now?” asked one of the onlookers. “That’s it? On to Brittany Spears? That’s all for the soldiers? What the f***?”
I did have to laugh, “Yes, sergeant, welcome to the 27-minute news cycle.”
“That’s f***** up!”
“That’s the way it is, sergeant — the world in a half hour.”
“F***’in media. Why do they have to be like that?”
Twenty minutes later, the topic in the office was “The Omen” and “X-Men 3”. We forget too.
Pray for the missing.