Friday, October 16, 2009

Judging book covers again, dammit.

(The Timing Is Everything preamble: OK, look. I've been meaning to post something like this for a couple of weeks now, and I just haven't gotten around to doing it. The fact that I am posting it now, when the subject in question has apparently gotten caught in some blogospheric shitstorm is pure coincidence. As for the shitstorm itself, I don't entirely know, and I definitely don't care. This latter because I've read enough to make my own damn judgment, which is, in some ways, the point of this post.)

Preamble over. Let's get down to business.

I read Scalzi's blog. You know this. And I frequently click his "Whateverettes" links, which are often good for a thought or a laugh. And one of them led me to an entry on the blog of this dude, one Jim Wright. The linked column was, in fact, worth a chuckle or two. Enough to make me poke around the 'blog a bit and see what else was there -- because while there are a lot of people writing out there on the internet, there are precious few who actually write well enough that they're worth adding to my regular daily "let's see what's up with them" website check. So I looked around.

And the first thing I saw ('cause it's right there on the front page) is the biographical information: "I'm a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer. Nowadays I live in Alaska . . . ." And I thought, "Oh crap. Ex-Military living in Palin Country. He's probably one of them gung-ho, America-is-always-right, let's-go-kill-us-some-towel-heads-in-the-name-of-Jesus, racist, homophobic, gun-totin' nutjobs, regurgitating whatever he hears on Fox News."

(Too bad, though, because he writes well.)

And then I stopped. And I thought, "Am I really so closed-minded that I won't even bother reading someone because his politics are so different from mine?" Because, I mean, that's wrong. I've always said that I don't care if the President appoints an ultra-conservative to the Supreme Court, as long as the Justice is smart. Because smart people can be reasoned with. It's the knee-jerk unthinking ones we have to be careful of. So if this Jim Wright person is smart enough to write well, maybe he's smart enough for me to not write him off.

So I kept reading. I read posts about his politics and his cats. I read about the things that piss him off and the surprisingly beautiful things he makes in his woodshop.

Actually, the beautiful things he makes in his woodshop weren't the only surprising things I read about.

Like, um, his politics.

See, here's the thing about me: I don't meet a whole lot of military or ex-military on a daily basis. In fact, I think my most recent interaction with a member of the military was the dude who was sent by my cable company to fix my modem -- he was a Marine about to be re-deployed to Iraq. He tested my modem by running a Pro-War video he'd made and posted on YouTube. He clearly detested my liberal leanings, but (as I tend to temper my opinions around people who I've invited into my home, especially those who could easily kill me with their bare hands), he commented that I seemed like one of the "few democrats who isn't nuts." (I believe he thought this was high praise.) He was someone who ran off and enlisted on September 12th, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if the words "camel-jockey" have escaped his lips on more than one occasion.

My other recent interaction with a soldier was a fellow I sat next to on a plane, who seemed pretty reasonable, although he also seemed pretty dim. (Clearly an order-taker, not an order-giver.)

Beyond that, I guess my impression of the military has been formed by what I see on TV and the internet (which tends to focus on the failures, the water-boarding, and the puppy-throwing) and in theatre (a recent play which suggested that certain folks who are trying really hard to make this a Christian Nation despite the First Amendment, have decided that a really good place to get a foothold is the military).

So. What did I find in Jim Wright? I found what I haven't been seeing in the news and on the stage. A decent, thoughtful, liberal thinker who was also a proud American and a get-shit-done sort of ex-military officer. The sort of person who believes that unethical military acts reflect badly on the military and the country -- and who was also willing to put his life on the line as a member of that same military.

Let me be perfectly clear. There's always a lot of talk, among the liberal community, about how we "support our troops" even though we don't support the war -- and yet there's also this underlying feeling that between Abu Ghraib, splitting hairs on "torture," and the rest, there isn't a whole lot going on in Iraq and Afghanistan that we really want to support (although we never actually say it).

Well, what I found in Jim Wright is a member of the military I can be proud of. And I found, commenting on his entries, several other military and ex-military folks of like mind and attitude. And I realized, of course, that there have to be thousands like him, in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, doing impossible jobs with quiet efficiency, within the rules of law and the ethics of war -- folks who understand that having the American flag on their uniform isn't a license to do whatever the hell they want, but a responsibility to act on behalf of this country in a way that upholds its highest standards.

And I felt actually ashamed that I'd assumed an ex-military officer would be an unintelligent, neocon asshole. I felt a bit betrayed by my (otherwise reliable) "liberal media" for painting the military in that way. And, on reflection, I felt incredibly relieved that I'd been wrong. Not just because I now have a new 'blog to read, but because I've realized I can be proud of our men and women in uniform again.


Janiece said...

Thanks for writing this. I don't know you from Adam, but Jim is a good friend of mine, and I appreciate your thoughtful comments (and self-examination).

neurondoc said...

Hmmm, nzforme -- thanks for writing this. It parallels some of the thinking I've had about conservative thinkers in general, not military or ex-military personnel in particular. Taming the knee-jerk reactions has been a struggle for me.

nzforme said...

Thank you both for dropping by -- and for commenting. This is one of my rare posts where I really WANT to have comments, because I feel like I'm putting myself out there and feel reassured by positive feedback. Confronting one's prejudices is always a difficult business.

Janiece said...

It is, indeed. And (to dovetail today's post), one of the purposes of maintaining these silly things we call blogs.