July 23, 2007

How Does It Make You Feel?

This post is about things more important than me, so I’ll hope you’ll forgive me if I start out talking about myself. I set aside a little money each month to send to some deserving cause. I’m not wealthy, and it’s not much. I don’t have a family to support, so it isn’t really missed. I do it because a lot of small things add up to something large, and there are a lot of people in the world who can spare a little cash now and again. And I do it because it makes me feel a little less useless. Because when I read stories like Michael Yon’s Superman I feel useless.

It’s not that I am completely useless. But to be honest, I don’t get the feeling that I’m really useful all that often. Maybe it’s not having children. Maybe a human being needs to spend a few years being responsible for other human beings to banish such thoughts. Sure, I’m comfortable that the ordinary choices I make in daily life have made me a nice guy, a decent person. I’m a reasonably bright guy, enough to avoid many stupid mistakes, even if not enough to avoid all foolishness. But I’m nobody to look up to. I’m no Michael Yon. And I’m sure as hell not one of the people whose stories he tells.

Useful people. Responsible for other human beings. How does it feel to be a Lieutenant responsible for the lives of a Stryker full of young men, not much younger than he is? How does it feel to be the young men who learn to trust each other with their lives riding hot, dusty patrols where too many people want to see them get blown up? How does it feel to be the company clerk whose job is to stay by the radio and wait for the call to come in, asking for a medevac ASAP? How does it feel to fly a helicopter through airspace that may be filled with AK-47 fire, RPGs and maybe, just maybe, a SAM? How does it feel to be a cute woman doctor, working every day with young and wounded soldiers who want nothing so much at that moment but to have a picture taken with her? So some day back home they can pull out a wallet photo, roll up a sleeve or pant leg and say, “This gal sewed me up.” And you know they will. It means the guy can take it. He’s come through it. He’s been useful. And besides, chicks dig scars.

How does it feel to leave your home, at your own risk and expense, to spend your time embedded with a Stryker Brigade in Iraq, so people like us will hear their stories? I don’t know. Ask Michael Yon. And while we’re at it, how does it feel to be an engineer sitting up at night, I like to think in an old bathrobe with it’s own pen-stuffed pocket protector, in front of a monitor and keyboard trying to build a better mousetrap? One that can deflect shaped charges. How does it feel to write the software that lets all of the people in the last paragraph talk to each other, pushing it through satellites, if necessary? How does it feel to sit at a terminal in the middle of the night making sure satellites on the other side of the planet keep working? How does it feel to be a family member of our Armed Forces, gathering with dozens of others at the local church or community center on weekends to assemble Care Packages to send to their loved ones? And then putting together hundreds or even thousands more for other soldiers, most of whom they will never meet.

It’s got to feel Useful.

How does it feel to sit at computer splicing together bad music and pictures of shattered and shredded corpses so you can post it on YouTube and prove there’s really no difference between terrorists and all those Useful People? How does it feel to be a politician, worried more about his re-election campaign than whether his next speech or floor vote will make it harder for all those Useful People to do the jobs we ask them to do? How does it feel to clamor for the spotlight because your son died in Iraq and the media decided you had absolute moral authority to say your child and every other Useful Person serving in Iraq is not only there for nothing, but they are the ones causing all the problems? How does it feel to be the reporter or editor who believes it’s more important to pay attention to that kind of thing than what more Useful People are risking, and spending, their lives to accomplish?

Ok, so I could do worse.

I joined Operation YouTube Smackdown for the same reason I send a little money each month to some website I’ve come across where people are doing Useful Things. I know I’m not sending enough money to make much of a difference. I know getting YouTube to remove even a few of the innumerable hate-filled, snuff-flick, America-hating, death-cult videos that they host won’t save a single life. It won’t shorten by a single minute the time U.S. soldier have to patrol hot, dusty roads half a world away. I know that YouTube is more likely to view every video of an IED that goes off under a Humvee or Stryker as free speech instead of hate speech. No matter how much the producer of the video glorifies the explosion, how many shouts of Allahu Akbar! accompany it, or how many soldiers it joyously claims were killed.

I do it because I want to feel useful. Not Useful, just useful. I do it because, with respects to Michael Yon, our Soldiers, and John Milton, I like to think they also serve who only sit and click.

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