Okey dokey. You read the title and figured, “What in the world is that pup talkin’ ’bout now?” Well, I ain’t got a clue. Every once in a while I figure I can learn more by keepin’ my eyes and ears open than flappin’ my yap or peckin’ on the keyboard. So, ol’ Pop got to waxin’ eloquent (his words, not mine) the other day about gettin’ older and the inevitability of change. Shoot, I’m still lookin’ forward to my first birthday this month so I don’t know a whole heckuva lot about change! That bein’ the case, I’m lettin’ Pop do the postin’ this time . . .
My contemporaries are generals, close to retirement now. Some have taken advantage of the opportunities to attend command and staff and naval war colleges. Some of us attained masters degrees and doctorates. We became men of letters by virtue of the ranks in front of our names and the titles after them.
I suppose that most folks who are currently familiar with me have no clue that education was and is a very important aspect of my life. Not too long ago, a Marine buddy (who, in all fairness, was accustomed to my more colorful, now seldom used, Marine Corps lexicon) took me to task for the choice of vocabulary in Mighty Hands (my first book) because I used the term “animus of nihilism” to describe one of my old commanding officers. I suppose my friend figured I wasn’t anywhere near learned enough to espouse that kind of language. Fact is, though, the description fit this old skipper just perfectly and that’s why I used it. Sometimes, in fact, it can be a good thing for folks to think that maybe you’re a rube. Somewhere in The Art of War Sun Tzu alludes to that. (Insert winking emoticon here.)
But I digress. One of the benefits of those eventual educations we received was an awareness of tactics and strategy, warfighting and geopolitical possibilities for tragedy. We also developed the confidence that we were a part of the best fighting force ever assembled on the planet earth and if the Lord Jesus Christ were to come back tomorrow He would, no doubt, be proud to lead us into battle at Armageddon. The vast majority of the time we have had the moral high ground on our side.
It struck me tonight as I was watching a PBS program on the years of the Reagan presidency, just how much the information age has changed since then. I was a young Marine officer, one of many ready to launch into global conflict at a moments notice at the behest of my commander-in-chief. We were oblivious, for the most part, to the ramifications of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the contras in Nicaragua, Grenada and even the Cold War in general.
Today, in the world of instant messaging, my counterparts can be in touch with what happened in Afghanistan 5 minutes ago. We were still in an era where we absorbed most of our information from ready room briefings or classified message traffic reviewed at our discretion in the read & initial folder. There were no cell phones or internet and we seldom even had the opportunity to watch the television news because of our work schedule. While deployed we relied solely on the Stars & Stripes newspaper.
Yes, the New York Times and Washington Post were available for those of us cerebral enough to avail ourselves but we were twenty-somethings, still ten feet tall and bullet proof. It was lost upon us that Brezhnev died and left matters of the Soviet Union to Andropov. We were oblivious that our east coast brethren could be heading toward the Fulda Gap in days. It didn’t really matter when the battalion to which I was assigned as a FAC (forward air controller) was activated as a part of the RDF (rapid deployment force) and the carrier battle group upon which we were embarked steamed toward El Salvador.
We didn’t know when oil tankers were burning in the Straits of Hormuz while Iraq and Iran duked it out. We were even mildly oblivious that Arafat was leading the PLO on ever increasing strikes into Israel.
As a boy, not yet a man, my vision of war was the television reporting of Vietnam on the evening news – when and if I even cared to watch. What I did see was dominated by the likes of Dan Rather and Eric Severeid reporting from jungles and rice paddies and telling us of the tremendous casualties suffered – casualties that consisted mainly of boys not much older than me, conscripted there as draftees.
My time would not come until the Gulf War and by then, the media was embedded and sent reports via satellite feed so fast that our commands wondered if those reports were actually aiding enemy intelligence. Eventually it would become commonplace to Skype home, send a quick email or even make a cell phone call. In my time we relied on letters and audio tapes, prearranged MARS calls or, on the rare occasion when atmospheric conditions were just right and we had an aircraft configured with the appropriate antenna, a random try at an FM radio transmission from countless miles away.
I wonder if today’s warriors sit around the ready room with their smart phones and avail themselves of the plethora of information available at their fingertips. I wonder if perhaps one day one of them will know before the C.O. that orders to deploy the squadron are imminent. And I wonder if they will text or tweet their wives accordingly.
Will the deployed squadron from Camp Pendleton, taking their turn on the pointy end of the spear, launch from their base in Australia towards the pending engagement around the Malaccan Straights?
If they do, they will win. And we will know about it quickly. Let’s hope that our potential enemies view us with an animus of nihilism* and far underestimate our capabilities and resolve.
*a character trait of pessimism