One of the biggest reasons I accepted a job with the US Department of Defense was because I wanted to learn about a whole different industry, meet different people from different backgrounds, see a completely different world from what I had been so used to. Having grown up on a university campus, gone through college and then straight on to grad school through most of my 20s, you can say my exposure to the world has been somewhat skewed and unrepresentative of the average population.
Recently, I spent a full four days in a US Combatant Command, with an Army Lieutenant Colonel tanker, a Marine Colonel aviator, both of whom fought in Desert Storm, and an Army Sergeant Major who built tanks and served through the Vietnam War.
By day, we would have all our meals together, drive in the same car together, and I felt so sorely out of place. It was a nonstop verbal competition of who did what when, who did what better, with acronyms, numbers and names of tanks, jets, weapons that I didn’t understand. I could (almost) tolerate all the military talk because I could just zone out and not feel like I had any constructive input to contribute anyway. But when the political and social debates started, I just wanted to jump out of the car, because now it was me and my opinions, against all of theirs combined. And trust me, they were far from conciliatory. I finally found the smart way out which was to bite my tongue the rest of the time because I knew I was outnumbered: in size, age, and most importantly, life experience.
By night, I guess their egos have gotten sleepy and they’re starting to get mellow over a beer or two. They talk about their personal lives, about the people and loved ones they’ve lost in combat, the horror stories of their experiences at war. They talk about their deep sense of sadness that they are the ones fighting the war and losing the most; yet, ironically, the only people who still believe in it, support it, and would die in the name of it.
Prior to this job, I had spent five years in a hippie college town where the only forms of vandalism were spray-painted words “the war” under the word “STOP” on road signs. Let’s just say I had my Murphy Blinds on.
In our lives we will meet different people, we will hold our own stereotypes, we will have our own opinions on how the world ought to be, and we will definitely have different ideas on how to execute them. But one thing I believe that all of us have in common, regardless of nation, color, religion, gender, wealth, status, political affiliation, is the feeling of love, and of loss. And underneath all the hatred and violence, we’re just people who long to be loved and respected for who we are. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.