Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary: A perspective from a "millennial"

75 years ago today Pearl Harbor happened. It's been on my mind all day, although I'm just now putting pen to page. The shock of that morning has always brought me to tears, though I wasn't even born for another 41 years. I try to place myself into the shoes of people on that day, and I find myself shaken.

In a world already wrought with unrest, and America caught between two warring fronts of terrifying proportion and building terror. To be someone who was all too familiar with the horrors of war; after all just 23 years before the horrors of World War I had concluded, and many people were still scarred and maimed, spiritually, mentally, and physically, from that experience. Now the same power was raising its head in the East (and being terrifyingly successful); to the West, the atrocities and whispers of acts like the Rape of Nanking were creeping in. The Germans and the Japanese were knocking, and we were hoping to find a clear path without being frayed by warfare again so soon. The country was only just over 150 years old, and there had already been so much exhaustion.

Just crawling from beneath the wreckage of the dust bowl and the great depression, and now the storms on every horizon. Can you imagine the oppression on the hearts of the average American at that time? No wonder Americana was such a large cultural force: cling to each other, cling to our history, and think about baseball, movies, and dancing as much as possible. It was a terrifying time. And that was what it would have felt like on December 6, 1941.

Now picture the morning of December 7. A shocking attack out of nowhere (to most citizens, though the signs were there for leadership in retrospect, but the pieces put together too slowly to prevent the attack). That morning it must have felt like a lightning bolt that struck right in the stomach....but you knew the bolt would come sometime. Maybe there was a feeling of sick inevitability, in a world so topsy-turvy and so recently cruel. We knew we'd get pulled in, but not like this, not NOW. A shock attack, cowardly and early in the morning on a Sunday, perfectly calculated to maximize the carnage of those simply trying to rest. Right before Christmas, on a beautiful Sunday morning, before church. 

2,403 military men were killed that morning; many of them drowned in the hulls of the ships they slept on, in a force at peace. Men like people we know now, who surround us every day. People who had children, who wanted children. There must have been someone who died that loved reading too much, and his brothers teased him for having his nose in a book all the time. There must have been someone who died that took care of every stray animal who came his way. Another who wrote home to his little brothers and sisters every week, and sent them his pay, to help, since the farm still hadn't recovered. There must have been someone who hated to talk, but had a sweet smile if you caught it. They loved, they laughed, they hoped, and they dreamed. They knew they were in a world at war, and they would be pulled into it...but they didn't even get the chance. The horror of that morning resonates today just as strongly as it did then, because our clothes and styles change, but humans don't. They were the same as us. 

And thus they were pulled into the war, and our country was pulled into the war, and our world was never the same. And we learned once again through tribulation who we were and what mattered, and did what we needed to do to make it as right as we could. The sleeping dragon was awoken, and didn't sleep again until after Jimmy Doolittle had his raid, and bombs were dropped, and millions of lives were irrevocably changed. But things were still better than they would have been if we had turned our cheek the other way.

So now, it is 75 years later. And to many it feels as though it's ancient history, and eventually it will be. But to me it feels like it could have happened yesterday, and every year I cry on this day in remembrance of those who were lost, and thank them for their sacrifice. Because the world is still made up of people, just as it was then, and that shock feels just as real now as it did to people then. We try to do the best we can, but sometimes someone decides they need to try to take it. And then we have to fight.

Why I'm so excited about General Mattis as Secretary of Defense

I have been very excited about the possibility of General Mattis as potential Secretary of Defense in the new administration, and the closer we get to an official announcement, the more my excitement increases. In fact I've been buzzing like a school girl about it, and an old friend the other day asked me why. That's when I was once again reminded that not everyone automatically has the same knowledge as me, and that sometimes I need to explain myself rather than just flamboyantly tap dance around waving a flag and yelling "Whoo hoo!"

So I'll use part of my response to her here, and I'll flesh it out a bit more as well, about why I (and many other members of the Defense community) are acting like kids on Christmas morning about this possible pick:

General Mattis is renowned throughout the Marine Corps (and the military community in general) as being a very pragmatic man, who knows how to get things done, has the best interest of the country and his people at heart, and isn't afraid to step on bureaucratic toes. He embodies the "warrior scholar" ideal, he is well read and very intelligent. He doesn't have any interest in anything but doing the job the right way, and is seen as a leader who will make good decisions even if they are politically unfavorable (a big deal in an era when many members of the flag ranks are seen as being willing to sacrifice ideals for politics in order to secure a civilian job after they retire). He is (as far as I can tell) universally respected, and a very rare man. He also has an amazing sense of humor and is known for his non sequiturs. A great leader and man. Here is an article that has an email he wrote in response to someone asking what to do when they said their officers didn't have time to read. 

I love the fact that he is so well read and employs his knowledge of history handily and without pretense, and travels with a library of books. He fully appreciates the importance of history in warfare, and in human nature. I feel that we haven't had the best luck in Defense Secretaries for having their fingers on the pulse of the military, and he would definitely not have that problem. He fully understands all levels of military life (check out one of my favorite stories about him) and hasn't let his position ever erode his humanity. He also has a fundamental understanding of the enemy, and I absolutely love how candid he is about it.

In an era of people saying whatever it takes to get the job, no matter their true beliefs and with nary a care for hypocrisy, General Mattis is a true throwback in his honesty. He knows his job, he loves it to his core, and he won't mince words about it. He's so good at being in Command that he rose to the top despite this time being one that mostly rewards people for checking boxes and glad-handing even in the highest levels, and he never let go of the truth to do it. That is a very large breath of fresh air. We've had several SecDefs who were definitely more political than actual, and while I usually like balance (a civilian SECDEF is in many ways a good thing, to balance out the bias that can come from a military background), in this case I'm sure he will do such a good job that I don't mind having a fully military person in the position. He's so informed, well-read and well-rounded that he has a pocketful of invisible civilian advisors riding on his shoulder at all times (as long as you are willing to listen to the wisdom of greats like Marcus Aurelius and Gertrude Bell). It's so refreshing to have someone who understands the importance of classical thought and teaching, instead of a MBA from an ivy league university.

I know I'm gushing here, but I can't help it. I've followed his career for years, and was very sad when he retired and wasn't made Commandant. This development is unforeseen and even better, so I'm on cloud nine. I've managed to get this far without stating the fact that he's a very formidable enemy to anyone who would go against us on his watch, but the man is known for his tenacity and true embodiment of the "devil dog" spirit. I can't hide my enthusiasm for this pick, and I figured I'd flesh it out a bit for those who might not have known more detail. 

In parting, here's a list of some of his best quotes, which cut straight through bs and right to the heart of every matter they are addressing: 

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

-Gen. Mattis gave this piece of advice to Marines in Iraq, as quoted in “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq”

In a similar vein, Mattis has also said:  

“There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.”

“There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It’s really great.”

On the flip side, the general would rather not be on the receiving end of it. 

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people.” 

Mattis said this during a 2005 panel in San Diego, California, according to a CNN transcript. Later, his boss Gen. Hagee chastised his frank speech, saying Mattis “should have chosen his words more carefully.”

“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a**holes in the world that just need to be shot.”

This was a line in a motivational address to his Marines at Ayn al-Asad Airbase, an Iraqi Armed Forces and U.S. armed forces base located in western Iraq.

“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f*** with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Mattis reportedly said this to Iraqi tribal leaders. 

“PowerPoint makes us stupid.” 

Mattis, then Joint Forces commander, said this at a military conference in North Carolina, April 2010.




Veteran's Day

Hello everyone. I'm going to take a break from my usual scheduled program of addressing fear mongering (or at least, that's been the recent theme), and instead I'm going to write about Veterans, since today is Veteran's Day.

My life is full of Veterans. I'm married to a Marine, my brother is in the Air Force. I'm hugely proud of both of them, and will brag all day about it if you give me the chance. My uncle was in the Air National Guard, and if you go back a bit further my grandfather was in the Army Air Corps in World War II. We have veterans in every generation, including the current one. 

Outside of family relationships, I'm in the unique position to have the bulk of people I associate with be either current or former military. Most of my coworkers have been or are military, and many of my friends as well. This is a pretty unique position in the United States today. It turns out,  roughly around 1% of the current population is actively serving, and 13% overall have ever served. If you live in the south you're more likely to have spent ample time around active military.

I remember growing up not knowing many active military. I knew of one Marine, a fireman in my town. Being from the Midwest, most people went Army or Air Force. I knew a handful of other veterans, but in classic Midwest fashion, they didn't talk about it a lot. My grandfather passed when I was 14, so I didn't get to talk to him much about his service. I was always avidly interested in military history, even as a very little girl. I was fascinated by strategy and tactics, though I grew up in a very liberal college town. It's what I gravitated to, and still do. I always had a very strong respect for the military (as do the rest of my family), but not a lot of one on one interaction.

After graduating from high school, I immediately went to Chicago to get my art degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As you can imagine, there weren't a ton of veterans in that environment, although I did have the pleasure of making one former sailor's acquaintance, a friendship which I still treasure. My interest in military history, strategy, and tactics never waned, and in a surprise to no one, I became a defense contractor after graduating. I moved to North Carolina for a job, and have been in the defense/contracting world ever since. 

Since making that move, the last 10 years have been filled with experiences with veterans. I got married to one, of course. But I've spent much of that time working with military personnel in tough environments. Frequently I was the only female on my team, and might go days without seeing another female in a professional capacity. So what did I learn?

This is how I'd characterize my experiences, for those who don't know. The military people I have had the pleasure of working with have come from across the US. They have been male and female, gone to military academies or enlisted straight out of high school. They have been Native American, White, Latino, Black, Middle Eastern and Philippino, and that's just a smattering. Jewish, Atheist, Christian, Asatru, and Muslim. Some enlisted after 9/11, some before, and some since while we've been at war. And they are even more varied than I've been able to describe.

But they've had more in common than they have had differences. With very few exceptions, the people I've known to wear uniforms to defend this country have been absolutely some of the best people I've ever known. They know how to work hard; they know how to work hard on a project that they don't believe is a good idea. They work with people who they don't agree with, or necessarily like. They have a fierce and true love of this country. They are opinionated, and brave. They are selfless, and when complimented on their service, seem to feel as though they don't deserve the praise, it's just what they're supposed to do. They don't give up, they will tell you what they think with unvarnished opinion, and they keep their feet solidly on the ground. They talk a lot more about "Honor" than any other group I know of, and they try their best to uphold it. They have a high personal moral code, for themselves and their brothers and sisters. 

They may not always agree with reasons that they are going to war, but they understand that they signed up for it, and it's their job. But even if they disagree, they stay because if the threat comes to our shores, they want to be first to defend us.

In all my time working with veterans, the only time I ever had anyone "sexually harass" me, or give me a hard time for being female, was a male contractor who had never served in the military (though he'd be quick to tell you that he ALMOST did). Beyond that, everyone I have worked with has just assumed I was there to do my best and do my job, and treated me like a comrade. The workplace was full of off-color humor, good natured complaining and teasing, and people who wouldn't hesitate to tell you if you were fucking it up. And that is the best way to work, as far as I'm concerned. 

If I were to hire someone for a position tomorrow, and one of the applicants was a veteran, I would likely hire them on the spot. Because I've seen veterans in tough times and easy times, and I think they are made of the best things about America. Acceptance, tolerance, good humor, and a sardonic grin. God bless our veterans, and God bless America. I am honored to spend so much time in your company, and I raise my glass to you.