The Broad is Back!

April 28, 2007

A Shout Out to the Boys and Girls

Filed under: heros,military,Old Broads,soldiers — by maggiec @ 7:59 pm

Originally published August 12, 2004  Note: I don’t want to exclude females, but at the time I wrote it, I was thinking of young men I knew. I have since come to know many brave women who are serving just as selflessly. They face the same privations and dangers.  And sadly, often sexism to boot.

A lot of times in this column, I talk about encountering
anti-Americanism. OK, talk is a euphemism. I complain. And I’ve
mentioned how I don’t wear things obviously labeling me as an American because I worry about attracting unwanted attention. It’s the same theory as not wearing my jewelry in the New York City subway–why tempt Fate?

I’m not alone in this approach, of course. Just the other day I was
reading that one of the American TV networks has warned its staff going over to cover the Olympic Games not to wear American flags or even the network insignia when they are out in public in order to avoid being the target of a terrorist attack.

But then I got to thinking about some people who can’t avoid being seen as American: the members of the US Armed Forces fighting or guarding in different areas. And I really wanted to say something about them, but I was trying to think of a way to avoid all the political implications. It’s not easy. No, I take that back. It’s impossible. Oh, I can write without mentioning politics at all, but I can hear people out there shouting at me because I’m choosing to ignore the political.

But that’s just what those soldiers have to do. They have to ignore the shouting and the politics and just do their job, and frankly, it’s a
pretty crummy job. And for all my sitting in nice, safe Sweden and
writing about the image of America abroad, I *am* safe. So I wanted to take a week and give a shout out to the “boys and girls” in the service and say thank you. Thank you for being braver than I could ever be, and thank you for putting your life on the line. Although there has been much made in the press of the bad apples, the good apples get basically ignored, so this is for them.

Just the other day I heard about two Iraqi brothers who have been living in Sweden for 25 years. They just sold their shops and they are going home for the first time since they left their country. They couldn’t go back because of Saddam Hussein. I might not agree with how it was done, but what’s done is done, and good riddance to him. Saddam, that is. Those two brothers were quite pleased that the US finally got rid of him so that they can go spend their final years at home. And let me tell you, they say thanks to the boys, too.

A kid I used to baby sit is with the Marines in Afghanistan, and more
than one friend has a son in Iraq. Through them, I’ve heard things that
give me pause. I complain because I can’t get my favorite cleaning
products in the places I’ve lived. These guys can’t get the sand out of
their underwear. You know how horrible it is when you’ve got sand in
your bathing suit? Well, from what I hear, this is a permanent problem
over there. They feel like their underwear and socks are made of
sandpaper. Sand gets into everything. One day my friend got frustrated and washed his clothes in a bucket of water. When he hung them out to dry, a sandstorm blew up and sanded them worse than before. I’m told one of the best things they can get in a care package is a pair of tightey-whiteys (the regulation underwear) as it means no sitting on sandpaper for a day or two.

Sand is a hardship, of course, but then there’s the getting shot at. Of
course, that’s an occupational hazard in their chosen career, but still,
I can’t think it can be much fun. How’s that for understatement?

I sometimes get e-mails from the mothers, written late at night when the fears can set in. Those moms are heroes to me. (Dads, too, I guess, but as a mom, I emphathize with them more.) I have a hard time sending my son to school where I know there are bullies marking him out. I literally can not imagine waving my son off, knowing he’s going into battle. Mothers have been doing it for millennia, of course, but hearing my friends voice their fears makes me wonder how they can
possibly do it. I know I am no Volumnia, mother to the great Roman
soldier Caius Martius, later known as Coriolanus. Thanks to
Shakespeare’s version of the story, she’s famous for training her son to
be a fierce soldier. In fact, in the play, based on Plutarch’s /Lives/,
Volumnia says that she was happier when her son was first wounded in
battle than she was the day he was born and she was told he was a

Some ancient cultures recognized how difficult it was for women to send their children into battle. So according to their beliefs, men could
attain paradise by dying in battle, but women could attain paradise by
giving birth to warriors. I can understand where that belief came from,
believe me. Faith got those mothers through.

Today, all of my friends get by on Faith, as well. I’ve heard it said
that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there don’t seem to be
any among soldiers’ moms, either.

And they get by on the kindness of strangers. Time after time I hear
stories of regular people doing things for the soldiers overseas through
their churches, work place or social groups. As I mentioned to one of
my soldier-mom friends, one good thing about this awful war is that it
has shown us that Americans really do unite and help one another when they need to.

As I was preparing to write this essay, I found an interesting piece in
the /New York Times/. It was David Brooks’s “Snapping to Attention,”
and in it he says that civilians in America have a strange reaction to
our military: “Our attitudes seem bipolar: we’re either at the
military’s throat or we’re at its feet.”

“Sometimes,” he says, “the military is regarded as a bizarre, primeval
institution dangerously at odds with enlightened American culture.” But
then, “at the flick of a cultural switch, the same people who were
watching “Dr. Strangelove,” “M*A*S*H” and “Platoon” are lining up to see “Top Gun,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “We Were Soldiers.” Suddenly the military is a bastion of the higher virtues – selflessness, duty and honor.”

Burke has a few reasons for this “bipolar disorder”: “I get the feeling
these bipolar attitudes arise from a cocktail of ignorance, guilt and
envy. First, there are large demographic chunks of the nation in which
almost nobody serves….At the same time, they know there’s something
unjust in the fact that they get to enjoy America while others sacrifice
for it, and sense deep down that there’s something ennobling in military service.”

(You can find the link to buy the essay at
It is from the /New York Times/, Late Edition – Final , Section A , Page
19 , Column 1.)

I think he’s on to something there, but I also think that in its ideal
form the military is a “bastion of the higher virtues,” but these
virtues he mentions, selflessness, duty and honor, are losing their grip
in our society. And not just American society, all of Western society.
(I can’t speak for other societies here, because I’m a product of
Western liberal humanism, so I’m limiting myself to that.) Honor seems to be a forgotten word in our life, and duty? Well, that just seems laughable to most people. Think of all the people you know in your own life who shirk duties–work responsibilities, parental responsibilities, marriage responsibilities–because they are too much, too hard.

When we see young people, some just barely 18, fulfilling their very
dangerous duties in a highly unpopular war, how can we not be made aware of our own failings? And it’s easy to take our frustrations about the war out on the young people who are fighting it. Many of them joined the military for a shot at a better life. And they’ll have one if a) they can stay alive, and b) they can resist the temptation to hate.
It’s difficult, but hate is what turns them sour inside and makes them
into the people who get the negative headlines.

So when I pray for them all over there, and I do, every day, I pray for
physical, emotional and spiritual safety. And this is my shout out to
you all–thank you from the bottom of my heart.


  1. It’s a shame there are no comments after five yearsfor such a well written and insightful post . However, as one who has served theis great nation of ours for 20 years I appreciate your thoughts and insights. I enjoyed reading it.

    Comment by Anthony — June 24, 2009 @ 8:25 am |Reply

  2. […] A Shout Out to the Boys […]

    Pingback by For Veteran’s Day « The Broad is Back! — November 10, 2011 @ 11:49 pm |Reply

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