Tag Archives: military

Police: The Thankless Walk Into Danger

I’ll admit it: “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers gall me. So do American flags on golf tournament flagsticks, attended by Marines in full dress. Not because serving and veteran military don’t deserve attention. They do. No, I find such displays annoying because most of the people who see them, and even some of the people who make them, will go no further than lip service. If you can find one in 10 people on the street who know we’re at war, and have been for years, you’re probably ahead of the average. If you can find one in 20 who understand the immense sacrifice, homelessness, mental health risks, job problems, and family strains modern military face, again you likely have beaten the statistical curve.

Yes, there are many people who truly care for the plight of the military and help as best they can. But in many other cases,, Support Our Troops chic feels to me like businesses co-opting suffering to pump an extra buck out of people who want a quick I’m-deep endorphin hit.

But believe it or not, there’s a class of public servant that gets even less sincere attention.

policeWe take police for granted because we see them much more often than, say, a platoon of Army Rangers. We even suspect and fear police, especially in cities, because their more noble exploits (the majority) don’t sell as many papers or get high ratings. Give us a Rodney King situation, though, and we’re willing to pour mental acid on all cops. It was ever thus — no matter how few bad-apple police there may have been in the 1960s, when Chicago Police went nuts at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, the counterculture was happy to brand all police as pigs.

I have met a few nasty cops. We all have. I have met many more who are courteous, patient, experts in human behavior, and truly dedicated to public service. How could you not have public service clearly in mind and still do this job? The donut-munching malingerer is a jokey stereotype that stopped being funny long ago. And while the risks soldiers take cannot be minimized, there is a substantial difference: the professional soldier generally enters a zone where he can expect an enemy and combat, and he is trained accordingly. The Kandahars and Tora Boras of the world are known danger zones, with all that goes with.

But a professional peace officer, except in the worst zones of inner cities, moves through a world that is presumed to be calm and civilized. His or her job s to keep that peace, whatever hidden dangers might reveal themselves. And they do burst from cover in the most deadly ways.

Our first indication, down at the boathouse Saturday morning, was unusually heavy traffic on the main road outside the fence, a quiet two-lane where smart drivers hew to the 30-mph limit in the little town of Windermere, Fla., because they know the local police policies. As people arrived late for their rowing workouts, we learned, bit by bit: a major intersection was closed, diverting traffic. It was full of evidence. In our quiet hamlet, a seeming bastion of safety full of comfortable homes and law-abiding folk, a teenage couple on foot had been stopped at about 4 a.m. by a lone police officer who inquired what they were doing out walking at that late hour. As far as anyone can yet puzzle out, one of the couple shot and killed the 31-year-old officer, then went across the street and murder-suicided themselves into oblivion. There is speculation that the couple may have just tried to rob a nearby pharmacy; details remain to be discovered.

The news has, predictably, rocked the town and undermined the overarching sense of safety. It has also reminded people of the special risk of police work: that at any moment, in big cities or even small towns, its practitioners could be walking into the last moments of their lives in order to protect the many remaining moments of ours.

Next time you hear of a routine police stop, remember: there’s no such thing.

© 2014 Adam Barr

Tagged , , , ,

What It Is, Exactly, That We’re Meant to Remember

In this age of bumper-sticker patriotism, when merely displaying the words “Support Our Troops” is taken by some to the sum total of what needs to be done to accomplish that task, Memorial Day deserves some reflection.

It is unpopular to question, in any way, recognition of serving and veteran military. And surely these people deserve recognition. But much of it comes at their expense, and for the wrong reasons. Just as the emblazoning of NYPD and FDNY on everything after 9/11 made me uncomfortable, so does a stranger’s admonition to support the troops — as if I’ve somehow fallen behind in my support quota. Besides, be it a baseball cap or a bumper sticker, someone is likely profiting off of that. After 9/11, when I would see yet another NYPD hat on some self-centered boob in line at a coffee place, then find myself unable to stop my mind from thinking about the crumbling buildings, I often had to go around a corner and sit down. It was all too much.

Similarly, hearing that I should thank any servicepeople I see, I began to strike up conversations with them in airports. I tried to include a cheery note of thanks in the talk. I noticed quite a few of them seemed to feel ill at ease about it. I stopped. Maybe they didn’t need another reminder that at home was a teary four-year-old who, just hours ago, didn’t understand.

But what a serving or veteran military person will remind you of, if pushed, is that their day is in November. Memorial Day, they will tell you, is for the dead.

Now, this is a technicality, and should not be taken as a scolding against honest efforts to be kind to those in the military. But the fact remains that the living need not be remembered. This last Monday in May is for those who gave their lives being, or helping, soldiers, sailors, flyers and defenders.

So what are we supposed to do? Certainly not cancel the barbecues and be somber, as some churlish people have suggested from time to time. I should think that someone who died in defense of this republic would want the beneficiaries of his or her sacrifice to relax, enjoy, and smile.

I think it’s simple, really, what Memorial Day requires of us. Remember. Remember that they were.

I will not burden you with detailed descriptions of death at war. I am not qualified, for one thing. But imagine: the fortunate die immediately, perhaps without time to even know. Others, not so lucky, may have seconds, minutes, even days to contemplate how they came to their impending end. Massive injury leads to bleeding, which is the actual cause of death. The disabled plane descends. The submarine sinks. As if the fact of the death isn’t enough, the soldier, sailor or pilot has time to think.

And despair, even if momentary, must be part of the experience. Perhaps it is not the end of life they mind so much. More likely it is this thought: will anyone remember me? When my family is gone, years hence, will even the idea of the unique being, me, dissipate into oblivion? Billions of people have lived and died; why should anyone remember me? Why?

I think — it is my heart’s guess — that that is all they want. Remembrance of some kind is all they ask in exchange for having said within themselves, at various times and in various stages, “I am willing to deny myself a future, if need be, to make sure other people have one. I could let someone else do it, but if too many people felt that way, maybe no one would do it. So I will risk this, even if I’m not certain that my particular death, should it happen, will buy the security I seek for my nation.”

So when the risk turns bad, comes true, as it has many times for nearly 240 years, all they need us to do is remember that they lived. That they were people. Individuals. A personality, a bundle of joys and flaws, one under every monument at Arlington, Normandy, Antietam, and a thousand other places marked and unmarked.

They were.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr

Tagged , , , ,