Thursday, June 21, 2007

History is Not Simple

It wasn't the answer he was looking for, but his simple question didn't have simple one line answer.

We were just strapping in for a flight from Charlotte to Memphis and my seatmate started making small talk. He asked what I did for a living and when he discovered that I was a retired Marine, asked, "How do you think the war in Iraq will end?"

Again, he asked the question. I was just sitting there minding my own business. I took a deep breath and started with, "First of all, the military/political activities in Iraq are just a campaign in an undeclared war with radical Islamic fundamentalists and the nations that are funding their terror tactics."

I went on, for the next 45 minutes, with a history lesson that started with Alexander the Great's conquest of the known world, traced the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, recounted the rise of Islam and it's high water mark in Europe a millennium ago, described the coalescence of nation states in Europe following the Treaty of Westphalia, tripped lightly through the trio of Western European tragedies--Franco-Prussian, First World, and Second World wars, the last of which vaulted America to Superpowerdom and enabled it's European allies (primarily Britain) to willy-nilly carve up the Middle East into states that "looked good on a map" but had not relation to political (read: tribal) realities on the ground, and finished with a crescendo of the rise of radical Islam made possible by the relaxation of the iron fist of Soviet totalitarianism.

To my surprise, the latest Gregory pupil in Seat 7B, remained attentive throughout, displaying none of the glazed-eyed fidgeting exhibited by the vast majority of those who have made the same historical interlocutory error.

He made yet another error with the question, "Why aren't there more war veterans in politics?"

For the next fifteen minutes, I detailed the history of military professionals (not to be confused with opportunists who "checked the box" with one enlistment to enhance their political portfolio) in American political life, beginning with Washington, Taylor, Jackson, and Grant, and ending with Eisenhower. I described each as "failures as presidents, or mediocre at best," to which he replied, "What about Teddy Roosevelt?"

"Aha!," I pounced, "Teddy was an opportunist, not a professional soldier. Teddy, Jr. was a professional soldier, though. Landed at Normandy as a Brigadier General--died of a heart attack a few days later. But TR was one of the few military-check-in-the-box opportunists whose ascendancy to penultimate political power actually resulted in greatness for himself and his country."

As we landed and taxied to the gate, I summed up. "Today's military professionals aren't going into politics. They are going into business, and corporate America's stodgy business school-trained elite had better take note. There are some real operational and strategic leaders coming to boot them out of their Lincoln Town Cars and corner offices."

Our FAA minder was telling us it was safe to unbuckle our seat belts and the gentleman in 7B had a final question, "I'm attending a convention here in Memphis. Where's the best place to get some good BBQ?"

Finally, a question with a simple answer. "Rendezvous!"
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