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Jay Lake
Date: 2008-10-13 16:58
Subject: [travel] Flying in the veteran seats
Security: Public
Tags:iraq, omaha, personal, travel

Had a very curious and rewarding experience on the airplane from Dallas to Omaha. I boarded late (due to my connecting flight loitering on the taxiway for 30 minutes or so), and sat across the aisle from a US Army NCO in combat fatigues. He looked over at me with my long hair and my Birkenstocks and said, “Excuse me, are you a liberal?”

I smiled and said, “Why, yes I am. Do you need a position statement?”

We proceeded to have a long, very involved conversation about the war in Iraq. The gentleman was on mid-deployment leave from his third tour there, coming home to see his wife and son. He was quite genuinely baffled about what he considered to be the liberal perspective on the war. I explained my own perspective, pointing out that I was the only liberal I could speak for, and was unfailingly polite and very nonconfrontational. We spoke for about an hour.
I don’t suppose I convinced him of anything different from the opinions he already held, and I don’t believe he changed any of mine, but I may have succeeded in humanizing what he had seen as the faceless and irrational opposition to a cause he firmly believes in. He obviously needed to talk about this, and I was happy to participate in welcoming him home through civil if occasionally tense political debate. Eventually we talked about his buddies who had died over there, his personal sense of commitment, his (well-informed) understanding of world affairs, and the book he was thinking about writing.

Before we got off I gave him a copy of Mainspring. He shook my hand, apologized for coming on strong, and thanked me for speaking with him.

I’m very glad we spent the time together. The gentleman had an immense amount of passion about what he clearly saw as his life’s work and his commitment to democracy. That we agreed on almost nothing in the grand political picture, and disagreed on much in the details, did not detract from my pleasure in having a spirited policy discussion with a fellow citizen.

I wish him well, and all possible safety on his return to Iraq.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

Post A Comment | 18 Comments | | Flag | Link

User: thefaeway
Date: 2008-10-14 00:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A pleasurable disagreement? Say it ain't so!

This post makes me happy. I've run into some liberals who are quick to throw the pot-shot and call me names...before I even tell them my actual beliefs about anything. I know us conservative types do it, and I recognize we actually do it in groups, but on either side it's great to see two humans rather than one liberal and one conservative.
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User: yourbob
Date: 2008-10-14 00:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
American Politics at it's best!!!

THAT's what gives me hope for this country.
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User: catsparx
Date: 2008-10-14 00:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I reckon encounters like this one do way more to spread peace and understanding in the world than a mountain of educational papers. Its always such a shock to learn that the guy on the other side is just a guy and not a monster.
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Twilight: Daria
User: twilight2000
Date: 2008-10-14 00:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Damn I miss that. I'm so glad you got to have one of those Salon moments :>. It's something I really miss from college -- where we'd have those debates on purpose of an evening.

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User: mmegaera
Date: 2008-10-14 00:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am so glad there are people out there like you and that NCO who can actually have conversations like that out loud without floundering.

I failed debate. Not for lack of trying. Situations like the one you describe terrify me because I know what I'm saying, but somehow it just doesn't come out that way.
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Hutson: morality
User: hutson
Date: 2008-10-14 01:13 (UTC)
Subject: Thanks
As a person from a military and government background, I've witnessed some rather intense venom spewed at folks in uniform. With me it's all about respect. A modicum of it on either side of an argument goes a long way. Thank you for treating a uniformed member of the armed forces with dignity - no matter your position on the war. Politics touch the front in a very profound way that they aren't always at liberty to discuss publicly.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2008-10-14 02:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm always glad to hear about occasions like this. It's one way to get across to people that those of us of the liberal persuasion can articulate our concerns thoughtfully and respectfully, and that we also don't hate military folks.

Good on you.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2008-10-14 06:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
I'm struck by the implicit stereotype that of course a soldier would be in support of the war, when in reality there are huge numbers of active soldiers and veterans against the war (as can be easily seen by opinion surveys, articles by individual soldiers, and personal experience with friends who are soldiers).

Similarly there are plenty of conservatives who are against the war (which is, after all, a huge un-conservative fiscal waste regardless of what else it might or might not be).

It seems like, similar to how "being patriotic" has been co-opted to mean support for war, the PATRIOT Act, anti-foreigner, etc, similarly "being a soldier" or "being conservative" have been similarly co-opted in the popular consciousness.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-10-14 12:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, of the half dozen or so soldiers I spoken to about the war in the last year (specifically active duty soldiers travelling on leave), this gentleman was the only one who supported the war's nominal political aims.
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russ: romanes eunt domus
User: goulo
Date: 2008-10-14 12:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:romanes eunt domus
On a tangential language note: what's up with continually referring to him as a "gentleman"? It comes off as sort of a contrived overcompensating politeness, for me, since you don't normally call guys "gentlemen" (except with a sense of whimsical joking formal irony). I have noticed that for some reason people sometimes use "gentleman" in these sorts of situations where they radically disagree with someone about something but are trying to maintain a level of polite courtesy, but is there anything disrespectful about just saying "he" or "the man" or even "the guy" as we would do in "normal" situations where there's no disrespect or impoliteness?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-10-14 12:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Being overly polite, I suppose. He was a nice guy, and I liked him, but we really did agree on very little except for our right to disagree civilly.
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Stone of stumbling and rock of offense: American hero
User: wordweaverlynn
Date: 2008-10-14 06:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:American hero
That's wonderful.
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Ted: Recon Scribe: ST fandom
User: tedrick_james
Date: 2008-10-14 10:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:ST fandom
That's fantastic! I know a number of people in the military, and while it's something that I know I could not commit to doing, I think that giving your body and life over to your country in good times and bad is a very scary and very honourable thing - my disagreement lies with politicians, governments, and similar things.

Oh, also, they're talking about Mainspring over at gears_and_steam.
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Jay Lake: writing-Mainspring
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-10-14 12:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for the tip!
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User: jess_ka
Date: 2008-10-14 12:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Go Jay. You are one fine human being.
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User: markbourne
Date: 2008-10-14 15:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
So THAT'S what "uniter, not divider" really looks like.

I find it hard to imagine better exponents either of you could have found for such a spirited policy discussion.
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Wendy S. Delmater: Wendy 2006
User: safewrite
Date: 2008-10-14 17:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Wendy 2006
And this is why I love you, Jay. You don't accept that the "other side" is intrinsically evil.

At the parties at Albacon last weekend fellow writers and editors and I had a spirtited discussion about human sexuality issues from both a liberal and conservative viewpoint . I always enjoy a conversation with another citizen who has at least thoughtout their positions. Sometimes we even learn from each other.
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User: farmgirl1146
Date: 2008-10-14 20:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am glad you had this encounter, not because it might sway someone's opinion, but of its humanizing quality. In his world, liberal men, men with long hair, and writers in general are a rarity. For us, your readers, it serves as a reminder that the soldiers are doing what they think is right. I hope he writes his book, because we don't have feet on the ground there, and I'd like to read about that experience.

How you handled this is a good example to me and us all.

Edited at 2008-10-14 08:39 pm (UTC)
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