Monday, May 21, 2012

How Could He Not Be?

At Sunday's Memorial Day ceremony at the Lowell Cemetery, LTC Sam Poulten gave a moving introduction to his son, MSG Ben-Ari Poulten.  Amazingly, Ben-Ari had just returned the day before from a 426-day mobilization (that is the total number of days for a reservist's active-duty order, to include mobilization training in the US and demobilization dates afterwards).

The Master Sergeant made a great speech in which he he particularly noted the sacrifices of those who hadn't made it home alive as well as those who were still *over there.*  It wasn't in any way a me-me-me speech but at one point he did reflect on his own service.

He noted that the question, "What's a nice Jewish boy like you doing in the Army?" had been asked of him several times in the past twelve years.

"How could I not be?" was his rhetorical question response.  What he meant was that with so much going on, and this being such a critical period in time, he couldn't stomach a view from the sidelines.  He explained in a bit more depth, but his five-word answer made a big impression on me -- not only because I can personally relate, but also because I think it explains a lot of people's motivations for what they do. 

Everyone has had their motives doubted before.  We all know how much we dislike it, but we all do it, too, so my sympathy level towards anyone on this issue has its limits.  I know it's happened to me -- I've been keenly interested in writing, business, government, policy, and politics since I was 15.  So since I decided to join the military at age 22, I've taken a fair amount of ribbing -- some good-natured, some not so much -- about the motivation for the decision.  I think a lot of it has died down, especially because I'm long past the point where all the tickets have been punched, and I'm still there to stay [that's not to say I didn't vow otherwise once or twice while overseas, with plenty of four-letter words peppering the sentence before, during, and after said declaration out loud to no one in particular].

In my own case, I know there isn't some linear progression plan where one thing is simply a necessary inconvenience needed for the next.  In fact, as Ben-Ari's words sank in, they reminded me that all those things are really branches on the same tree.  For as much navel-gazing as I've ever tried to do, I'd say that what drives my motivation in any major decision is as much or more of a desire NOT to watch from the sidelines than a need to jump in headfirst.

So it was fascinating to head over to Concord later that day with the Mitchells (thx Jack and Salmira!) and hear Joseph Goodwin's stump speech at an event at his house.  Sure enough, he got up and talked about his feelings on 9/11 and how he had enlisted in a recruiter's office in Billerica the next day.  Joe had already worked for Sen. Wellstone, ran a State House campaign (Corie Atkins), and comes from a politically-connected family on a first-name basis with the President.  I'm sure he heard a lot of the same crapola from people when he told them he had joined.

Sure enough, right in the middle of his stump speech, it came: "...And my desire to sign up that day and to be involved springs from the same motivation that has brought me here, into this race, today."  

I take him at face value on that statement.  Obviously, there's no such thing as a completely *pure* decision in any realm.  As one of my first bosses used to like to say, "Well, I'm still waiting to have my first unselfish thought...and I'm not holding my breath."  And maybe you have to kinda sorta be slightly cynical just to get by in the world.

Having worked around quite a few local pols over the past couple of months, I've asked myself several times why people subject themselves to something that involves a lot of long hours, thankless comments from the peanut gallery, and time away from home for what sometimes works out to be less than the hourly minimum wage.  And for most boards, commissions, and neighborhood groups, minimum wages would be riches by comparison.

In some instances, sure, it might be about ego or personal advancement.  But I would proffer that in the majority of the cases, it comes down to something far more likely to be scribbled down in Occam's notebook than in Machiavelli's -- sometimes, people just want to be involved.  

1 comment:

Progressive Veterans said...

The way I understood Joe's childhood anecdotes was that his mom was on a first name basis, mostly, with dead presidents. ;v)

I've never read, "Team of Rivals." Maybe Cliff can speak to whatever may have capitvated the young Senator from Illinios.

- Jack