Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Longest Ovation

Dick Cheney is disliked by the left and the right alike.  The left sees him as some sort of Darth Vader to Bush's Emperor Palpatine, leading us into unnecessary war and torture.  The right sees him as part of the larger failings of the Bush administration that gave us Obama and Medicare Part D.  But he was the recipient of the longest standing ovation I have ever witnessed.  Allow me to explain.

In October 1991 (approximately) I was nearing the end of 18 months of study at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey after 8 years of sea duty.  The first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, had ended that February with the unexpectedly complete and swift expulsion of Saddam's forces from Kuwait. When the war had started, no one knew how long it would take or if it was even a wise move.  At the time, I was ambivalent about the war, worried that that it would unleash instability in the Middle East.  But victory so complete and total tends to wipe away such doubts.

Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense at the time, and he had come to Monterey to deliver a talk about some new strategy that I frankly can't remember.  I was in the military a long time and have seen my share VIPs, including the President.  It is customary for members of the military to come to attention (i.e. stand up, with an erect bearing) at the arrival of the VIP.  Later, when he is formally introduced, there is some polite applause to welcome him.  This day would be different.  When Cheney was introduced, the clapping started, and we stood.  We clapped and we clapped and we clapped.  Then we clapped some more.  It went on like that for well over 15 minutes, maybe more.  If that doesn't sound like much, try it yourself.  No one wanted to stop.  Every time I think of that moment in time, I tear up.

I am speaking for myself, because I have never discussed it with anyone who was there.  But here is the context.  I joined the United States Navy under the long shadow of the Vietnam War.  The greatest country on earth lost that war, and it stung.  Then we were humiliated by our inability to rescue hostages from students and ayatollahs in Iran; then Marines were blown up by the hundreds in Beirut.  And in my heart of hearts, I knew that we were better than that.  I knew at least that my force, the submarine force, was ready, willing, and able to deliver nuclear punishment to our nation's enemies if called upon.  But we still looked like losers.

Then, in 1991, we won total and undeniable victory. The Gulf War was vindication.  It was vindication of the billions that Reagan had spent restoring our capability.  It was vindication of our fighting spirit.  It was vindication of our belief that we were the greatest fighting force on the planet.  Even though the President is Commander in Chief, the SecDef is the leader of all of the armed forces, without other duties.  We were really clapping for ourselves, for the sacrifices we all had made, and for the belief that we were successfully serving a great republic.  It was a day to be proud of what we had accomplished.  So we just kept applauding.  It was a good day.

. . .

Many of my friends question my support for Donald Trump.  I can only say that he taps into my deep loathing of being on the losing side and my deep sense of nationalism and identity as an American.  It may be that he is a charlatan; but no other candidate seems genuinely interested in restoring our pride as a nation.  Not as a conservative nation, but as a nation, period.

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