I observed November 11th this year by having a few beers with a long-time Army buddy who will soon be redeployed overseas. Without revealing too much about his job, let me just say that he isn’t in the rear with the gear: Wherever he goes next, he will be in the forefront of the fight, outnumbered, surrounded, and very isolated from the main force that could shield him from harm. He does this not just because it’s in his blood to do it or because he likes to challenge himself (though both these things are true) but because he feels that it is his duty to put himself in harm’s way so others won’t have to. It’s a calling. He is a soldier and that is all there is to it.
He and I didn’t talk about war though. We talked about things like purpose and integrity. About dealing with the annoying fact that we can only control so much, that our impact on the world cannot always be what we would like it to be. We talked about the inefficiencies of overbearing bureaucracies and the scourge of poor leadership. We talked about the epidemic of bullshit plaguing every facet of both the private and govt sectors, driven by the same breed of self-serving morons with delusions of grandeur that seems to breed in equal measure everywhere around the world. We talked about our dreams and frustrations, about what we would like to change and what we know cannot change, and about the need to do the right thing even when no one else (perhaps especially when no one else) will. Chatting with someone who understands that “the effective range of bullshit is exactly zero meters,” someone with the kind of integrity, quiet pride and hilarious honesty that is seldom found in the marketing world these days, was refreshing. It made me realize how much social media, marketing, PR and advertising – if not the business world in general – needs to swap some of its hordes of bullshit weavers for just a few handfuls of warrior poets, if only to even-out the scales a bit.
This year, I didn’t think as much about my grandfather, who fought in both World War I and World War II, or the sacrifices made for my country on and after D-Day, or my own military service. Not as much as I usually do. I didn’t even slip into my old uniform to march around the house and scare the pets half to death. This year, I thought about the men and women who serve in today’s wars, about the soldiers, first-responders, law-enforcement, and intelligence officers who were killed, injured or otherwise impacted by the post 9-11 conflicts, as well as their loved ones, who serve and sacrifice as much as they do – and often sacrifice much more. I thought about my buddies who are in theater now, putting their lives on the line - not bonuses or promotions or potentially lucrative contracts – Their lives. Perhaps for the first time in the last twenty years, I thought only about the veterans of my generation’s wars rather than veterans of the wars that came before my time. And perhaps for the first time since becoming aware of Armistice Day (the reason it falls on this date every year), I thought about it more on November 12th than I did on November 11th, and chances are that the 13th and 14th won’t be any different.