Monday, May 27, 2013

The Burning Ends Annual Memorial Day Post of 2013

It's become sort of a tradition that I post on Memorial Day. So here we are in 2013 and the cynical bastard is at it again.

American Sniper

I've just finished reading American Sniper [] by Chris Kyle. It's Kyle's memoir about his life as a US Navy SEAL. As SEAL biographies go, it about par for the course with plenty of action and anecdotes about the grueling training program and missions in Iraq. It's told with the help of professional writers and they do a good job of capturing Kyle's personality. Contrary to what some grunts probably believe about any of the special forces teams and their PR engines, Kyle is very reverent to other services, paying respects and recognizing they were truly a bigger part of the conflict than a few sniper teams. He is repeatedly humble about his achievements always felt like he was there to help others.

Kyle would have probably been proud to refer to himself as a Texas redneck, but there is something admirable about the no-nonsense common sense and honesty in this country boy's words. Kyle isn't shy about sharing his opinions and in this day of political correctness, I appreciate that even if I didn't agree with him on everything. Every day, and on Memorial Day especially, we honor our veterans by respecting free speech and free thought.

As I read the book, I found it echoed many of the themes I cover here at The Burning Ends. Kyle ranted about how administrative overhead could interfere with getting the actual job done. He dealt with a SOX-like regulation of his own where he had to document each shooting and have witnesses, and how sometimes those rules of engagement meant he had to refrain from sniping a questionable contact that might have gone on to harm other people. But Kyle wasn't stupid, he understood why those rules were there and even conceded that the recordkeeping had a benefit of helping him track his work.

The Decision-Consequence Gap goes to War

The book also reminded me often of my last post, The Decision-Consequence Gap. Careerist officer types more concerned with looking good on paper would withhold Kyle and his teams from working the dangerous zones where they could be more effective at helping troops. By being able to report low or no casualties the officer would look good. This is analogous to IT leaders that do not empower their teams to understand, master, and improve processes, hardware and software that will ultimately improve the business. In sports, that approach is often referred to as "playing not to lose" rather than "playing to win". I'll give the officers in question a bit more slack than Kyle does though, as human life is a harder chip to play than user comfort and efficiency or a little more profit.

The Cost

But there is always a cost for managerial complacency and selfishness. In Iraq, was the cost that more line troops lost lives without the overwatch duties Kyle's sniper teams could have provided?

That's an important point about cost. I wrote earlier about free speech and free thought and I do believe that how we carry ourselves and cherish the benefits of the American way is a measure of respect for veterans (recall Saving Private Ryan's [] admonition at the end of the film: people died for you to have this life. Make it worth it.). But Memorial Day is really about the cost, not the benefit.

So to every veteran, thank you. Again. We can't say it enough.

The Difference

And for you idiots that think all things military are bad, well, too bad. I know, there are Iraqi and Afghan citizens that call US soldiers the terrorists, and if someone lost a child to collateral damage from a drone-fired Hellfire missile, I sympathize for a pain that I wish no one would ever have to endure. But that goes for the children of 911 too, and I don't take kindly to being called a terrorist because there is a difference between us even with the mistakes we've made.

Kyle mentions Mike Monsoor, a SEAL that dove on a grenade to save his fellow teammates. It's not a one-time thing. There's also the story of Specialist Ross McGinnis who did a similar thing in Iraq to save others. THAT is the difference. For all our faults, Americans at large revere life. You don't hear stories about insurgents doing such things, they're too busy blowing up civilians. America reveres life enough to spend significantly more on soldier training and equipment. To spend significantly more on search and rescue operations. That is the difference; the enemy our military has been fighting for the last decade would do no such things even if they could. Kyle made no bones about calling the enemy plain evil, and as crude a description as it is, it is also the truth.

Chris Kyle, Rest in Peace

It is on a somber note that I close this post. I purchased the American Sniper as an eBook in early 2013. I later found that recently Kyle passed away [ABC News]. It was not from war, but from a tragic incident in which Kyle was trying to help another veteran. It's a terribly sad thing to happen after what Kyle endured in dealing with war and coping with the challenges of returning to civilian life and focusing on his family. But he tried to help others because he cared about life. And that's the difference that we should take from it.

No comments: