All this month:
• A school district in Washington state decided to remove swings sets from its playgrounds after the tragic death of a child. Never mind the thousands—no, millions—of children nationwide who get good old-fashioned, Diabetes-fighting exercise on swing sets.
• A school district in Nebraska urged school teachers to quit using terms like “boys and girls” and to try something less gender-oriented like “purple penguins.” (Wait, are penguins purple? I thought they were black.)
• A nurse from Texas got on a plane, with the CDC’s approval, for the long, Columbus Day weekend just days after having close contact with the first Ebola patient to die in the United States.
• And an NBC medical correspondent who was supposed to be in isolation for possible exposure to Ebola went out to get some soup. Because she was hungry. In other news: from sports leagues all across the country—probably in a neighborhood near you—children get trophies just for showing up. Even when they lose.
I can’t think of a time when our “me culture” has become more blatantly obvious. After decades of handing out meaningless trophies, wrapping our youth in protective bubble wrap and making sure that not one single person ever hurts, suffers, or loses some personal freedom, we’ve finally met our match: a disease that doesn’t care.
But if October’s news has you feeling as gloomy and defeated as it has made me, suddenly there was this: 4,000 U.S. troops, who are undoubtedly worried about a new, invisible opponent, are headed to Africa—because the government told them to go. And when they return, those troops will wait an extra 21 days in quarantine before they can be with their families. Yes, even if it’s a holiday weekend or they want soup.
People of the United States military: Still sacrificing their personal freedoms for you every single day. I was especially struck by news of the Texas nurse’s travel, which came just a few days after the military’s strategy for post-deployment quarantines became widely known.
That nurse became sick with Ebola hours after landing in Dallas, and now a plane full of people, plus several employees at Kent State, not to mention the airline itself, are affected. Was the CDC afraid to tell her “no,” to make her life and travel more complicated, to inconvenience her?
This won’t happen when the military men and women serving in West Africa return to the United States. If you wondered why the government unflinchingly sent 4,000 troops to fight Ebola, knowing they will come home and potentially spread it, let me clear it up: the military knows it can order its men and women to stay in quarantine.Yes, order them. Because in the military, where your boss still has authority over how you wear your mustache, no one cares about what’s “fair.” In fact, the old adage is this: “We’re protecting democracy, not practicing it.”
The military doesn’t care about hurting anyone’s feelings or stepping on toes. Sometimes it doesn’t even care about being politically correct. That’s why it works. Military men and women don’t get to go home when they want to, even if their wife is having a baby or their father is dying. Military men and women go home when the country tells them to go home. Military men and women also compete. They compete for physical fitness, rank, honors and jobs. There is no trophy for second-best. And no one really cares if the next move will hurt your finances or your child’s adjustment in school. Believe me, I know.
So while the NBC correspondent goes out to get soup, and the CDC allows a high-risk nurse to get on a place, and our government continues to argue about whether a ban on flights from west Africa is fair, our men and women in uniform will go overseas and help anyway. Then they’ll come back and wait in quarantine. That’s the way it works in the military.
This is also why I’ve sometimes resented the military during my 38 years of being associated with it. I suspect this is also why some Americans are skeptical of the military lifestyle. It’s funny though how all of us sigh with relief when we see those troops getting off the plane in Africa, just like they’ve been told to do.
In October, our country learned an uncomfortable lesson: we can’t make things better for each individual person. We can’t give everyone a trophy. We can’t have the soup we want when we want it. Our military men and women have always known this. Not coincidentally, if you look around, they are the only ones not panicking these days. Instead, they are jumping to action — for you, for me, for the world. And then they’ll wait until they can go home.
Gives the Navy’s “a global force for good” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?