Friday, December 07, 2012

Seals smacked down

Today is the day we remember Peal Harbor, even if most of us have no first hand memory of it.

Thinking about Pearl Harbor – when over 2,000 American military men, most of them sailors, most of them little more than kids, none of who had enlisted when their country was at war, lost their lives -  also gets me thinking about the most recent Navy headlines, i.e., last month’s news that a group of Navy SEALs have been disciplined for giving away some “company secrets” when working on a video game:

The seven members of SEAL Team Six are all still on active duty. One of them was on the raid which killed Osama bin Laden and made SEAL Team Six a household name. For two days this spring and summer, they worked as paid consultants on a recently released video game, "Medal of Honor: Warfighter."

Four other members of the team who have since transferred out of the unit but are still on active duty are under investigation. (Source: CBS News)

Not that anyone in his or her right mind would actually slap a SEAL on the wrist, but this was more than just a metaphorical slap on that iron-hard wrist.  These SEALs  have been docked pay and have had letters of reprimand placed in their files, which pretty much puts the kibosh on promotions.

The game does not recreate the bin Laden raid, but it does portray realistic missions, such as an attack on a pirates' den in Somalia. It was produced by Electronic Arts, which boasts that real commandos, both active duty and retired, help make its games as realistic as possible.

It is unclear what secrets members of SEAL Team Six gave away, but while serving as consultants for the game, they used classified material which had been given to them by the Navy. They also violated the unwritten code that SEALs are silent warriors who shun the spotlight. (Source: CBS News)

Hmmmm. It seems to me that that particular “unwritten code” was written over a while back, like when one of the raiders couldn’t get his story out fast enough after the bin Laden kill.  (That fellow “may face legal action for violating a non-disclosure agreement he signed as a SEAL.”)And, hurray for Hollywood:

In February, movie audiences thrilled to Act of Valor, a big-budget Hollywood film starring actual Navy SEALs. Next month comes Zero Dark Thirty, a major recreation of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, directed by an Oscar winner. Both films carry the blessing of U.S. military leaders, who clearly aren’t shy about marketing their elite troops to curry public favor. (Source: Wired.)

Not that the SEALs shouldn’t have known better than to give away the classified goods, and that tell-all SEAL who couldn’t wait to cash in on his particular act of valor deserves a kick in the ass. (Not that anyone in his or her right mind would actually kick a SEAL in the ass.) But these guys do seem to be getting mixed semaphores from the top brass.

The upper Pentagonians love having films that glorify war and military personnel. Not all that much different in intent than the steady stream of B-grade movies that Hollywood spewed out during World War II, but definitely different in execution. No one today would sit through Purple Heart or your average gung-ho John Wayne schlocker. Today, moviegoers demand realistic action, and that we get in spades.  The upper Pentagonians also like the video games. Not only are they, like the movies, excellent recruitment vehicles, I take it that they also help train players in how to use some of the ultra-cool high-tech equipment that military personnel use today.

So, the other day it’s okay to make a movie, but the day after it’s not okay to be expert video game advisors?

I am not particularly wild about the current glorification of the military, the hoohah (oorah?) about warrior culture, which I believe is mostly there because of the trade-off we make in having an all-volunteer force: you get to risk your life on occasion, and, in return, we make believe that everyone who goes in the service is a hero. Which I do not believe for one New York Fort Bragg minute.

I do, however, believe that 99.99% of those who go in (however motivated by dead-end job prospects in the outside world) want to serve their country, and have a capacity for physical courage that is pretty much lacking in my repertoire of skills and attributes. (At least to date. Who knows? Maybe I’ll turn into a 60-something Wonder Woman).

But those who go into elite-of-the-elite groups like the SEALs do place themselves (voluntarily) in a very strong position to become actual heroes. I don’t know if all SEALs actually see hero-making action, but they do seem to have extraordinary bravery, immeasurable cool and calm, the ability to make quick decisions under tremendous pressure, unbelievable physical abilities, and the complete and utter willingness to risk their lives.

Were these guys – who, as has been pointed out, managed to keep their lips sealed before the bin Laden raid occurred – really giving away important information, or did they just get a bit too big for their wet suits? The SEALs I’ve seen interviewed do seem to be totally in love with themselves and plenty snotty about the rest of us.

Hey, what I know about the military is entirely second hand. It comes from bad war movies (anything starring John Wayne) to good war movies (Hurt Locker).  From books – memoirs, novels, journalistic accounts, which I’ve been reading pretty regularly since I picked up a mildewed, dog-eared copy of Guadalcanal Diary when I was 10 years old. And  from my father, where I learned that the military – and for my father, that was the Navy – could be capricious, arbitrary, and absurd.

If these SEALs truly gave away Top Secrets sure, go ahead, slap them on the wrist, kick them in the ass, bust them entirely. But if this is one of those times when the military is being a bit capricious, arbitrary, and absurd, then…

People willing and able to become SEALs don’t grow on the same trees that average recruit does. Do we really need to (delta) force these guys out?

Oh, well, at least they can have follow on careers a soldiers of fortune, personal high-end security operatives, or, I guess, video game designers.

Meanwhile, seventh day of each December, we remember, we remember. Don’t give up the ship.

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