There are various levels of respect, ranging from praise to civility. Everyone wants to be appreciated, some folks don’t deserve it, but no one deserves to be insulted. I may not agree with you, but my intelligence is not displayed in insulting yours. We may have opposite goals, but your efforts may still be worthy of my respect.
Twice in the last few days, and on the same subject, men worthy of praise have been publicly insulted.
There is a film about operation RED WINGS, called “The Lone Survivor”, based on the book written by the lone survivor, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell. The accuracy of his story has been questioned, but the valorous service of SEAL team 10 has not. Despite the various opinions about the war in Afghanistan, and war in general, the understanding that Navy SEALs represent the very best of human qualities is nearly unanimous.
Which is why I was shocked when listening to John Hockenberry’s interview with Donna Axelson, mother of Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Gene Axelson (deceased).
He opened the segment by saying that our society is divided by those that have served in the military and those that have not. He said the majority, those who have not served, do not understand the world of the minority, and that one of the few places those worlds intersect is in a movie theater. From there he introduced the film, and then Donna Axelson, whose son was among the casualties of RED WINGS.
Donna was obviously proud of her son and his service. She spoke of his strengths and dedication. She spoke of the camaraderie of his BUD/S, how they had all visited after her loss. She spoke of how the actor Ben Foster, who plays her son in the film, continues to stay in touch with her, on Christmas and Matthew’s birthday, and her voice broke as she began to cry.
Then Hockenberry, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since age twenty, asked “Is this a story about the power of the movies, or is this a story about, no matter what we think of the Stars and Stripes, this is such a waste, to have lost, this much?”
I’ve been a fan of John Hockenberry for over twenty years, from before I knew he was confined to a wheelchair. I don’t believe I will ever listen to him again. I had long admired his quiet perseverance, working in radio is a natural for someone with a disability, society judges on appearance more than talent, but Hockenberry worked in television also, reporting from Somalia, where once his chair was stuck in the sand. His insensitivity to the mother of a deceased child absolutely disgusted me, more so than his lack of respect for the sacrifice of a Navy SEAL.
So okay, there are wankers out there, and sometimes they end up in broadcast media. Life goes on.
Imagine my astonishment when the next morning I receive an email about Jake Tapper, who has made some money with his book “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor”, and is currently a correspondent for CNN following a long run at ABC. During an interview with Marcus Luttrell, Tapper made similar comments. Lutrell is not a bereaved grey haired woman. He walked out of a hell that his brothers did not. Tapper received the appropriate response.
The film must be excellent, as it was capable of stripping away the professional veneers of these two journalists.
The value of service is not measured in the result of a single operation. Bad things happen, that’s why our military is there in the first place. Our men and women prepare for the worst of situations, recognizing the price of mistakes, and trusting their lives to their comrades and superiors. John Hockenberry and Jake Tapper are more than welcome to discuss the outcome of the Superbowl with the losing quarterback, but neither are qualified to (d)evaluate military service.