Oh, boy. Two things I have to respond to here.
First: of course that woman was completely out of line, and sadly, she's got lots of company these days. The whole "gotcha" culture, as Bill Maher recently called it, has made everybody hypersensitive to race. But ironically, we'll never achieve true racial equality until we stop being sensitive to it. You can only legislate so much -- ultimately, it has to come down to the ability within each of us to simply not notice or care what race anyone is.
Bruce mentioned the Don Imus debacle, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was directly responsible for this woman's behavior. What Imus said was offensive, no doubt -- but it was nowhere near as bad as things Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern have said, or things many people in the public eye have said about blacks and every other minority there is!
The real issue here is why we accept any of the trashy, tasteless, ignorant, and often hate-based garbage these "shockjocks" spew out onto the public airwaves. All it does is polarize us and -- as in the case of what happened here -- train us to see ugliness in each other that isn't really there at all.
Now, having said my piece on that, I have to respond to something someone else said. I assume that person was not stating this as her own opinion, but merely quoting something she had heard:
The idea that the "enlisted men in the Army do all the work" is a common one, and I think it arises from the fact that it is indeed largely the younger, lower-ranking soldiers who get sent into harm's way. I deeply respect and appreciate their service, and I wish to heaven that certain political leaders did, too -- maybe they wouldn't waste so many precious lives on needless, botched conflicts.
So please don't think that I'm speaking against the lowest echelons of the military. I am not.
But the stereotype of the pompous, bemedaled Army officer who barks out every order and summarily demotes anyone who doesn't salute him fast enough is just that -- a stereotype. As with most stereotypes, there's a grain of truth in it, but only a grain. Most military officers remember well their own time as enlisted men or women, and take very seriously the responsibility to lead their troops with wisdom, compassion, and deep respect for the value of every single life.
Yes, it's the enlisted personnel who pitch tents and haul sandbags, just as it's the entry-level employees who sack groceries or run the copy machine. That's the natural progression of things. With experience and time, the most gifted of the enlisted personnel will become the leaders who ensure that our military is ready to defend us from whatever danger we may face.
So if you define "work" as physical labor, yes, the enlisted personnel do most of that. But "work" is also planning, developing, strategizing, expediting, and that's the province of officers. Without their leadership to inform and coordinate the efforts of enlisted personnel, all that work would be wasted.
And here's why I say all this with such passion: my father, who is about to be 86 years old, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. He was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. He served as a forward observer, flying a tiny plane into enemy territory to help calibrate artillery fire by radio. He was shot down in the ocean and floated for hours under Japanese fire before he was rescued. Despite an 8th-grade education, he earned entrance to Officer Candidate School, and he made the Army his life. All over the world, in three wars and countless peacetime endeavors, my father risked and sacrificed and worked his heart out in the service of his country. And for decades now, he has suffered a whole constellation of illnesses arising from exposure to radiation (as a pilot) and to Agent Orange (as an officer in Vietnam).
So there's one example of what an Army officer can be. Please don't let thoughtless stereotypes keep you from recognizing that the service of an Army officer can be just as valuable, and his dedication just as deep, as that of any enlisted man.
Thanks for listening.