Monday, November 12, 2007

60 Minutes on Veterans Day

HARD CASES. If you wanted to see yesterday's wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, you had to watch it on C-SPAN. Fox News carried snippets of it between breakaways for celebrity gossip and the latest Peterson murder. CBS's 60 Minutes demonstrated its appreciation of the veterans and our currently serving troops by doing segments about the MRSA virus, a possibly psychotic murderer on death row, and a wry look at the so-called "Millennial Generation" entering the workforce. Thanks, CBS.

If Morley Safer and company were conscious of the irony of spotlighting spoiled slackers on a day when many were preoccupied by  a different segment of the Millennial Generation, they never hinted at it. Their touchstone was the sweeping characterizations articulated by Jeffrey Zaslow of the WSJ Career Journal:

You, You, You -- you really are special, you are! You've got everything going for you. You're attractive, witty, brilliant. "Gifted" is the word that comes to mind.

Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking...

Now, as this greatest generation grows up, the culture of praise is reaching deeply into the adult world....

Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up....

America's praise fixation has economic, labor and social ramifications. Adults who were overpraised as children are apt to be narcissistic at work and in personal relationships, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. Narcissists aren't good at basking in other people's glory, which makes for problematic marriages and work relationships, she says.

Her research suggests that young adults today are more self-centered than previous generations. For a multiuniversity study released this year, 16,475 college students took the standardized narcissistic personality inventory, responding to such statements as "I think I am a special person." Students' scores have risen steadily since the test was first offered in 1982. The average college student in 2006 was 30% more narcissistic than the average student in 1982. [EMPHASES MINE]

The on-camera experts -- Zaslow, employers, consultants -- did express concern about the millennials, but their primary message seemed to be that most of the growing and adapting needed must be done by the Boomer and post-Boomer adults presently in charge of the workplace. What incompetent parents began must be continued and fine-tuned by the rest of us because there's no realistic alternative. They are who they are.

Did I mention irony? I should revise the number. Let me count the ironies embodied in this segment. There's the irony of an elite news organization choosing to lavish attention on the most pampered and relentlessly attention-demanding subset of American youth on a day when they themselves can't spare a minute for the most selfless of our youth. There's the irony of that same news organization's flagrant refusal even to report on the recent very dramatic achievements wrought by that selflessness. And there's the irony of the historical role played by that news organization -- and the elite liberal culture it speaks for -- in maliciously libelling and evicting from university campuses one of the (very) few institutions capable of undoing parentally caused damage: the U.S. military.

The best and brightest among the cognoscenti have been adamant about the desirability of keeping ROTC as far away as possible from our most prestigious -- dare I say narcissistic? -- colleges and universities, the very places that have become the breeding grounds for silver spoon kids too loutish and lazy to master eating with a common knife and fork. What manner of unspeakable perversion do they imagine is underway at the supra-ROTC campuses of West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy? Something so vile that preventing it is worth the price of turning America's once world-leading corporations into permanent servile babysitters?

You couldn't possibly figure out the answer to such questions from the MSM's network news organizations. But if you're a lowly college football fan, you could have learned a lot over the past two weeks about what goes on inside America's service academies. Two weekends in a row, you could have seen smaller teams with far less available practice time defeat the heavily recruited football celebrities of Notre  Dame.  Navy and Air Force prevailed over the Fighting Irish the same way -- with discipline, unflagging determination, and, yes, brains. Both teams featured running backs too small to be recruited by any football power, and both backs played in multiple roles, on special teams as well as the offense, where they also blocked ferociously when they weren't carrying the ball.

Even sports announcers were moved to point out that playing football for a service academy means a five-year commitment after graduation that rules out professional football -- and that the daily regimen includes on average 10-12 hours of rigorous study (no phys. ed. majors), drill, and other work besides football practice. Nevertheless, they find ways to excel. Air Force's diminutive star (5'8", 180 lb), Chad Hall, is just one example:

The Falcons senior running back-receiver is the only player in the country to lead his team in both rushing (1,122 yards) and receiving (426). He set a school record for rushing in a game last week when he gained 275 yards against Army, breaking the mark of 256 he set earlier in the season against Colorado State...

"Chad Hall is an academy kid," [Air Force coach] Calhoun said. "He will fight and claw and scratch to get the job done."

A football fan could have seen something even more educational watching Friday night's Army-Rutgers game. Rutgers is far better than this year's Notre Dame and they defeated Army handily. But Army played the whole game exactly the same way Navy and Air Force played theirs, with practically no penalties or mental errors, and as resolutely on the final snap as the first. The ESPN announcers had spent an entire week at West Point and were so overwhelmed by the experience they couldn't stop talking about it.  They expressed their sense of privilege at having been permitted to witness the daily lives of the cadets, which filled them with admiration. One of Army's best defensive players was also commander of one of the academy's four regiments; his duties were so time-consuming that he slept about four-and-a-half hours a night. They spoke on the phone on-air with the father of the Army quarterback, who had been on duty in Iraq throughout his son's football career and thus had never seen him play in person, but only via the Armed Forces Network.

Apparently, not all of the Millennial Generation are like the dysfunctional creeps in Morley Safer's piece. The military seems to know a little more about raising adults than the nation's affluent parents. But, I can hear the libs tut-tutting, what happens to them in the cauldron of war? What kind of beasts do they become after they've experienced combat? What becomes of them when they realize they've been duped into a greater sacrifice than kids should be expected to bear?

You could have learned something about that, too, last night, though not on CBS. You'd have had to go exploring as far as the Military Channel, which devoted the entire day's programming to some of the tougher consequences of military service. For example, from 9 to 10, the channel broadcast War Wounds: Women Fighting On (video at link) and from 10 to 11, War Wounds: Home and Still Fighting. Neither show is for the faint-hearted, and if you don't have the courage to watch all the way to the end, you might very well draw a wrong conclusion, as did the reviewer for the ever-reliable New York Times (Take special note of the gag-me rhetoric in the second sentence):

[Home and Still Fighting] chronicles the rehabilitation of several American soldiers severely wounded in Iraq...

Wounded soldiers have become something of a cause, especially since Bob Woodruff, the ABC newsman, used his own battlefield injuries to shine a spotlight on their plight in a television special in February....

The TLC program, though, is particularly graphic in its images and its details. Watch it and you’ll learn how a man vomits when his jaw is wired shut. You’ll learn the odd side effects when a chunk of skin from the scalp is used to reconstruct a nose.

The documentary completely ignores the elephant in the room: the war itself, and whether these men’s sacrifices were justified. That leaves it feeling vaguely voyeuristic, like the latest entry in an escalating game of who can find the most hideously wounded soldier and get him to agree to go on camera.

But against that cynical view there’s another: We’re obliged to look long and hard at the ghastly injuries these men have sustained. Because, collectively if not individually, we’re the ones who sent them over there.

Beginning with the fact that he doesn't know the difference between soldiers and Marines, the NYT's Neil Genzlinger doesn't know much. He fundamentally misstates the purpose and value of this show and Women Fighting On. Yes, the wounds we see are horrible, and peculiarly unnerving in the case of the women, but the point of their additional sacrifice in sharing their ordeals is not our reaction, but theirs. We observe them depressed, in pain, trying to assimilate considerable and in some cases overwhelming physical loss, but if you were looking for an exact opposite of the feckless me-ism of CBS's Millennium Generation, they are it.

In the Women episode, we meet three veterans who have experienced amputations and worse, but the tears they shed are for the comrades-in-arms who didn't make it home. One carries a copy of her dead friend's (large) tattoo so that she can have it inked onto her own forearm in permanent remembrance. Another insists that she doesn't regret her decision to enlist, because her experience and the people she met, including the two close friends killed in the same accident that so grievously wounded her, have meant so much to her life. All three remain proud of their service and determined to lead strong, rewarding lives.

It's the same with the men, as well as the friends and families in their lives. There is a sergeant whose face and most of whose eyesight were obliterated by an IED. He worries that the burden of his many reconstructive surgeries and his various intervening disabilities, including damage to his hands, falls more heavily on his wife than on him. She has two young children to care for, but they all care for each other, and for those who watched Morley's Millennials earlier in the evening, it was far easier to see how they could manage to remain cheerful, hopeful, and forward-looking than to imagine how any of the stunted human beings in the 60 Minutes piece could respond as bravely to any setback, including the loss of an iPod.

The final image was the first trip out of the hospital for a young Marine who had sustained the loss of a leg, severely wounded hands, and multiple head and facial traumas. His mother pushed his wheelchair to the Iwo Jima Memorial, past Marine guards who saluted his passage along the path to that huge and familiar sculpture. He was on the mend and he was smiling as he explained how seeing his mother's ceaseless care of him throughout a series of life-threatening emergencies had taught him how he must care for his children when he had his own one day. The red-jacketed Marines who performed the memorial ceremony swarmed him afterwards and had their picture taken with him, all of them standing in the kind of thin red line fabled for never breaking.

What the wife of the man with the wounded face said turned out to be true. The injuries were atrocious and terrifying the first time you saw them. But as soon as you recognized the people inside, you stopped seeing the wounds at all. Then the frightened pity fell away too. What remains is warmth and admiration... and pity for the Genzlingers whose only reaction to their experience is counting up ammunition for the next polemic about the war.

There's more to the Millennial Generation than Morley suspects. But you have to know where to look. And you have to be willing to look. What say you to that, Mr. Safer?

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