Friday, October 4, 2013

What freedom and democracy is being defended around the world?

My first real overseas experience (for longer than a port visit) was Bahrain. The Navy has a large base there, and I got to spend 6 months supporting our mission. While I was there, I spent my free time exploring the island, the culture and getting to know all the areas that weren't off limits.

What I found was rather disturbing. Bahrain has a glitzy outside, but the dirty underside is a Kingdom that doesn't always treat its own people well. We sometimes complain about our government being unfair, but it is NOTHING compared to what the average local Bahraini faces...and heaven forbid if you are an imported worker. I talked with some of the locals who had migrated from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, and heard some rather horrible stories from there as well.

A few years later, I was stopped in the hallway by a Petty Officer who asked me if I could recite the Sailors Creed. A little taken aback, I spouted it off for him flawlessly. The smirk on his face (it was obvious he thought I didn't know it) disappeared when I then asked him to give me the Preamble to the Constitution...which he was unable to do. He also couldn't tell me what Articles I-III talked about, and his knowledge of the Amendments was superficial at best. I asked the obvious question, "How are you supposed to support and defend a document that you obviously know nothing about?"

My point here is not that I happened to know some of the US Constitution. The point is that we as a Navy are raising sailors that are quick to spout off memorized answers, but are too often lacking in independent thinking. We ask sailors to memorize a Sailors Creed that is a recent creation (1993), but not the document that forms the basis of our government. Our sailors recite that we defend freedom and democracy around the world, but we actively support autocratic governments.

The United States supports the countries it does because they support American interests in those regions. Foreign diplomacy isn't a cut and dry profession, and sometimes we support the lesser of two evils. We're paying the Pakistani government to provide us access to Afghanistan, knowing full well that while we support democratic efforts in Afghanistan, similar efforts are not happening in Pakistan, who is right next door to the largest democracy in the world (India) with which we have a cordial (at best) relationship.

I'm not questioning our foreign policy. If I had a real problem with it, I'd have sent my resignation a long time ago. I just refuse to believe that we have to glaze over these facts when we recite the Sailors Creed. Why not say "defend American interests around the world?" It's far more accurate, and when our Sailors ask what that means, we can have the serious discussion about it. Sure, it may take more time, but our Sailors walk away a lot more intelligent and with better critical thinking skills.

When you have only a surface knowledge of something, the cracks are easy to find. Going through SERE school, our instructors were more than happy to engage in the theoretical discussions about why their "cause" was better than ours. The folks that walked in thinking they could take on their instructor would get schooled fast...and then have to watch the incident on video afterwards. You couldn't win those battles, so we were shown how to steer clear of those talks. I fear that our Sailors, when questioned about why they support governments like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, won't be properly armed to argue effectively. They don't get to steer clear of those conversations when questioned by their friends, people in town, and their family members. Talking to them about what American interests are, rather than sugar coating it as "freedom and democracy," gives them the clearer direction of what we really do and why we do it.

The US Navy is still an amazing cause, and the fact that we have reduced war deaths since WW2 due to our worldwide presence is impressive and something to take pride in every day. We keep the world from destroying itself on a regular basis. Everyday our Sailors tackle the issues that no other country is powerful enough to take on. The United Nations couldn't mobilize fast enough to respond to tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan...but the US Navy was there. NATO didn't find Osama Bin Laden...Navy SEALS did. The first people on the scene in the event of action in Syria were US Navy Destroyers.

We have plenty to be proud of, and there is no reason to glaze over it with nonsensical language.