Cynicism Versus Pessimism

If you’ve read this blog very often, but only recently, you will have to attest to my occasionally optimistic outlook. But if you’ve read it for a long time, you are no doubt familiar with my occasional, and profound, cynicism. I am not, by most measures, a pessimist.

The definition of Cynicism (in my universe) is that you don’t expect a good outcome, but you hope that there is one, and celebrate it when it comes through. Pessimists seem to be quite positive that nothing good can ever happen, and if it does it is just a fluke with a trick behind it.

Nowhere is this difference more prominent than in military veterans. I belong to several groups that have veterans ranging from 20-90+ in their membership, and there’s always a few of them that couldn’t find a bright spot in their lives if they were standing next to Jesus on the surface of the Sun. So, Sun with Son is just another place an asteroid will hit them.

This usually doesn’t annoy me to a great extent, but recently the Defense Language Institute held a ceremony to rename the Navy area as the Shannon Kent Naval Yard. Shannon Kent, for those who aren’t aware of it, was a CTICS (Cryptologic Technician Interpretive Chief Senior – Or Senior Chief, as we would say it) who died in Syria this past year.

Senior Chief Kent

She was an Arabic linguist operating outside the ropes in a combat zone and a suicide bomber blew up outside the restaurant where her team was. Some say they were eating lunch, some say they were meeting a contact or collecting intelligence. For those who say “just eating lunch” might I remind them that it was still a patrol in enemy territory, and you always learn things “beyond the wire.”

In any event, I commented on an article that as an Arabic Linguist (Former CTI2 myself) I thought this was a magnificent honor and a great inspiration for the young people going through training at D.L.I.

Well, the pessimists came out shortly thereafter, and demeaned the Senior Chief, saying that the only reasons for the honor were that her gender was correct, or that her widowed husband had pushed for it, and where were all the other bits of recognition that should have honored Cryptologic Technicians who had died in Vietnam, Korea, Cold War, Afghanistan, etc., including I suspect a bar fight in Portland in 1973. It was irrational: they wanted to deny this hard-charging warrior recognition because others had not been recognized.

I have news for my peers, and those that came before me – and some who came after me: If your best day ever was when the Soviets locked on your plane off the Baltic coastline in 1979, you need to reevaluate your life. It might be the most exciting day you’ve ever had, the most frightening, or even the worst – but you’ve had 40 years to do something with your life that topped that experience and you’ve failed. It shows in your bitterness and anger over those who have come along since our time.

Now, having just slandered a whole bunch of people, I would like to point out that a few exceptional people saved the crew on one of those days, and it might legitimately be the best day of their life. But those are rare, and the number of braying donkeys who come around each time the current generation is lauded is too large to accurately count. But, braying donkeys they are for demeaning the younger generation, women, and others who have taken their place in service to our nation.

Look. These young people are better trained, more flexible, and in harder spaces than most of us ever were. I’ll match my time in the Navy against most for that 5 year period for doing dangerous things in the face of an enemy that would just kill us if they could – it would have been good for their “street credit.” But I also recognize that I was a very poor linguist compared to the people graduating in Arabic today. Their courses are much more thorough. I am also nowhere near the physical and weapons level of a Shannon Kent. She’d kick my backside all day long, and in my day I was a pretty tough fellow. But things change, and sometimes for the better. Women weren’t allowed, by federal law, to be in combatant roles when I joined the Navy, and only after I had departed did they take their places on the front lines.

Having said that, I know a lot of great female veterans from my era, and before, who did everything they legally could to advance the mission and defeat the enemy. When you say things like, “Well, they aren’t combat veterans so they aren’t veterans” you reveal your ignorance. Only a small portion of the armed forces over the history of our country were ever in active combat. Does that mean that the guys doing Sneaky Pete stuff in the intervening years are less than you are? Are the people who flew countless hours on cargo planes, tended lines on the tugs, or intercepted communications around the world not veterans. I know that they are. And the fact that the government certified them as members of the military is good enough for me. I never served at sea with any, but I sure knew a bunch that would have done a fine job. Things change, sometimes for the better. See paragraph one. 

So to all you pessimists out there, take a closer look at the new generation, and the women who have filled the military. Judge them on their individual merits and you’ll see some fine Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen out on the front lines. I’m a cynic, but I see the best of this generation shedding their blood for us – just like we did in our time.

Lighten up, Francis. The young warriors of today are just like us, and they deserve our respect. Oh, and why didn’t our generation get things named after them? Simple: we were told to keep in the shadows. Our people got a star on the wall at NSA when they were killed in combat. And you know what? That was enough for us. I don’t mind naming some more streets and buildings for my peers, but our time is past and let’s get on toward the future. If you look closely at Shannon Kent’s picture above, you will see that her name tape says “Smith.” Back in my day, we didn’t wear name tags sometimes. We traveled in civilian clothes. We didn’t do much to attract attention – when we were sober, but there were other times… We operated in the shadows, just like the Senior Chief did at the time of her death.

Let’s accept the change, embrace it, and honor those that deserve it. We can’t travel back in time and change things, but we can definitely move forward and try to do the right things in the future.

I personally think it’s as bright as the Son on the Sun.

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Cynicism Versus Pessimism — 3 Comments

  1. There is a lot more to the Shannon Kent story. She was a remarkable woman. The military, in one sense, was righting a wrong by memorializing her. She literally did not need to be on that mission for a variety of reasons but she sucked it up and obeyed her orders. To be honest with you, my years of working for the VA have made me even more cynical than you can imagine. I am tired of all the combat Veterans I meet who are embracing their PTSD after a six-month deployment playing Call of Duty in Kandahar. Now they spend the rest of their lives playing the victim card, demanding they be allowed to drag their 200 pound emotional support pit bull on airplanes and complaining because the VA won’t give them medical marijuana. I know I am only speaking about a small percentage of our current generation of Vets but those are usually the people who give the rest of us a bad rep. My condolences to Shannon Kent’s family. She deserved better than what happened to her that resulted in her deployment to a place more dangerous than 99% of serving military people will ever experience. But she surely earned this memorial. All you critical bedwetters out there need to stand down. Bless you, Joe. another great blog!

    • You had me out da chute! Yes. The fact that she was denied her opportunity for education and a commission because she’d had, and beat, cancer, but was still good enough to deploy has since been rectified. They (the gurus I used to work for) probably did feel they owed her a lot. Not just because of the nonsense, but because she was a hell of a warrior by all accounts.

      As to the V.A., and the Call of Duty warrior set, I have mixed emotions on that one. I think a lot of my fellows in spookland had/have PTSD from the secrets we had to keep. I escaped without it, but I was always a bubble off to begin with – and I’m not kidding. I do have a couple of things I’d love to claim, and they’re definitely related to service, but I feel like those cards would probably have been dealt even if I wasn’t in the military. So I don’t file. Probably stupid, but there it is.

      Critical bedwetters – love it. Describes a certain tribe. Yeah, it’s a small minority. But they do get a lot of people riled up with their stupidity.

      Glad to have you as my reader, Tim.