Sgt Delfin Montemayor Santos was one of three soldiers killed, alongside State Department’s Anne Smedinghoff, but there wasn’t any CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post, etc., profile of Santos, like there was for Smedinghoff.
Granted, Santos didn’t have the college degree from Johns Hopkins, being a grunt perhaps doesn’t have the same cache as being a Foreign Service Officer, so people might think a guy like Santos didn’t have the “potential” of a Smedinghoff to impact the world, and his death was somehow less of a loss, worthy of news eulogies. Or maybe it was that Smedinghoff wasn’t supposed to die, not in the way 8,000 servicemembers can be neatly reduced to a statistic.
Maybe it’s like my grandmother said to me, that “other people’s kids are allowed to die, but not you,” before I left for Afghanistan in 2009.
Except she had probably forgotten who I cast my lot with.
We had an ethics class once, where they hypothetical was a speeding train headed for a bridge that would collapse, and all those onboard would perish. You could push a button to divert the train onto another track, but that track had an individual on it who would then get killed. That individual started out as a pedophile, and gradually evolved to a daughter/grandmother. Then it was flipped around, where the 100 people on board the train were pedophiles. Social utilitarian arguments began to show cracks. Then it was asked whether anything would change if, rather than pushing a button, you would have to actually push a person over the bridge in order to save 100 lives.
An Army captain and myself were initially lambasted for refusing to push the button, under any circumstances. We weren’t going to play God. Yes, we would have let 100 innocents in a train die rather than push the button to save them, and allow the lone pedophile to die. We were accused of “killing” the 100 innocents (“inaction is action”).
But somewhere along the spectrum, some people’s “morality” started to shift.
It was pointed out that we tend to judge ourselves based on our intentions, but we judge other people based on their actions.
Judging at all, is a dangerous excercise.
This Memorial Day belongs to Delfin Montemayor Santos, but in this age of “Military Operations Other Than War” (and various other terminology to describe actions from Peace Keeping to Nation Building), where diplomacy is more interlaced with military operations than ever, it also belongs to Anne Smedinghoff.
“Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone,” said Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer. He and others confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to “directed assignments” to make up for a lack of volunteers willing to go to Iraq.
“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” Croddy said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”
When 200 members of the 800-member 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment extended their enlistments earlier this year so they could accompany the Two-Five back to Iraq, their decision was numerically significant.
No infantry battalion has had as many Marines extend their tours as the Two-Five — troops who were “short-timers” and could have ended their service with comfy stateside billets but chose instead to return to Iraq to help less-experienced Marines navigate the dangers.
As the Marines from the Two-Five returned to Camp Pendleton early Monday, they had a new significant number to boast about: zero.
In seven months of patrolling the streets of Ramadi, once the most violent city in Anbar province, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment had no Marines or sailors killed and only one injured. In its previous deployment, the battalion’s numbers were 15 killed and more than 200 wounded.
No one is saying that the presence of the 200 Marines who had extended their tours was the crucial factor in the battalion’s returning with no fatalities. No one is saying it wasn’t.
“Barbara Porter’s son, Cpl. Jesse Porter, 22, was one of the 200 who responded to an appeal from his commanding officer and sergeant-major to make another trip to Iraq before returning to civilian life.
Jo McDaid of Kalamazoo, Mich., was similarly unsurprised when her son, Sgt. Matthew McDaid, 22, announced he was returning to Iraq, voluntarily.
“It’s all about, ‘If my buddies are going, I’m going too,’ ” he said.