This afternoon when I came home from class, I was saddened by the official news from the Pentagon that my buddy, Captain Jimmy Adamouski, United States Army, was killed with five other soldiers, when their helicopter went down in the Iraqi desert. I say “buddy” even though I didn’t know Jimmy very well. A month ago I had to look him up in my West Point yearbook after finding out he had been accepted to come join us here at Harvard Business School. Jimmy had orders to HBS to earn his MBA, and he would eventually continue to serve his country by returning to West Point to teach. When I saw his picture, a memory returned to me, and I realized I actually knew Jimmy better than I thought.
One Friday back at school, as my new roommate and I were hurriedly getting ready to leave for the weekend, we ran into a friend-of-a-friend and his buddy Jimmy; their plans had just fallen through. They asked what we were up to, which at West Point means “you got room for a couple more?” Despite any of us hardly knowing one another, they ended up cramming into the backseat of the car (borrowed from an upper-class cadet I hardly knew). Four near strangers spent an awesome weekend together-instantly friends and bound together naturally in a way any serviceman or woman understands, even though our time together might only last as long as a three-year tour, or a two-day weekend, or a short helicopter ride.
My sadness grew deeper when I got home and saw my beautiful wife and boys. Jimmy had a wife, and I imagine their excitement was like ours was when they found out Jimmy had gotten into HBS, and that they would start another “military move” from Georgia to Boston, then on to New York. The journey was sure to be another Army family adventure, and Jimmy and his wife Meighan would likely experience a couple of overnight stays in Labor and Delivery along the way as they started their lives together.
But duty called, and despite a line of other Army Captains longing to take his place as an Aviation Company Commander in combat, I’m certain Jimmy chose to go to the desert anyway to make sure his troops were taken care of. Obviously, those of us out-of-harm’s-way, myself included, have the luxury of only having to talk about the war, but I’m certain Jimmy could have skipped out on this one if he really wanted to.
Who could blame him? What with an apartment to set up, movers to attend to, and campus visits to complete. Any other officer would have gladly taken his place. But, he chose to serve, chose to stay in the Army, chose to deploy.
So with these thoughts in mind, it really bothered me tonight when I saw an interview on Access Hollywood with The Dixie Chicks (one of my favorite bands). The Chicks were unfortunately mincing words as they half-heartedly apologized for their “anti-Bush” statements, and when asked if they supported the war’s cause, the lead singer replied in the ever-popular, post-Vietnam response, “I support the troops.”
What does it mean to say you support the “troops” but don’t support the “cause”? I guess I can understand how a generation that experienced draft-driven, drawn-out combat, that simultaneously deals with the baggage of spitting on soldiers and veterans with post-traumatic-stress-disorder, might want to separate the two. But this time, from my living room, I’m having a hard time seeing how the soldiers and the cause aren’t one and the same. Not a single American soldier in Iraq was drafted. I see live footage of tanks rolling by with “courtesy of the red, white, and blue!” scribbled on the barrel (voluntarily written despite a regulation against it, and taken from a song that ironically network television “supportively” refused to play following 9/11). I see a picture of an American soldier carrying an Iraqi soldier to a medic, only minutes after the latter had been firing at the former in anger. A nineteen-year-old female supply clerk is rescued by thirty-year-old fathers, and then she receives medical attention from Military Reservists who a few short weeks ago were on the factory floor, or sitting in their living rooms like I am right now. They all seem so willing and so proud to be doing it! Singers and presidential candidates can’t bring themselves to verbally “support the cause”, or even to apologize for disparaging remarks, while the “troops” who do the fighting seem to believe in the cause enough to give their lives for it. Given these soldiers’ sacrifices, whether it’s about liberation, or WMD (weapons of mass destruction), or even oil, what you and I believe seems pretty irrelevant.
My thoughts return again to Jimmy’s widowed spouse, who has seen, and will continue to see, the same conflicting images as the rest of us: husbands and wives and children and moms and dads and brothers and old classmates and Britons and Aussies die for a cause; others stay home and call that cause unjust, but claim to be supportive? How supportive of the troops is it when you publicly make statements, for a grieving widow to hear, that the cause her husband died for isn’t worth supporting?
Many people, me included, say that the beauty of America (as opposed to a Taliban-led Afghanistan or a Saddam-controlled Iraq) is that we have the right to discuss and disagree about the “cause.” At the same time, American military discipline appropriately doesn’t allow guys like Jimmy to discuss those same causes. True and beautiful as these concepts are, I can’t forget that while we freely discuss causes comfortably from home, or on stage, or in classrooms, Jimmy and those like him secured that right, their proud actions demonstrating their belief in the cause.
So fallen brother, I defer to you. Instead of listening to musicians and actors, I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s just, and it’s obvious from your selfless sacrifice what you truly believed. For me, at least this time, during this war, to support the troops, and to support their families, is to support the cause. Your cause. Thank you for giving me the right to even talk about these things. Ironically, In truth you’re supporting me.
Thank you for giving me the right to disagree with others. After all, as director Michael Moore rudely but correctly said recently, “it’s my right as an American.” It’s his right and mine, but you earned it.