In my novel Wild Blue Yonder [new edition coming out August 1], the main character, Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers, is made a military newspaper correspondent. A thoughtful but incredibly naive young man, he writes the following editorial. You can just imagine what happens when he submits it to his sergeant-editor. Be that as it may, and even given the fact that it was fictionally written in 1967, it still seems apropos today. Perhaps especially apropos these days.
WHAT IS MY DUTY?
Nathaniel H. Flowers, A1C
Kleinelachen Air Base Correspondent
What is my duty? This is a question every man and woman in the military must answer. We are ordered to perform our assigned duties, which are cast in the stone of military protocol. In time of war, those duties are very clear cut, and intended to protect us from the enemy and preserve our nationalistic freedoms. We know and understand these duties, because we have been trained to perform them. We do so with the utmost responsibility and integrity we are capable of. But there are other, higher duties for which we are responsible, not just to the military but to our fellow man, and to God.
What is that duty? It is to think, speak and act.
I think, said the philosopher Sartre, because I am. It is our human nature to think, but often people play a game of abstractions with themselves and with others. We smile proudly, strike forcefully, react seriously. These ego-games continue ad nauseam, until no one cares what we do, and impatiently await their chance to also react. I think we care too much about matters which, in the final analysis, will make little, if any, difference. It is our duty to think about the most important matters so that we forge the new consciousness of the world.
I speak when I have something to say. My words are not always wise, nor always true. I am a finite creature, subject to infinite subtleties and capable of change. To recognize this requires going beyond mere words, mere abstractions, to truths. Truths themselves are subjective and interpretive, mine no more valid than yours. To discuss them is to listen to them, and in that light I will never consider mine more valid than yours. Yet there are universal truths, and it is each person’s duty to know them.
When I act it is after I have thought over my action. In situations involving other people, my thoughts have found voice, and my ears have heard the concepts, thoughts, truths of others. My action, when taken, is deliberate and above reproach. In military life, this is essential in order to perform our duty and to be responsible to our fellow troops. In most cases you will agree with my actions, because they are in both yours and my best interests. But you may find them reprehensible at other times, and if so you must respect that I have thought carefully before acting. But upon the point of acting I am fulfilling my deepest duty, and in that I shall not be shaken.