King Rehoboam established himself firmly in Jerusalem and continued as king. He was forty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel in which to put his Name. His mother’s name was Naamah; she was an Ammonite. He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.
– 2 Chronicles 12:13-14
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
– John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton
My wife is now at home. We have had to modify a couple of things and the shower bench has been delayed in delivery, but my wife is fine. We are both getting used to the adjustments that need to be made in the short term. Thank you for all of your prayers.
I could have picked many, many sets of verses for the Scripture reference. Go to a search engine and search for good and bad kings of Israel and Judah. There are far more bad kings than good. The final sentence of the Scripture above is telling. “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.”
I went to the rehab center to visit my wife the other day – time better spent. She is feeling a lot better and much stronger. She had our day planned before I arrived. We went to the activities center for News and Coupons for Military. We had no idea what that meant. We got there and each of us was given a newspaper and fifteen minutes to read what interested us. I read the Funnies which are not funny anymore, and I caught up on the baseball standings. My wife went for the human interest stories.
We were then given scissors and told to clip every coupon. It seems that military service members can use expired coupons, so we clipped coupons for about an hour from the stack of newspapers. An employee would then sort the coupons and ship them to a center that would distribute them to the troops (usually after they expired).
The activities director introduced everyone before we got started. There was this huge, wheelchair-bound man with a baseball cap. My wife recognized the insignia on the cap (Army) and started a conversation. Okay, she talked. He mostly grunted. She talked about how she was an Air Force veteran and I had been in the Army. He mumbled something. The nurse said, “He asked what rank you were when you left the Army?” I told him I was a Captain, Corps of Engineers.
The look on his face was a combination of intense anger and frustration. He obviously hated Captains in the Army. His frustration was that his eyes said that he wished to kill me, but his body was trapped in the wheelchair.
I am speculating that he wanted to kill me, because another Captain had harmed him in some way. And everybody knows that all those Captains are alike. Yes, prejudice extends far beyond race and gender.
My wife’s ever flowing positive love for everyone tried to make amends. “Oh, he wasn’t one of those. He worked very hard and was nice to people.” As the steam seemed to come out of the old vet’s ears in even more intense anger, she whimpered one last statement, “Well, I was enlisted, for what it’s worth.” No more words were said. Note: No fraternization here. My wife already had an honorable discharge before we met. I had gone to school while she served. We met when I went to graduate school.
I had seen hatred of officers many times before. There is a tremendous amount of enlisted veterans that would murder an officer, if they knew they could get away with it. I think it stems from both the Scripture above and the many others like it, and Lord Acton’s quote. Bad kings, absolute power – bad officers.
I never wanted to be in the military. That responsibility was thrust upon me, and I served with dignity. I had a job to do, and the enlisted guys had their job to do. (I say guys, because Engineers were considered combat arms, and no women were allowed in that capacity while I served.)
I never pulled rank when I served, on purpose. For a couple of months, I worked near where a surly enlisted guy worked, meeting only in passing. If there were witnesses, he would salute as I went past in the alley next to my office. I always returned the salute, although there were times when my superior officers did not return my salute. One day, there were no witnesses. The angry young soldier looked me in the eye to make sure I knew he saw me and I saw he had no intension of saluting. (By the way, you salute the rank on the shoulder, not the man or woman. The return salute acknowledges the initial sign of respect, but the return salute is for the flag on the uniform of the junior, in rank.)
I also looked into the angry man’s eyes. There was anger and pain there, placed by others. I wanted for both of us to strip the Army shirts off and just talk, but I saw he was ready for a fight. I gave him my best, “Next time, I will not take any disrespect” look and walked away. I usually let the sergeants yell at the disrespectful troops. It wasn’t my style.
When I thought about the pain in the old vet’s eyes and the pain in the young surly enlisted man that I met in the alley, I remembered my commanding officers. I worked for and met many bad officers and many good ones. Were the good ones people who sought God? I don’t know. I served when the all-volunteer Army was in its infancy. There were many growing pains. They especially needed more good officers, since the recruits wanted to be there. We took all the psychology classes, but most officers threw the text in the garbage on the way out of the room. They were still in the mindset of “They will do it, because I have a hunk of metal on my shoulder.” They were old school, when the Army was trying to establish a new management paradigm.
When I got out of the Army, my first long-term boss took it upon himself to destroy my career. His prejudice toward Army officers caused him to be irrational in his dealings toward me. I thought it was a personality conflict (and was to a large extent), but one time he said that I strutted like I was still in the Army. Odd, I never strutted when I was in the Army. I didn’t know how.
When my sister met me after I became a civilian, her first words were for me to not pull rank on her. Her husband had just retired from the Air Force, a master sergeant. Pull rank on my sister’s husband? I looked up to my brother-in-law.
But what makes a bad officer? Not all officers are Christians, but the Scripture states it well, they are bad, for God was not sought out.
But sometimes, being a leader requires making the hard decisions. We studied strategy and tactics during my senior year. Strategy was easy. “Charlie Company will be in the lead when attacking the hill.” Then, you shoved a wooden block across the map that represented 160 to 200 human souls into direct contact with an enemy that fired back. But all you did was push a wooden block across a map.
One day, I was in a paper exercise on tactics. Just like in strategy, we used a map for the paper exercise. Tactics are different than strategy. The instructor said that we had a platoon of men, roughly forty. We had to knock out a machine gun nest at the top of a little hill. I teamed with another officer candidate and we split our forces, some guys were used to pin down the machine gun and keep it from firing – too much, while we sent troops up the hill from either side. But this time, when we pointed to the map and moved things around, it wasn’t a nameless wooden block, it was Joe, Frank, and Aloysius. When the instructor, an Army major, saw the hesitation in my eyes, he reminded me of Iwo.
Iwo, short for Iwo Jima, was the reminder that if you don’t get yourself up and in danger of getting shot, you would certainly die while pinned down on the beach. Since Iwo Jima was late in world war II after many beach landings, the experienced soldiers knew what the fatal mistakes were. The officers and sergeants that gave those orders to keep moving, knowing that maybe half of their men would be killed, saved the other half. There were a few bronze stars and better on Iwo for guys who grabbed their buddy’s belts and lifted them off the ground and kicked them toward the beehive of bullets coming the other way.
Whether the focus of the anger was a real jerk of an officer, or one who did not consult God, or one that had to make a tough call that led to people dying, there are many reasons to hate Captains.
But I take offense when I say that I was a Captain in the Army and one of those officer hating men says, “Then you never really were in the Army.”
I served my country with dignity. I proudly wore the uniform, but I will not apologize for having railroad tracks on my shoulders. I can only sympathize and empathize with those angry men. I was taking orders from a silly son of a b****, just like they were.
I am reminded of a quote from the movie Patton. General Omar Bradley, played by Karl Malden, was, somewhat, in charge of a military operation. When there were incoming shells, he loses his helmet, and thus his rank insignia, when he dives for cover next to a foot soldier…
Soldier: What silly son of a b**** is in charge of this operation?
General Omar N. Bradley: I don’t know, but they oughta hang him.
Whether the movie script is romanticized a bit or an actual quote, Omar Bradley was a good leader, with the reputation of being the GI’s General.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.