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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Being put in my place

As most of you are probably aware, the Foreign Service suffered a great loss on Tuesday with the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues in the line of duty in Libya (see link). It goes without saying that I hope I will never find myself in that kind of situation.

Unfortunately, while reading through the heartfelt remarks left on Facebook by some of my colleagues, I came across the unfortunate and insensitive rants of one of my relatives (and some of his Facebook buddies) regarding the tragedy in Benghazi. In their view, and I quote:

“…if the Marines would have cleared the area and made it a wasteland Our (sic) people would be alive ...”

Perhaps I should have just left that alone. However, I found it inappropriate to call for Rambo-style “ass kickings”, feeling that it somewhat cheapened the deaths of four of my colleagues in the service of their country. It was my mistake to call attention to the primary mission of the Marine Security Guards – contrary to popular belief, the main job of these well-trained professionals isn’t to open fire on mobs besieging diplomatic compounds, but to secure classified information and equipment within embassies and consulates. Their secondary mission is the safety of American citizens within our overseas outposts, of course, but that duty does not involve simplistic fantasies of gung-ho Marines wiping out uncivilized foreigners. However, when I tried to point this out, I soon found myself and my profession (and by hopefully unintended inference, my murdered colleagues) referred to in the manner of the following examples:

“You of all people should welcome a Marine security force that is capable of doing PROactive security to save YOUR ass.” 

“And incase (sic) you have not noticed the whiney kiss ass diplomacy does not work in certain areas of the world and ALL they will understand is RAMBO ASS KICKING ....” A comment: Ambassador Stevens, who had tours of duty in Israel, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as in Libya, would probably have tried to explain the complexities of the peoples and cultures of the Middle East, and why Rambo would not have been the answer. All to no avail, no doubt.

“Someone needs to let you know who you work for, and I can tell you, you should welcome a force that has the authority to keep you safe ... as you are an employee of mine .... I can actually demand it.” 

“Again you fit into an Obama Admin perfectly…”

.He (meaning me) just showed me (meaning one of my relative’s Facebook friends) that He (me again) only Paraphrases (sic) like all Federal Government Civilian Employees. By “federal civilian employees”, does that include Ambassador Stevens and his three colleagues? 

“Maybe you need to take a few ass kicking classes  ...” 

“I'll remind you that as an employee of the government your (sic) sworn to the constitution (sic) and the people of this country ....” 

“There is NO WAY we are ever going to talk to heathens and get them to come around to anything but being heathens” By heathens, you mean Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, animists, agnostics and atheists etc., aka the majority of the people on this Earth?

And on and on it went, depressingly and ad nauseum. 

The blame lies with me, of course, as I shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. After all, I know better, or at least I should have. My relative is not a bad guy – he’s a good husband and a loving father, and I remember him being a lot of fun to be around when I was growing up. However, there was (or is) another side to him that I also recall from earlier times. That is, and my apologies to anyone who may be offended, his frequent use of the word “nigger” when describing African-Americans. My parents would voice their discomfort about this in private with each other, chalking it up to his background. When I recently reconnected with him on Facebook, I was curious to see if he had changed over the years. While his vocabulary has undergone alterations, his views about the country’s first black president showed that the underlying beliefs haven’t. The visceral hatred toward Obama evidenced in his daily (and sometimes hourly) postings have gone beyond acceptable disagreements based on honest differences in political philosophies, and into that dark underbelly of the American psyche that provides nourishment to the likes of the Tea Party and Michele Bachmann. It’s rather depressing to find that after more than twenty years away from the U.S., I’ve returned to find the country hasn’t progressed as far I had hoped when it comes to living up to the ideals that supposedly underlie our society and its political culture. 

But as I was reminded this afternoon, I am now a public servant, and that means I have to serve everyone in this country, no matter what their views. I am bound by oath to carry out the policies of whoever occupies the White House, regardless of which party they belong to, the color of their skin, the religion they choose to follow, their state of birth or the land of their forefathers (or mothers). It is an oath I take seriously, and which I will endeavor to follow to the best of my abilities. It is the same promise the FSO’s who were killed in Libya also made. It is our job to serve the interests of the United States and its people.

And if some of them think that American soldiers should be allowed to indiscriminately kill "heathens" instead of being shackled by a non-white Commander-in-Chief, who in turn should be tried for treason, there is nothing I can or should do about it. It’s a mistake I’ll try not to make again.   


  1. Very well said, James. I saw some of this lively back-and-forth on FB, and have seen many comments left by people on news sites covering the story of Ambassador Stevens. I must say, the willingness of so many Americans to mock members of the Foreign Service at this sad time is really depressing ...

  2. It is depressing, especially when such comments come from a member of my extended family. I suppose some people find it comforting to imagine Marines spraying fire from flame throwers all over mobs of "heathens", but I just felt it was inappropriate in light of the deaths. Is it OK to mock civilians when they die in the service of their country?

  3. I, for one appreciate your service to the country. I think that there is a bit of frustration over Americans being killed and people are rightfully upset to see our Embassies attacked. I also think that some of the frustration comes from things like embassy staff actually apologizing for free speech, when in actuality it was a coordinated attack. But, in any case, the role of diplomats and embassy staff is difficult and every bit as important as military service. So, thank you for your service. It shouldn't have to be dangerous to do what you do.

    1. Thanks, Chris, for the comment. I'm still in training here in Virginia, and won't be leaving for my first overseas post until next February (Shanghai, China), but I hope to live up to the standards set by my colleagues and predecessors.

      I can understand the gut reactions, though in the case of my relative, these feelings go much deeper into a far more disturbing level. One of the many challenges of diplomacy is trying to balance the role of being your country's official representation to another country, while attempting to separate yourself from certain elements in your homeland. We shouldn't apologize for free speech, and should use any opportunities that arise to make clear how our system operates. But at the same time, we should stress that certain views are not representative of the U.S. in an official capacity,nor are they of Americans in general. Getting this message across can be almost impossible in societies that have little or no tolerance for different viewpoints on certain subjects.