“The Little Guy”: On Large Institutions of Power and Individual Service
This topic spawned from some conversation with friends about career paths. As I mentioned earlier, I am a soldier and I’m damn proud to be one. Though the idea of a soldier in my mind is tied much for intimately to my idea of what makes a warrior rather than simply serving under the flag. Though I do not yet live up to my own ideals, I hope to one day embody what I feel are the components that make up a warrior. War alone does not make a warrior. I believe that love is the greatest defining characteristic of a warrior. Yes, the capacity to act courageously on the behalf others must be present. This does not always have to be in a violent capacity, but make no mistake, at times it must. The ability to endure struggle must also be present. The desire to do one’s duty must should be present too, but love must be the driving force behind all of this.
In my eyes, a warrior is made a tangible force through the things in which he or she derives love. Love of one’s family, love of one’s country, love of serving others, love of one’s god. Now, this is just my idea, but it seems that love of an ideal or something deemed worth preserving underpins the hearts of the warriors that I revere (so there’s some serious bias behind these words). So, how does this tie in to those large institutions of power? Well, lemme tell you!
At the Behest of Others
Back in my last two years of college I found some role models that happened to be Navy SEALs. One was Ret. Commander Mark Divine and the other was Ret. Lieutenant Commander John Willink (guess who this is). I really looked up to these two as I was trying to decide between the enlisted and officer routes. For a summer spell I looked up to these guys so much that I thought that I too could become a Navy SEAL. This was a ridiculous idea for that time. I had screwed up an incredible relationship, I was uncertain about my future, and I was nowhere near the shape I needed to be in to even consider joining the SOF(special operations forces) community.
While all of that was true, those two men had planted a seed in my head long before those barriers were erected. What I saw in them was that ideal warrior. They are hard men who have seen war and have came home and continue to serve others. In my heart, I feel that this is the way. They help others better themselves physically and more importantly they help others grow mentally. This was influence ran deep within me (and still does). I had decided to take the enlisted route.
Fast forward to today and my only true long-term goal for my Army career is to become a Green Beret. When I initially felt aligned with this goal I was afraid to admit it. I felt that I could never be good enough to even attempt SF(special forces) selection, but I felt in my heart that doing their type of work is what would satisfy me on a physical and spiritual/philosophical level. It felt like there was thing in life that I had always felt pulled towards had popped up right in front of me and all I would have to do is work my tail off bring it to fruition.
However, as the target became clear its surrounding factors followed suit. Concerns arose. If I were to serve at a higher level within a structure as large as the Army, then I should at least be sure that the effort is truly for something good. I talked this over with my friends and eventually backed down from that dream of joining SF. I felt that I could not ultimately determine if the goals of the larger institution were for good or bad and that it’d be wiser if I didn’t risk aiding in case the goals weren’t good. Although this was seriously naïve of me, there still stands a discussion to be had about the roles of larger bodies of power
When Cells Become Tissue
What helped me return to the goal of SF was reflection on this:
“What weights more, service to the individual or service to the body that governs the individual?”
At first, I thought that the answer was the governing body. I figure that they would milk out whatever selfish victory they could for the sake of keeping the machine afloat while the individual bodies below them would suffer. Yes, there are institutions that function like this (see the government of Cuba for an example), but it would negligent for me not to see that what makes up the large body also carries the power to impact others. Perhaps we cannot be in control of the intents of the institutions we operate under. Perhaps we can even be held responsible for allowing institutions (which are made up of individuals) to do wrong. If that were the case, then we should all be awarded when institutions do well. My point is that the perspective we have about our role within the bodies of power that we critique can limit our potential to do well unto others.
During the Vietnam War the Army Green Berets worked with a group of Vietnamese known as the Montagnards. These were a group of people that lived in the highlands of Vietnam. Throughout the war, the Montagnards faced attacks by the Viet Cong and were even pushed out of Vietnam and into Cambodia. Army Special Operations were assigned to teach the Montagnards about unconventional war-fighting methods. We can look at this from a few perspectives.
Here are some views on the gains of the structure vs the individual:
The Structure – The Army gets to use an inland force that is familiar with the lay of the land. Fewer American casualties. Relations with the locals are built.
The Individual – The Montagnards gain abilities that aid in their ability to subsist. After the war ends, they will have learned skills that can potentially help them live better lives.
These days I choose to operate from the second perspective. I want to operate with the benefits of the individual in mind as opposed to the benefits gained by the larger body. From a long car talk with a dear friend the idea came to be as “fighting for the little guy”. The larger institutions, the bodies that govern, the powers that be; they are like mountains. It takes great effort to move them. At times we should do our all to move them and change them. I do firmly believe that we have a responsibility to change systems that don’t work, especially when they do harm to the individuals that they are supposed to serve. Nevertheless, I feel that this idea is nothing new, but merely something we all embody at times.
When I think of service I think of service to the little guy or the underdog. Though I may be at the behest of a larger body of governing rules, I hope my actions are closer to helping the little guy become better and not simply feeding a structure that’s already well satiated.
These are some of my views on service and the potential role of the individual within a larger institution. Is this the only way? No. Is this the best way? No. This is the way I feel makes the most sense to me. If anyone has any thoughts and ideas counter to this, please post them in comments. Also, if I messed up the history of the Montagnards, please correct me.
Thanks for reading.