Any­one for he­li­copter lessons?

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

I had hoped to write this week on a topic guar­an­teed to warm t he hearts of read­ers, and pos­si­bly win a plau­dit or two for shar­ing a few sunny words on a re­cent news event. Surely I am not the only one who likes cheer­ful news. Most of us can prob­a­bly iden­tify with that gal in the old Amer­i­can mu­si­cal “South Pa­cific.” You know who I mean: the one who sings in the shower while wash­ing her hair, and calls her­self “a cock­eyed op­ti­mist.”

And with Bei­jing’s an­tics with flight zones and cam­paigns to test Ti­betan nuns and monks for po­lit­i­cal loy­alty th­ese days, and with our lo­cal drought and threats of wa­ter-ra­tioning, I thought a shot of cock­eyed op­ti­mism might be what we all need.

But then, along came an un­ex­pected news story. Along came a TV per­son­al­ity’s naive post­ing of in­cred­i­ble pho­to­graphs on Face­book. Along came knowl­edge of new names. You see, be­fore the he­li­copter brouhaha, I’m afraid I did not even know who Janet Lee was. I know now.

And i mag­ine, I t hought “Apache” marked the name of a tribe of in­dige­nous Amer­i­cans, what we once loosely called “In­di­ans.” Didn’t the Apaches ap­pear in many a good west­ern story or film and, as a mat­ter of fact, around the time “South Pa­cific” was the hottest play on Broad­way? I some­how seem to re­call that an Amer­i­can au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­turer named one of its truck mod­els af­ter the tribe. Maybe I am imag­in­ing that. Still, if there isn’t yet a truck called an Apache, there ought to be. The name sure has done a lot for the he­li­copter busi­ness. There just seems so much to learn th­ese days, and all of it in a hurry. Well, at least I now know an Apache is a he­li­copter, an attack he­li­copter, a very ex­pen­sive attack he­li­copter.

My as­sump­tion is that it is not nec­es­sary to go too deeply into the story, to tell it all over again, and so on. We’ve heard enough about the ob­vi­ously ill-ad­vised vis­its to ad­mire the most flashy and trendy of mil­i­tary equip­ment. We’re sick of pic­tures of a mil­i­tary of­fi­cial ca­vort­ing at a Hal­loween party with an un­usual hel­met on his head. We’ve had all we can stom­ach of politi­cians and the high­est of mil­i­tary of­fi­cials fum­ing and fuss­ing and ful­mi­nat­ing. De­spite our bet­ter selves, we’d like not to know about chil­dren dash­ing hither and yon, and play­ing Simon Says and Kick the Can in an equip­ment hanger that is sup­posed to be off lim­its to John Q. Public.

I haven’t men­tioned pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions of law as per­tain­ing to mi­grant work­ers and care­tak­ers. Enough, al­ready, I agree. Still, I am think­ing of the ques­tion made fa­mous by the hope­ful lit­tle boy who found a mound of ma­nure un­der his Christ­mas tree. I’d like to ask, “Is there a pony hid­ing be- neath all this horse crap? In other words, is there any­thing we can learn from this sad soap opera?

Les­son #1 — Some jobs in life are of course more im­por­tant in them­selves than we are as in­di­vid­u­als. Such types of work are po­si­tions in life. They are al­ways larger than we are per­son­ally. This story has caused an in­ter­na­tional loss of face for Tai­wan, and made a laugh­ing stock of our mil­i­tary, its sense of dis­ci­pline, and its meth­ods of eval­u­a­tion and pro­mo­tion. Many of us work within the frame­work of in­sti­tu­tions. We may not be in the mil­i­tary, but we be­long to some­thing. For bet­ter or worse, our small, seem­ingly in­signif­i­cant ac­tions may rad­i­cally af­fect the greater whole.

Les­son #2 — Many of us walk a thin line be­tween what we owe to the world and what we imag­ine we are en­ti­tled to claim for our own plea­sure, pres­tige or com­fort. Put sim­ply, who­ever pa­raded their in­flu­ence to win for civil­ian ac­cess to equip­ment and ar­eas re­served for of­fi­cial use were drunk on an over­dose of ego­tism. They were high on the fumes of their own hubris. Peo­ple ine­bri­ated with them­selves are sus­cep­ti­ble to in­cen­di­ary crashes, and the Apache scan­dal is an ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple.

Les­son #3 — We may not be able to ad­mit it, but for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, high-tech­nol­ogy has be­come the idol of our times. We hand over to “di­vini­ties” in our re­li­gions a tremen­dous amount of faith and de­vo­tion. We wor­ship what­ever we be­lieve is di­vine. Is not the Apache scan­dal at least partly a story of char­ac­ters who got down on their knees, fig­u­ra­tively speak­ing, and bowed their heads in a type of mis­placed wor­ship? That sounds whacky, I ad­mit, but I think it hap­pened.

The magic of all that com­put­er­re­lated wiz­ardry in the hel­mets and cabin of the Great Apache from Above seems to have so be­daz­zled well trained, but all too hu­man mil­i­tary of­fi­cers that they lost a grip on ba­sic com­mon sense. That hap­pens when any of us wor­ship the wrong things in life. Fa­ther Daniel J. Bauer SVD is a priest and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the English Depart­ment at Fu Jen Catholic Uni­ver­sity.

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