“It’s the ability to choose that makes us human….” ~Old Proverb
“The only limits are, as always, those of vision.” ~James Broughton
“Laws control the lesser man…. Right conduct controls the greater one.” ~Mark Twain
So we’re in the Temporary Lodge Facility (TLF), limited to one of ten rooms available base-wide that are “pet-friendly,” and I am looking through the facilities guide. You know, as all good tenants do (wink). And I come upon the on-base cable and radio-station guide:
Wow. Three words come to mind. I mean they come to mind after I immediately think how cheap the US Military is when it comes to their most precious resource – its people. Those three words?
Choice. Limits. Control.
I’m going to pen op-eds on and off about this peculiar institution and troublesome characteristic of the modern military for the duration here on Okinawa. I have always been very disturbed by the way senior government officials and most levels of military leadership treat the core peoples of the military, and more so, in their responses to issues central to and most effecting the same. It is quite a dichotomy that exists in every corner of our all-volunteer force; but it is extraordinarily amplified when living overseas.
Okay, sure, I get it. We are all ambassadors of the United States, living in a foreign country at the pleasure of foreign peoples. I understand that actions do speak louder than words, and that bad behaviors and the “ugly American syndrome” can cause local issue and perhaps some measure of international damage when in the extreme.
BUT, I’m sorry Department of Defense, you can’t have it both ways. On the one hand, DoD is entrusting young men and women to make daily life-and-death decisions about use of deadly force, and then the same officials double-speak and state that the same person imbued with the power and US-backed authority to kill cannot purchase alcohol off-base except in conjunction with the evening meal…. Or, better yet, a Naval Aviator who’s entrusted with a $50M combat aircraft has to interview with the Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa (CFAO) and explain how he’s going to safely operate his motorcycle in order to get a motorcycle endorsement. True story, and the lead-in to a funny but tangential story….
I’m stationed on Okinawa in 2005 and I finally decide to get my first motorcycle, one of the things I had always wanted in life, but held off and away while married and with kids. Separated at the time, and on impulse, I buy a brand-new Harley Davidson 883 Sportster, a “small” bike in the states, but quite large – and Mac-Daddy – here in Okinawa.
And this leads to yet another tangent, but funny and quick I promise. I’m in the Florida Keys at a gas station years ago and overhear a conversation between two bikers on opposite sides of the pump fueling their bikes. One, a die-hard, rough-and-scruff prototypical biker on an HD Softail, decked out in leather, complete with ape-hanger handlebars, rhinestone-studded seats and worn saddlebags. He looks over at what I assessed to be a relatively clean-cut yuppie professional, filling up a shiny new 883 Sportster.
“That’s a nice bike you got yourself there,” a deeply-throated rumble of a voice says.
“Why, thanks,” says the yuppie, overcome with a beaming proud grin of being recognized by such a hardcore biker.
“My girl has one just like it….”
Come to find out that my Sportster’s engine is “too big” for initial riders on Okinawa. I am limited to 400 cubic centimeters of displacement or less for my first year, AND, I am not allowed to take riders during that neophytic stage.
But the insult is not yet enough. I am told that in addition to taking the on-base motorcycle safety course (which is the very best thing anyone can do who even contemplates riding a bike) I have to “interview” with a Navy Captain, the dude who’s in administratively in charge of all Navy personnel on-island. I guess to prove my mettle somehow. Hopefully by arm-wrestling.
I make my appointment. At the time I am a Navy Lieutenant Command, a combat veteran of the first Gulf and Balkan Wars, with a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance, qualified as the Air Defense watch officer of a three-ship Amphibious Ready Group with authority for shipboard weapons’ release…get the picture? I sit down with the Captain, with whom I am already somewhat acquainted. After some chit-chat, he asks me, “So, Elvis [my callsign], how are you going to stay safe on the motorcycle?”
I actually laugh in response; I have been labeled as “flippant” in the past by an early Commanding Officer, and my attitude never improved.
But he’s quite serious.
“Well, Sir, I’m going to apply all those operational risk management techniques and safety tactics and procedures that the Navy taught me in flight school, the same ones the Navy seems to deem okay enough to entrust me with combat aircraft to and fro from das boot….”
Now it’s his turn to chuckle. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. I guess this interview is more attuned to the 18 year-old Airman who wants a bike….” Then why are we even having the discussion?
Because of Choice, Limits, and Control.
The Navy limited my choice of bike size, and limited me to solo riding. But they couldn’t control my spirit once on my 400cc Honda Steed, which turned out to be one wonderful motorcycle! And sure, I didn’t take anyone riding…(wink).
But back to AFN. What struck me upon seeing the “choice” of programming available on Okinawa immediately led me to think how ridiculously little choice there is in access to stations and hence to media. And not just cable/TV stations, but radio as well.
You may not think this is a very big deal, but let me assure you, it is. It would be okay if the limited choice was not controlled by a single entity. But the AFN franchises are so indeed. And when lack of choice is compounded by controlling tendencies, limits surely ensure. Limitations colored by healthy doses of propaganda. And a majority of programming that most care not to see, hear, or even read….
Some of you may still think of these ramblings as an overreaction. Still, those that have lived in Asian where AFN provides the only reliable English-based source of radio, and, in the older days, the only TV programming available in town through an old-fashioned aerial, know exactly of the truth of what I speak. Programing on AFN borders on OCD: safety is overplayed to such a comprehensive degree that most elements of a full, satisfying life are portrayed as dangerous and near life-threatening, albeit without extreme caution and full-time high alert. Given the 24/7 constant barrage, it’s amazing that any of us made it to adulthood. So that we could volunteer to serve, be posted overseas, only to realize how dangerous life actually is!
In fact, the strangest thing about AFN programming is that commercial-based commercials are not just NOT required, but they are not even allowed by law; the stations/channels are fully funded through other means quite distinct from advertising. This means that AFN really doesn’t have to provide those “commercial breaks,” but feels compelled to do just that. To an excessively annoying degree.
So one has to ask: why? “They” want you to believe it’s for your own good, that “they” are just being mindful and helpful. But certainly there are a whole host of other not-so-hidden agendas. The constant reminders about “being safe,” while based on good intentions, can’t help but be interrupted as nothing more than a lack of trust. The limited programming and military-hooah-centric and one-sided news is clearly a way to mold young minds and push pre-conceived notions and conclusions about the business of war and peace, DoD-wide. And while Fox News at least pretends to be “fair and balanced,” AFN offers no such pretense or disclaimer.
In AFN’s defense, they have gotten better. I was actually shocked to see BBC news offered as part of their highly limited spread, which of all things, offers at times quite contrary viewpoints to news and media seen in America. However, I remain resolute in my analysis – and in my complaints of AFN programming. After having been on-island for just three days, and having the radio and TV on for an infantile portion of that time, I am resolved that any car we purchase have MP3/4 capability, and that once off-base, we buy the most diversified satellite cable TV available on the island.
Choice is important in a democracy.
Limitations are most often self- and artificially-imposed, the result of lack of vision.
And this retired military dependent refuses to be controlled.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming….
- Okinawa Impressions (poppilgrim.wordpress.com)
- Leving Home for Home (fareastfling.me)
- AFN assigning new channels in Grafenwoehr (stripes.com)