The Captain's bars
A Marine infantry officer recently returned from Iraq responds to the post about the Ray Ban theory of history.
I read with interest your bit about the Ray-Bans and the relationship between fashion and consciousness.
We always had similar experiences in my city in Iraq with regard to the Iraqi Police wanting Marine paraphernalia for their uniforms, whether out of utility or just fashion.
One incident sticks out. I worked very closely with an IP Captain who didn't actually work for the city's police force. Instead, he was on the payroll of the central government and very well-trusted by it due to his history. During 2005 and 2006, there had only been 7 police officers in the entire tri-city district where I worked. This Captain was one of them. Al Qaeda ruled the area then, and even went so far as to declare that its treatment of the locals then was how it would treat everyone in the country once it had taken over. As you can imagine, being a police officer for the government in Baghdad didn't mean you were arresting people or making traffic stops. It meant spying on and subverting the terrorists.
Of the 7 police, 6 were captured and beheaded. The one who survived that period was the Captain I worked with this spring. One of his more interesting qualities was that he never wore the same outfit twice. He would rotate between jumpsuits, shemaghs, IP uniforms, camouflage uniforms, rank, no rank, beret, helmet, ballcap, etc. It was a vestigial habit of survival
Well, one day in January, the district police chief sent a memorandum around to the stations. "Who is this Captain X who keeps running around pretending to be a police officer?".
The district chief was not well-respected on my side of the river and we chalked this up to yet another crazy thing he was up to. But the Captain in question, the one I worked with, was very upset. He was one of the founders of the police! He had been fighting Al Qaeda for years, before the chief was even in charge, and while most everyone else had acquiesced or run away to hide in the desert! He was really pissed off. "I guess I'm just a civilian!"
While he wasn't looking, I took off one of my Captain's bars. When he turned around, still all-fired up, I pinned them on his chest and said, "Now you're a Captain again." This made him happy and we all laughed.
I was happy to see over the next few weeks that my captain's bars had entered into his wardrobe rotation. And, every now and then, one of the other captains that I worked closely with would wear them too.
The story has a happy ending. In February, the Captain in question went to Ramadi for a routine meeting. He returned with a car that had been awarded him by the government for his service: a slightly used Ford Crown Victoria. I met him when he brought it back. He said in broken English, "Not all IP get car. I'm good policeman." He was very proud.
Use if you'd like. Semper Fi.
Six out of seven. And the last Iraqi policeman was proud of his Captain's bars. One of Napoleon's famous aphorisms was that "a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon." What Napoleon forgot to mention was that it depended on who was giving out the bit of ribbon, because what tokens really signify -- like the Captain's bars -- are respect, trust and acceptance.
When a man is willing to risk his life for a bit of ribbon it says almost as much about the bestower as the recipient. My father, now relocated to Australia, retains almost nothing from his early youth. But he keeps one thing which he shows me every now and again. It's a small package of Lucky Strikes, now yellowed with age, with the words "I shall return" printed on it, airdropped on Manila in late 1944. It was worth a man's life under the Japanese occupation to be caught with it. Why did Dad keep it?
One of Napoleon's less famous dicta is that "courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment". And the heart of the Ray Ban theory of history is that while men can be ordered into a uniform for money or ordered to advance in it from fear; they will only carry it forward into the teeth of danger for love. And it's a safe bet that sixty years from today, long after the last tank, rifle and airplane given to the Iraqi armed forces has rusted into ruin, that all that will be left, stored in tissue and worn on special occasions, will be bits of clothing and the memories they bring.
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