Robert Bateman has written a farewell to an army career of more than three decades. If this a (fair & balanced) ave atque vale, so be it.
I Will Fight No More, Forever
By Robert L. Bateman, III
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
My conditions are significantly different than those of the man who first spoke those words. He was the tribal chief of a band of Nez Perce Indians, and perhaps the War Chief of several bands in the end. At the height of his fame, and his tragedy, this man retained his reason. He was named, by his opponents, "Joseph."*
Joseph and his folks did not like the deal they were offered. Perhaps because this occurred at gunpoint. Perhaps it was because the maker of the deal, the U.S. government, had already completely reneged on a prior deal it made four years earlier, in 1873. In fact, stories like those of Joseph and his people were one part of the reason why I became a soldier, to try and make sure bullshit like this never happened again. Or at least do my best to ensure that it never happened on my watch. In 1877 the U.S. Army was sent in to kick Joseph's people off their land and move them to another place, and only from the inside can one affect change on that scale. But 1877 was different, and the Army went in.
That wasn't right. Then or now.
In theory the military operation that followed should have been a walk-over. Those in opposition to the U.S. government's relocation plans numbered less than 1,000 men, women and children. But Joseph, well he was different. He was a better man than I, and he was not having none of that shit. What followed made him a legend among both the American soldiers chasing him and the Native Americans since then, because Chief Joseph handed us, the U.S. Army, our ass.
No, not Little Bighorn style, there was none of that. There was no massive force-on-force fight in this campaign, so don't get me wrong here. Joseph was entirely on the defensive and retreating the whole time. But his masterful use of delaying tactics, surprise, even temporary fortifications, kept the U.S. Army so left-footed that we could never gain contact with the main body of Joseph's people. Across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, they fought a rearguard action of 1,100+ miles and they did it so well that they earned a place in history. But eventually they found themselves between a rock and a hard place. There were just too many of us. There was nowhere to go, and so to preserve his people, Joseph surrendered.
"Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."**
Maybe he said that, maybe he did not. But that is what happened.
I served the nation under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. I have been shot at, mortared, rocketed, and knocked off my feet so many times that it does not matter. I know Egypt and Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, and half a dozen other countries so well that they perversely feel like home in a way. My friends now hail from 22 countries, and I can say "give me a beer" in eight languages. But like Chief Joseph, despite the fact that war could continue, I have decided.
I will fight no more, forever.
And so, gentle readers, from now on I am just "Bob." I have retired from the Army. I have retired from our wars, conflicts, semi-conflicts and brawls. I will not be training young men to fight, and then seeing their names in granite. I will not share smokes with Colonels, telling them the ins-and-outs of where they will be, only to read later how they bought it. My days counting the dead in my memory banks are done, I hope. So then, too, is my service.
I admit that it is a difficult time. I first thought of myself in relation to a rank when I was 18 years old. Now I am 47. In my adult life I have never been anything but a soldier, a servant to the nation and a defender of all of our people. So now the question leaps, "Who am I?"
Now I am not "Captain Bateman." Nor am I "Major B", or "Colonel Bob." None of these apply anymore...I am just, well, just Bob. Which raises the question, for me and hundreds of thousands like me, "who am I?" Sure, I am Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Robert Lake Bateman, III, emphasis on the "Retired," to the Army, my home these past decades, but to the world?
That identity, that 'self' that I maintained for nearly three decades is difficult to release. That is saying something, actually, because compared to many of my fellow soldiers, I have it easy. Over the past 30 years I forged other identities: Public Speaker, University professor, Author, and yes, sometimes Writer for magazines like Esquire. A lot of that, hell, almost all of that, was a bit different for an infantry officer of my age and grade. But I was having fun and doing my job and so there was no conflict. I was all those things in my spare time, but I was a soldier first, and always.
Now, of course, I must reconfigure, because "always" is over now, and I have retired.
Some of this may strike you as Shakespearean, essentially "Much Ado About Nothing." I would agree, but then i think, maybe not. I mean, do you have any idea how fundamentally this sort of thing changes a soldier's life? "Becoming" a civilian? No? Well think about this personal factoid for a second: For the first time in my adult life I have to choose my clothes.
Yea, ok, you might see that as freedom. Me, I see it as an annoying distraction.
For almost 30 years I did not need to worry about the color of a tie, the cut of my pleats, the style of my shoes, the quality of my suit, or how my hair looked...if I had hair on my head. None of that mattered, at all, to those who looked at me in uniform. They saw "Airborne" and "Infantry" and "Air Assault" and "Ranger," right there on my uniform. That told them all they needed to know in their initial visual inspection. They could decide later, based upon my comments and conduct, if I was worth a shit, but my clothes did not matter. Now, it appears, they do.
Clothes are just the first part of the transition. Civilians know that one should not say "FUCK" as a part of normal conversation, for example. But for me, 29 years of conditioning make it a part of my lexicon so deeply embedded that I might as well try to cut out the words "and" and "the." The same applies to about 19 other words soldiers use that I can think of off the top of my head which just do no go down well in civil society. It ain't easy, being nice.
Then there is the issue of politics.
You may have noticed that in all the years I've been tag-team writing with [Esquire's Charles P.] Pierce I have never, once, said a bad thing about a sitting elected official. There is a good reason for that: you don't want the guys with the guns opining on political issues. We have seen, in other nations, how that turns out. But now, for the first time since I became politically aware, I am allowed...and I am not sure what to do. In this I feel a little like a lost puppy. I know what I know, but I don't know what I am supposed to do about it, if you follow my meaning.
When you are a soldier, just being a soldier takes up your whole existence. When you are no longer a soldier, well, there is a whole lot of figuring out to be done.
Of course this means I can say what I want...
*Somewhat obviously that was not his given name in his own language.
**This may have been a literary after-the-fact creation. In fact, to my ears it sounds too good to be true. But this is what you will see in most places. Ω
[Robert L. Bateman became a free-lance contributor to Esquire magazine in 2013 after retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel from a 31-year-career in the U.S. Army. Bateman received a BA (internationl relations and history) from the University of Delaware. He also received an MA from The Ohio State University. He is a distinguished graduate of the NATO Defense College as well. Bateman is the author of Digital War, A View From The Front Lines (1999) and No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident (2002).]
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