I saw Crimson Tide about a week ago. There was the scene when Captain Frank Ramsey, played so well by Gene Hackman, is waiting with his executive officer Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter, played wonderfully by Denzel Washington, for radio contact to be restored. The captain starts talking about the Lipizzaner stallions. I found it interesting that the most highly trained horses in the world were born black but turn as white as any horse on the planet. I saw it as a perfect analogy for how some talented and high profile black people, through intensive education and training akin to the cattle prod applied electric voltage up the ass approach suggested by the captain, will shed their black community affiliation for the much more appealing affiliation with the dominant community. Many high profile black people are harder on less fortunate black people than any white conservative can ever be. I recorded the show on the DVR for later reference.
This morning I picked up the remote and decided to do my post. I fast forward to the scene in the command center of the nuclear submarine where the executive officer is attempting to get the ship up to periscope depth in order to reestablish radio contact and determine if indeed a third world war has started with nuclear missiles the weapon of choice. The captain punches the executive officer twice in the face in order to force the X-O to comply with orders and allow the submarine to fire her missiles. The X-O refuses and the captain rages. The captain has already threatened to murder one of the lower ranked crewmen, petty officer Hilaire, in order to force the weapons officer to unlock the safe holding the tactical firing trigger to the nuclear missiles. The captain is ready to win the war at any and all cost. The X-O remains unflappable and willing to take a chance that things are not as dire as we may believe, even at the expense of being physically assaulted by an old white man whose greatest fear is appearing weak.
Suddenly there was a bigger analogy at play here and it manifested itself right before my eyes. I couldn’t help but see an analogy between John McCain as Captain Frank Ramsey and Barack Obama as Lieutenant Commander Hunter. Right there on film I saw the captain as Mr. McCain, a seasoned military professional with tons of experience and patriotism oozing out of every orifice of his body with his totally simplistic view of the world where nothing is more important than duty to the politicians who run America. Before my very eyes I saw the X-O as Mr. Obama, trying to apply rational reasoning to a crazy situation that could literally destroy the very country everyone loves.
I saw the men of the Alabama weighing the choices between supporting their captain and supporting the executive officer. The captain has no reservation against killing. And it appears there are a number of men in the crew of the USS Alabama that feel the same way. On the other hand, there are a number of men in the crew who are not comfortable being the catalyst for a calamity that could devastate the world. The radio was damaged right in the middle of receiving a message during a violent exchange of torpedoes with an Akula-class Russian submarine. The message could have been an order to stand down.
While the majority of the crew has a history of working together, the executive officer is new to the crew and a lot of the men aren’t ready to trust him. Regardless of the clarity of the situation some of the crew just doesn’t know what Mr. Hunter’s motivations are. The fact that if the Alabama fires her missiles they are guaranteeing war is lost in most people’s reasoning. An order is an order. And until an order is properly rescinded with another order the order stands. Blind obedience to patriotic fervor is what is required. As the crisis escalates, Captain Ramsey portrays the X-O as an upstart Harvard graduate who does not respect the chain of command and is too arrogant to understand that he is just a small cog in the military machine.
Today, Barack Obama has just returned from his whirlwind tour of Europe and the Middle East. Prior to this trip, Mr. McCain complained that the presumptive Democratic nominee did not visit Iraq or Afghanistan and is therefore not qualified to be the person to lead the country out of these predicaments. Not only did Mr. Obama go to those two countries, he’s gone to Germany, Israel, Palestine, France, and Britain. He may have visited more but that’s all I remember off the top of my head. By any measure the Senator from Illinois looked more presidential than anyone seeking or holding the oval office in a long time. And now Mr. McCain complains that Barack Obama is too presumptuous and too arrogant to be going overseas and talking in a presidential capacity.
A lot of people in America act like the unfortunate crew of the USS Alabama. We don’t know whether to follow the man who has the experience and is more than ready to wear his patriotism front and center like a freshly pressed shirt with just a tad too much starch or whether we want to follow the man who might be willing to take a more intelligent approach to the problem at hand who will be willing to temper his patriotism in order to do what’s right not just for his country but for everyone under the assumption that waiting leaves the country vulnerable to an attack. We don’t know whether to follow the man who we already have a tried and true relationship with and are aware of all his leanings or to follow the man who is new and has yet to prove himself. The old adage that experience is always best doesn’t always fly straight and true. All too often more experience leads to an assumption of correctness which is in itself a manifestation of arrogance.