There was a time when, if we were questioned by those in authority, we answered politely and with the "class answer". That is to say, the question was only offered out of social politeness - not because the questioner really wanted an honest answer.
Anyone who has been in the armed services has probably experienced being on parade, being inspected and having a general, an admiral or dignitary ask one of those questions to which they expect a polite, and often, dishonest answer.
Being asked, "How do you find serving in this unit?" was always answered with something like, "Love it, Sir." It didn't matter whether it was the most miserable posting on the planet. The question wasn't asked to find out the truth.
Then, somewhere between Haight Ashbury and Tan Son Nhut, things changed.
I was the commander of a Guard of Honour being inspected by a very high-ranking dignitary being accompanied by a full general. The dignitary was doing the polite thing and not really looking at the troops, but stopping at random points to talk to a few lucky souls.
"Have you been serving with ______ long?" asked the dignitary of a corporal.
"Too long, Sir," replied the corporal. "I'm pretty much sick of it."
The dignitary had been a real officer in a real navy and his curiosity got the best of him. Instead of nodding and moving on he asked, "Ready for a spell of leave, are you?"
The general, from behind the dignitary, was already glaring at the corporal. It had no effect as the corporal let loose. "Leave?! Who in the fuck gets leave in this outfit?! No, Sir. You can't get leave if you're not in country. Hell, I'm starting to think cook-the-bag rations are gourmet dining."
The dignitary offered, "Keep your chin up, lad," and moved on. The general was now glaring at me. I forced a short smile knowing I would probably receive a stern talking-to and instructions to discipline the corporal.
The talking-to happened but amazingly the general accepted that the corporal had simply provided an honest answer to a direct question. Perhaps inspecting dignitaries should restrict questions to "Where are you from?"
Jump ahead and instead of a corporal imagine a person who, after graduating from the US Naval Academy, served with the 1st of the 5th US Marines as a rifle platoon commander in Vietnam. He came out of that war with a Navy Cross, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. After Vietnam he earned a law degree and worked on the staff of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He then joined the Reagan administration as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. He went on to become Secretary of the Navy in Reagan's administration.
Imagine this person is asked a polite question by one of the several people who have no right to expect a polite answer. Via Shake's Sis the new junior senator from Virginia:
At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia's newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.As Shake's Sis says:
"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.
"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.
"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"
"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.
That’s not what I asked you. Which really means: Play the fucking game, Webb. I’m the goddamned president, and I make the rules, and you’re supposed to tell me ‘my boy is fine, sir’. Now let’s try this again. How’s your boy?And, Webb's unspoken answer: You're fuckin' with the wrong marine.
Bush has just had his happy bubble penetrated and a small sample of things to come.