Traveling home from Washington this afternoon, I read the New York Times a bit more faithfully than I usually do. Not only did I discover Byron Calame’s column (below) and start fantasizing about wireless Internet connections aloft, but I discovered that Ben Stein has become a weekly columnist for the Times Business section. In his column today, Stein does what he seems born to do in demanding recognition of the gratitude we owe those whose service makes our freedom possible: “We were soldiers once, and broke.” Stein writes:
I read about men and women who are taking fire from insurgents in Iraq and being blown up by homemade bombs that the Pentagon refers to as improvised explosive devices. The people being blown up are maybe corporals, and they get $1,900 a month, including combat pay.
Or I read a letter from a buddy of a member of the Navy Seals who was killed recently in Afghanistan when his helicopter went down, and he was getting maybe $1,950 a month, fighting the Taliban and fighting Al Qaeda (which killed 3,000 innocent men, women and children on American soil on Sept. 11, 2001). That means the guy at the hedge fund is getting as much as, say, 10,000 of these corporals per annum.
What keeps going through my mind is that there is a big, yet always unstated, connection between these two groups of men and women – on one hand, the megastars of Wall Street and corporate boardrooms, with their vast paychecks, yachts and horse farms in the Hamptons, and, on the other, the grunts in body armor chasing down terrorists half a world away in 130-degree heat.
The link is that the men and women of Wall Street and of corporate America do their very important work – and it is vital work, indeed – inside a box of security and safety created by the courage of the men and women who wear battle dress uniforms and ride down the highway of death in Iraq in armored personnel carriers handling machine guns.
The men and women in the Armani suits, who get the huge paychecks – and who, again, do work I sincerely appreciate and admire – could not exist for long if they were not being shielded by the men and women in uniforms and boots.
And I do not mean only the military. I am also talking about the police officers, the firefighters and other first responders; the Department of Homeland Security folks; the airport security people; and the people in the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency. All of them offer their time and their lives and their families’ sanity to protect the country.
Remember that it all depends on the fighting men and women, not on the people in finance. It depends on the guys whose names you will never know, guys who come home and work – not at jobs in which helicopters ferry them to secret-deal meetings in New York or London, but at jobs in places like a car wash in Burleson, Tex., where one of the men who captured Saddam Hussein is working without complaint and with barely mentioning that he was in Iraq.
That is, if they come home with all their limbs – or if they come home at all.
There’s more where that came from, all of it good, but here we have cut to the chase with a message that cannot be repeated too much or too often.