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Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right*


J. D. Pendry


Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.*†† Maybe itís because I find it hard to be extreme one way or the other on most issues.The beholder defines extreme, so when I think Iím in the middle others might think Iím extreme.I think if there is law you should obey it.If there is a rule, you should follow it.If there is a standard, you should adhere to it.Like most of you, I spent my military life living by those three simple concepts.Like you, I also encountered many who wanted to soften the laws, rules or standards and just as many who wanted to make them more difficult.Just enforcing the rules as they are, one often finds himself stuck in the middle. You want to follow the leadership guruís advice and create a win-win, but thatís quite difficult because we exist in a competitive win-lose world.Win-win is not compromise.Win-win means that everyone comes out of the deal better than they would have had they followed their own path without considering the views of others.If you find yourself stuck in the middle, your job is to bring the two extremes together keeping in mind that we must obey the laws, follow the rules and live up to the standards.Because when the rule is obeyed, the law followed and the standard adhered to it is a win-win.Welcome to a noncommissioned officerís world.


It is interesting when you sit and ponder it for a while.Hereís one for you to think about.The Army standard for passing a physical fitness test is 180 points.In the world of applying the rules and enforcing the standards, weíre supposed to be OK with that.But, weíre not.Most of us never will be.In many circles, a regulation haircut is not good enough.It has to be high and tight.Brush shined and fluffed dried just doesnít make it.†† Itís a good thing to have high personal standards.Itís also a good thing if you can inspire and motivate others to raise their own personal standards.I donít think, however, that itís a good thing to degrade someone who meets ďtheĒ standard. But we do it.Iíve done it.When we do that, we move ourselves out of the middle.The middle is the domain of NCOs and soldiers.


Iíve observed some other interesting things since leaving the Army.Thereís a middle world out here too and most of us are in it.Itís the extremist liberals and conservatives in our world who are the most vocal and who cause us the most problems.Drive down the interstate highway sometime and set your cruise control on the speed limit.Youíll find yourself in the way of some, and youíll find others in your way.One group consistently drives faster than the limit while another is consistently slower.You choose to join one group or the other or you choose to obey the speed limit.Neither group will like you very much if you choose the speed limit.One thinks youíre moving too fast and another two slow.During passing, both of them will give you the commuter salute.


I think my stuck in the middle theory applies to most people, ideas and things.Shameless plug here, but itís like Tweeners in The Three Meter Zone.Most of us are not ugly and most of us are not pretty.Most of us are homely tweeners.We plop somewhere in the middle on most other things as well.


I saw an interesting article the other day.Itís what started me thinking about this topic.It was in an email, so I donít recall the title, source or the author.The theme of it, however, was that 50,000 war protesters were out doing their thing the other day.The author of the article also pointed out that 289 million other Americans were not out protesting.It caused me to think that there are a handful of war hawks out there as well. The most of us, which includes soldiers, are sitting here in the middle.Ready to do what we must at the end of the day.Itís not as if we are sheep being pulled in one direction or the other.Us stuck in the middle guys have strong opinions about most things.The strongest one is that weíll listen to all sides of the issue, and then weíll do whatís required of us within the limits of our legal and moral obligations.Thatís what Americans do.Thatís what soldiers do.


As I try to take in all of the events surrounding our build up toward likely war in Iraq, I find myself analyzing the characters involved as much as I do the events.The war hawks on one side cite most anything as reason enough for us to go to war and the extreme doves on the other side imply that anything short of a direct nuclear or chemical attack on us is insufficient reason.As I watch all of this play out and think of the many friends I still have in uniform, Iím glad that an old soldier the caliber of Colin Powell is stuck in the middle.


The Germans and French are another interesting issue.For some of you, I probably need not say more than that.I suppose itís hard for them to see the American point of view on Iraq.Thatís because a hijacked airliner didnít crash into the Bundestag or the Eiffel Tower.Hereís whatís most interesting though.These two countries fought two world wars.The only reason they havenít fought a third is, you guessed it, Americans in the middle.I do want to give them a little advice about Americans.While you imply that we are warmongers, let me assure you that no one hates war more than Americans do.What we hate more than the idea of war is a lingering threat to our freedom.Forget the pollsters.When the order is given, weíll support the effort of our soldiers.Hell, weíd even do it for you.


The United Nations passed a resolution calling for Iraq to come clean of all of its weapons of mass destruction and to voluntarily disarm.The worldís extreme views are what we hear.One group, some of who by the way have large oil contracts with the Bully of Baghdad, insists that we should actually soften the standards of the inspections.Another group insists that Iraq already has violated the standards required of the United Nations resolution.Me, Iím just stuck in the middle waiting for them to obey the rule, follow the law and adhere to the standard.


*From Stuck in the Middle with You, a song by Stealerís Wheel


Copyright © James D. Pendry, 2003