Sunday, January 06, 2008

Major Andrew Olmsted, R.I.P



Sadly,I've just received word that Major Andrew Olmsted has been killed in Iraq, the first American fatality in Iraq for 2008.

For a brief time, he was part of the Watcher's Council, and he and I exchanged a couple of e-mails, as well as comments on each other's blogs. He had a professional's eye when it came to military topics, a unique style, an independent viewpoint and a wonderfully dry, sardonic wit that was an absolute delight.

Here's a typical quip, written when he recieved his deployment orders: "Iraq must be going worse than I thought if they're sending me there."


Major Olmsted left something extraordinary behind for us, in the form of a last message, a final blog entry posted by a friend after his death. Here are some excerpts:

What I don't want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I'm dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren't going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life. So if you're up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw 'Freedom Isn't Free' from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can't laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I'm dead, but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact. {...}

Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer. The ability to put my thoughts on (virtual) paper and put them where people can read and respond to them has been marvelous, even if most people who have read my writings haven't agreed with them. If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them.

{...}I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?

I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support.


{...}Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either.

As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try.

I wish I could say I'd at least started to get it right. Although, in my defense, I think I batted a solid .250 or so. Not a superstar, but at least able to play in the big leagues. I'm afraid I can't really offer any deep secrets or wisdom. I lived my life better than some, worse than others, and I like to think that the world was a little better off for my having been here. Not very much, but then, few of us are destined to make more than a tiny dent in history's Green Monster. I would be lying if I didn't admit I would have liked to have done more, but it's a bit too late for that now, eh? The bottom line, for me, is that I think I can look back at my life and at least see a few areas where I may have made a tiny difference, and massive ego aside, that's probably not too bad.


I can't claim that Major Olmsted and I were ever friends, especially since we never met in person, but I always loved his style, and the way he promoted dialog instead of diatribe. You could always count on taking something good away from any discussion you had with him.That in itself is pretty rare these days.

In his own way, Andrew Olmsted embodied one of the finest human emotions, the belief in something bigger than himself and the willingness to take a stand for it..although he would doubtless have a killer, self-deprecating comeback at my saying so.

One of the horrible things about war is that it cuts short the contributions of people like Andrew Olmsted. It leaves a void and takes away some of the best and brightest as a blood price.

I'm truly saddened he's gone, but the piece of him that he shared with us remains. He made us laugh and he even made us think on occasion, and that's no small thing.

Thanks for showing up, Major Olmsted. You were definitely big league in every way.

2 comments:

Nazar said...

I admit that I wasn't an avid follower of Olmstead's, but I did read some of his posts occasionally.

His death hits me close to home because even though I never knew him, it reminds me that the danger is very real and constant in Iraq.

He was a great American and we are all worse off for his absence.

Anonymous said...

It's a pity he died as a result of fighting for the wrong people.