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The Truth, Mainly - 06/18/1990

Does a military uniform cause the wearer to 'blow a fuse?'

"It must be like putting on a jockstrap," she says, looking up from the newspaper.

"Maybe," I say, closing the sports page. "What are you talking about?"

"Putting on a military uniform. It must be like putting on a jockstrap. It must cause them to blow fuses inside their heads."

"Wait a minute," I say. "I've worn jockstraps. I wore a military uniform for nearly two years. I don't remember anything going on inside my head."

"I suppose not," she says. "Anyway, how else would you explain this?"

She points to a headline: "National Guard jets crash in mid-air: S.D. editor parachutes with pilots to safety."

It is about this editor of the Sioux Falls newspaper who wrote that the South Dakota Air National Guard's close-formation flights over populated areas might be dangerous. To show him how safe it was, the Guard took him up to go through some of the maneuvers in a two- seater jet. It collided with another jet and both pilots and the editor had to eject over northwest Iowa.

"Well," I say, "that doesn't mean they blew any mental fuses. That's just part of the price we pay to stem the Red Tide. Defending freedom's a dangerous game. I remember once when I was stationed in Germany back in '56—"

"Stop," she says. "You aren't going to tell the story again about how you drank too much beer in Munich and got on a train to Czechoslovakia, are you?"

"It was a plot," I say. "Commie agents were all over Munich. They'd trick us into drinking their doctored-up beer, cunningly disguised to look a little like Coors, then they'd station themselves in the Bahnhof and point us to trains headed for the Iron Curtain."

"Uh huh," she says. "But you foiled them when you woke up one stop short of the Czech border. You've told it before."

"Maybe I have," I say, "but waking up one stop short of the Czech border is hardly what you'd expect from someone with a blown fuse."

"Then what's your explanation for this South Dakota thing?" she asks. "They set out to demonstrate safety and they end up with the demonstratee in the hospital and $6 million worth of jet fighter scattered over four square miles of soybeans in another state."

"Don't worry," I say. "This is the military. Mistakes were made, but changes will result, and it will all be in passive voice."

"No changes according to the A.P.," she says, reading from the paper again. "The executive officer said 'I don't anticipate and am not aware of any reason why it should change the way the program's administered.' I think that's militarese for denying mistakes were made."

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"Well," I say, "I bet the pilots of the two jets are in deep doo-doo."

She says they aren't. The executive officer said that neither would be disciplined and both would continue to fly for the Guard.

"They're probably not bad pilots normally," she says. "They both fly for commercial air lines. That's what I mean when I say they blow fuses when they go military. They put on those coveralls with all the little pockets and get into those jet fighters and they think they're Tom Cruise in 'Top Gun.' And you don't really believe that executive officer talks like that when he's not playing war, do you?"

"So what are you saying? That the military dumbs us down just because we start saluting and saying yessir and following orders like mindless robots?"

"It would explain a lot," she says, "like the strategy of destroying things in order to save them."

"And tell me again," I say, "what all that's got to do with jockstraps." I have a feeling I sound like a straight man.

"Same process," she says. "Put a Nobel Prize winner in a jockstrap and he says 'Heybabe heybabe heybabe' and goes out to win one for the Gipper. Probably 90 percent of his synapses blow out. And the process must create some kind of awful magnetic field. Look at what it does to fans and coaches and sports announcers. They probably lose 95 percent."

"You know what?" I say. "You're un-American. You're subversive. I suppose you think it was silly the way we stood tall in Munich back in '56 when the Red Horde was doctoring the beer and threatening to overrun the gridirons and infields and beautiful rolling country club fairways of the Free World."

"There you go," she says, "talking funny and standing straight. Is your underwear too tight again?"


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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