The lost art of thinking


My friend Rod Albaugh asked a few days ago why I write columns now and then. Rod said he thought he knew but wanted me to tell him. So I explained.

We live in a modern world that delivers our daily news pre-packaged in feelings, ready for our consumption, but we are rarely required to think.

Human nature’s mental laziness drives us to avoid thinking, and it is so much easier to resort to knee-jerk responses.

Even college students, who should be in the business of thinking outside their mental comfort zone, sometimes go to great lengths to skirt the uncertainty and mental difficulty of thinking through new and unfamiliar territory on their own. We are conditioned to passively consume the thoughts of others, and thus we become a herd of rats following the Pied Piper of the moment.

My motivation in writing columns is encouraging readers to think. We all see the world a little differently and I care little about convincing everyone to agree with me, but I do enjoy giving stereotypes a figurative kick in the shin to make someone think.

A long time ago, I used to enjoy friendly conversation with one or more of my liberal friends, opposites exploring each other’s thoughts over coffee without debate or trying to win an argument, just open and honest exploration with mutual respect, considering what seemed foreign ideas and even questioning our own position to find the weaknesses, genuinely wondering if our position needed a little adjustment.

I guess it took special friends to take the risk of opening up with lowered defenses like that, and I’m sorry they are no longer near because I miss it. Attempts in the last 20 years haven’t worked well; it seems the left and right have become so polarized we can’t have peaceful conversation with real thought any more, we must now play an argument game to win. I think we have lost something dear, on both sides.

My style of thinking is clearly not for everyone; here’s one current example. The Nigerian who tried to blow up a Northwest airplane as it descended to Detroit lit the fuse of a media frenzy. When real breaking news happens, those posing as reporters go just a little frantic, and the clamor arose, “What went wrong? Who is at fault? What changes must be made?”

Unfortunately, the gasbags in Washington caught the scent of TV cameras, so now hearings are scheduled and already new rules require passengers during the last hour of a flight to stay in their seat and hold nothing on their lap.

Does this remind you of anything?

When the 9/11 wreckage was still burning, President George W. Bush must not have heard me yelling at the TV when he created a monstrous new bureaucracy called Homeland Security, and converted minimum wage airport security types to government employees nationwide so you and I can pay their salary and pension for so long as they shall live.

Not only do we pay for them, but now we have to show them our ID every 20 feet at the airport, and since one Islamic nutjob hid a bomb in his shoe, we have to take our shoes off for them to x-ray.

The terrorists are winning simply by prompting our idiotic leaders to make new passenger rules at every incident. They cannot conceive, apparently, that we just need to enforce existing procedures and laws, recognizing that security has to be balanced with keeping passenger misery down below the breaking point. The idiots seem dedicated to the American notion that procedures and regulations must be continuously piled up until the regulated function collapses of its own weight.

You might disagree with me, and no surprise there, but my purpose is to prompt you to think about the issue a little deeper than gobbling up what TV news delivers.

Some observe that I write frequently about my experience in the Vietnam War, which is true, and that I am either whining about being wounded long ago or think my story is special, which is not.

Actually, my story is not special at all; it is quite common, which is the point. Right now as I am writing this, and later when you read it, Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing things that would take your breath away if you only knew.

Whether you or I agree with the wars or not isn’t relevant to this point. While we go about our lives in comfort and safety, our troops are living in tough conditions, enduring yet another separation from their families, and risking their lives to do America’s dirty work.

Do we deserve their sacrifice? That’s another column, but I am reminded of what Myra MacPherson wrote in 1984, “Vietnam was a war that asked everything of a few and nothing of most in America.” I think what she said is even more true about our current wars.

When I write about Vietnam, I am trying to prompt you to think, to step outside what you have been led to believe, what you know for sure about that war and the troops who fought it, the ones who never received the recognition they earned serving their country.

Most of what you learned about Vietnam from TV news, and even from the schoolbooks of today, has but a loose connection to the truth that was lost in political turmoil. I return to this theme often because I want you to realize the men and women we sent to Vietnam served well and honorably, no different than our troops in WWII, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most Vietnam vets I know were helicopter pilots like me, guys who did far more in combat than I did since my tour was cut in half when I was wounded and sent home.

Skip Ragan flew high-risk special ops missions his first tour, frequently taking special teams to places he still cannot disclose because our president denied we were there.

Mike King flew scout helicopters low and slow to draw enemy fire to expose their positions, and it’s a good thing that little helicopter was tough enough to survive crashes because Mike was shot down five times, not counting the time he turned too steep too quickly and his gunner shot off the end of his rotor blades — that would make six.

Wayne King flew slicks – troop transport Huey helicopters – until his best friend was killed flying guns, then he switched to gunships because he was pissed off and wanted to shoot back.

Cliff Stern flew slicks and, unlike most helicopter pilots in that war, was never shot down, but he did land by choice with bullet holes to check out the damage.

Ted Reid saw the war up close and personal on the ground, a grunt advisor to South Vietnamese units, and he later commanded a tank battalion in the Gulf War. Ted reminds me sometimes that he was never a helicopter pilot, but he was shot down three times in those things!

These and many others who live in Peachtree City and other places all around you served their country well. I learned from watching young men like them the true meaning of courage and loyalty and trust as they did their job day after day while being shot at, and they did it eagerly when it involved helping each other.

I have a permanent admiration for them, which is why I take every opportunity to write about them, using the story of my own rescue as a device, a preface to the real story about all of them, trying to make readers think and recognize that our men and women in uniform, then and now, deserve far more recognition than they receive.

When I hear the word “stimulus,” I think of lost opportunity to do something useful, like paying a handsome bonus to those deployed to a war zone, encouraging them to spend it to give the economy a jolt, instead of leaving our idiots in Washington to pour hundreds of billions borrowed from our children down their favorite rathole. But that would require someone to think.

[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City and can be reached at]