Living Life by Pragmatic Absolutes

By Scott Spangler on August 23rd, 2021

Mentally treading water in Afghanistan’s déjà vu cesspool, I take little comfort in the images that bracket my office clock and remind me to live a life guided by pragmatic absolutes. In the right hand frame, some of my shipmates are pushing over the side two of the 29 South Vietnamese UH-1 Hueys the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) had to park in the ocean so the circling helos filled with refugees could escape the fallen city of Saigon in April 1975.

These images remind me one of life’s two absolutes—gravity. Its absolute partner is death. No one gets out of life alive.

In the left hand frame is US Ambassador Graham Martin. Arriving at o-dark-thirty, the admiral who was the task force commander guides him across the Blue Ridge’s flight deck. The ambassador is my poster boy for delusional hubris. While fighting for $750 million in continued support that he assured President Gerald Ford would finally turn the tide and save South Vietnam, he delayed many of the preparations that would have made for a smoother bug out from an ill-considered conflict.

Given the unyielding absolutes, I’ve lived a life guided by practicality rather than idealism, and never forget that we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of our decisions. Among the most important of these is learning from the mistakes of others, so we won’t have to convene our own learning experience by repeating them.

When faced with a decision, especially one of import, I look at this image of a man whose hubristic allusions of what he thought should be were visibly shattered by reality. After asking what he would have done before he landed on the Blue Ridge, I do the opposite. In other words, I strive for pragmatism, a philosophic doctrine that emphasizes facts and/or practical affairs, often to the exclusion of intellectual, emotional, or artistic matters.

The only thing worse is thinking you’re better than other mistake makers, clever enough not to repeat the errors they made, that you can outsmart the unimpeachable absolutes. No matter the situation or environment, each of us is responsible for the consequences of our decisions whether it’s bugging out of an ill-considered conflict or pushing the wind, weather, and fuel on a cross-country flight. You can point all the fingers you like, but gravity still wins and the pilot in command pays the price.

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One Response to “Living Life by Pragmatic Absolutes”

  1. Robert Boucher Says:

    seems like your one of the few publications that tell the truth

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