Thursday, January 03, 2008
Sacrifice for one's country
This is a slightly different post from one that normally appears on this blog. The picture in this post was voted by viewers of the Today show as the most memorable photo of 2007. As I heard the story of the woman at Arlington cemetery, I began to reflect on whether someone of a similar profile would have put his or her life on line for Malaysia. Sadly, I have to say no.
The woman in the photo is one Mary McHugh, who was visiting the grave of her fiance, James John Regan, at Arlington Cemetery, just outside Washington D.C. James Regan was killed in Iraq in February, 2007, where he served as a sergeant in the US Army.
While many of us may have doubts in regards to the US initiated war in Iraq, I find it harder to question the motives of brave, young men (and women) like James Regan, who was willing to put his life on the line for the higher aspiration of defending his country. These are the people who were caught in the political crossfires and the crossfires (literally) of the war in Iraq and paid for it with their lives.
What makes James Regan a little more unique than the 3000 plus US soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq (and the many more Iraqis who have lost theirs) is that he could have made many other career choices, many of which were more lucrative financially and all of which would not involve putting his life on the line.
From this website, I found the following in regards to James Regan.
With an undergraduate degree from Duke, a top LSAT score and a laser-like focus, Jimmy Regan would have succeeded in whatever he wanted to do in life.
Instead of taking a scholarship to law school or a financial services job, Regan followed a calling to the military, where he became an Army Ranger and served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, family members said.
After graduating from Duke, Regan turned down a job offer from UBS, a financial services company, and a scholarship to Southern Methodist University's law school to enlist in the Army, where he passed on Officer Candidate School to focus on becoming a Ranger.
"He said, 'If I don't do it, then who will do it?'" said Regan's fiancee, Mary McHugh, a medical student at Emory University who, like scores of others at the Park Avenue house yesterday, wore Regan's high school graduation photo clipped to her shirt. "He recognized it as an option and he couldn't not do it."
Army Sergeant James John Regan was born June 27, 1980, in Rockville Centre, New York. He graduated from Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York,m where his lacrosse skills earned him a scholarship to Duke. There, while earning a bachelor's degree in economics, he played midfield on two teams that won conference championships and one that reached the NCAA semifinals.
Regan enlisted in February 2004 and spent three years in the Army, earning a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and several medals marking his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went to the Army's language training school and read about the countries he patrolled, but remained humble enough to make his three sisters laugh with a Borat film-character impression or explain the region's centuries-old conflict to his mother, Mary Regan, when he was home for Christmas.
Regan's stint in the Army was to end in February 2008, and he and McHugh planned to marry the next month. They were to move to the Chicago area, where her family lives, and he was going to become a social studies teacher and coach lacrosse.
The equivalent to James Regan in Malaysia would be if a Harvard or Oxbridge grad choose to serve in the Malaysian army or become a teacher in a rural area in Malaysia instead of taking up a lucrative job as a management consultant or an investment banker. There are very few such individuals in Malaysia.
I can speculate as to why this is the case.
We have far fewer individuals in absolute terms who go to such 'elite' universities compared to the US or even the UK.
Perhaps, more important is the fact that very few of us feel compelled enough to 'sacrifice' ourselves for a country which perhaps might not appreciate these kinds of sacrifices.
The few examples I can think of are usually associated with opposition parties in Malaysia. I can think of Nathaniel Tan, a graduate or Harvard, who runs the jelas.info website and who also works for PKR and his colleague, Nik Nazmi, who went to MCKK, KYUEM and King's College. I hesitate to put Tony in this category since he's had some commercial and financial success before going into politics full time although this does not lessen his personal sacrifices of going into opposition politics.
Perhaps I'd be more encouraged to hear about more Malaysians going into non-partisan work which benefits the community or the country in a larger sense. It does not have to involve joining the army or the police force. It could be starting an NGO or working for one. It could be joining the teaching profession. It could be working in a rural clinic. But the current state of our country's political and social environment does not encourage these kinds of 'sacrifices', sadly.