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 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.


Tiara said...

They are out there, working hard in all sorts of capacities to help the nation. Notice how a lot of the people fighting for justice or human rights tend to be young university-age or just-graduated folk. Doesn't have to be Oxford or Cambridge or whatever passes for "top university" these days - the point is, they had a choice to go to something safer and more "lucrative", but they chose this instead.

One big issue that happens, besides the country not really appreciating them as a whole, is that a lot of their work gets slagged off as "rich man's kid" - because we (I include myself because I have received this exact response) have been privileged to get an (often overseas) tertiary education, because we have not lived in poverty, because we are more worldly, we have no right to speak up. We're just some rich snots who think we know everything.

It's rather demoralizing - instead of looking at your own merits, they judge you by how much your parents earn (not to mention disrespecting the hard work your parents put in to make that much to begin with!). Just because we may have more comfortable lives doesn't mean we're not deeply aware of what's going on, doesn't mean we don't want to fight for the equality and justice of everyone else around us.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Malaysia is a country with nations within a nation.

Fikri said...

I find that the same holds true for anything 'local'. There's just a general lack of any real enthusiasm for anything Malaysian from many of my middle-class-ish peers, from movies, music, and arts, to...yes, government service and anything nationalistic in general.

It is disheartening, and in my quieter moments, I wonder how this can be changed. Do we have a sceptical gene ingrained in us? I wonder...

Patriotic1994 said...

That's right, who would want to sacrifice for Malaysia when the country didn't appreciate us? Our minister said if we don't like it, we can always go back to China. Similarly to EC, if Opposition don't like the way election is handled, they can choose not to participate. Such, is the attitude that make us feel disgusted.

However, deep in all Malaysians' heart is still a sense of patriotism toward country. It won't last forever, but at least right now there seem hope with people like Tony, Jeff and the Internet!

Every single improvement in Opposition bring hope to all Malaysians. If we can deny 2/3 majority of BN, that will gain 80% of our hope. If we can kick out BN, that is surely a 100% for the country!

Anonymous said...

One sacrifice only if one believes in the cause.

The phrase "proud to be American" rings true to almost all Americans I know. How this is ingrained in a person and how it influences one's judgment is as simple as understanding the root cause of LOVE. Now, extrapolate this to a more difficult judgment of giving up pleasures for a cause one believes in. That ups the antics a little bit.

While not common, it is still visible in Malaysia. There are good doctors who remained in government hospitals as a personal service to the general public. There are those who work with mentally challenged kids. There are also those great teachers who continue to teach despite the low pay. Countless more make it their personal mission to help others. I salute thee.

Despite what the media may lead us to believe, I speculate, by percentage of population, these good souls are roughly the same number in both USA and Malaysia. (Anyone wanna challenge me with good stats?)

On a side note, I disagree with Tiara. Only those who go to Harvard, King's College or the likes and 'sacrificed' themselves should be recognized. For those of you who went to non-top tier colleges; Who cares?

Anonymous said...

somebody please remind george ferris the ideals of the french revolution and whose heads were on the blocks then and why.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous, please pardon my ignorance but I do not understand your short statement. Please elaborate on how it ties with the French Revolution. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

i think what the above anonymous was trying to convey is that the french revolution as a symbol of the dangers of the elitists dehumanising the perceived lower classes. all men are created equal, no matter their education level, occupation, social status etc, and by deliberately dividing coummunities based on where they studied, and rewarding/crediting them differently on the same level of work done, is a recipe for disaster.

furthermore, i dun see why a harvard medical school grad working in government hospitals for the past 30 years is anymore glorious or worthy to be praised than, say, a UM medical school grad working in government hospital for 30 years. the same applies for all other jobs and other unis.

Anonymous said...

every personal sacrifice is equally worthy because each person's life is as important as the other regardless of where he graduated from ...

i think what kianming was trying to point out is that the opportunity cost given up by someone who graduates from a top top school is much greater in the security, career prospects and $$$ sense ...

don't you think it would be very difficult as a young grad to choose between a job in an investment bank and a non-profit organisation? no matter how idealistic and patriotic a person is, that kind of money can be very tempting. what about prestige, respect and envy of friends/relatives? and other little luxuries like travelling first class ... so yes, we should def applaud the choices of those who give up mega big bucks/high flying careers when they choose the serve their countries ...

no, the harvard medical school grad working in government hospitals for the past 30 years is NOT anymore glorious nor worthy to be praised than, say, a UM medical school grad working in government hospital for 30 years - but i think that his choice should definitely be applauded and made an example of.

sadly, most parents i know will criticise such choices as being stupid. i guess they are only pragmatic - and you can totally see where they are coming from afterall they're thinking of their children's future, not the country's ... but nonetheless, it's sad. sad for this country.

Anonymous said...

You have to be able to take care of yourself prior to embarking on the mammoth task of "redefining" society needs. It's just sad that many of us are caught up with consumerism and lost our intented focus.