Friday, January 11, 2008
Hugging at the Pentagon.
I recently noticed a change that took place between 2004 and the present. There is, you see, a lot more hugging going on nowadays where I work.
I work in the Pentagon. . . .
[I]nside of the space of a single week I received (and I must admit, somewhat awkwardly returned) three hugs from brother officers. One of them was a full colonel.
The other two were generals. . . .
After the third of these hugs I felt a little disoriented. Reeling through my mind was the scene from the movie A League of Their Own in which, after making one of his female baseball players cry, the coach (Tom Hanks) is flabbergasted, then exasperated, finally shouting, "There's no crying in baseball! There's no crying in BASEBALL!!" But in my head the words were swapped. "There's no hugging in the Pentagon! There's no hugging in the PENTAGON!!" But, quite obviously, there is now. . . .
During my first tour of duty in the Pentagon, from the middle of 2002 through the end of 2004, there was no such phenomenon. That is easy enough to understand, because although the "guy hug" had become fairly common in the civilian world (I suspect it leaked over from professional sports) by the late '80s and early '90s, mine is a somewhat more restrained sub-culture. . . .
So why the sudden change in the Pentagon? . . . [I]t took me a little while to puzzle this one out. I think I have it now. There are certain rules that seem to apply, and I should note that I am speaking only of what I have seen, and that is only within the Army.
Rule #1: A hug is only appropriate between two men who have not seen each other in at least a year. It only occurs on the first meeting of those two after such a gap.
Rule #2: During that period, one or both of them have been to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Neither has died or was crippled beyond repair. Both now know too many who have been so.
Rule #3: The hug occurs in conjunction with a forearm gripped handshake. It is brief. Right arm in shake, left arm over the other man's shoulder, two or three hearty slaps or punches to the back. No more. Release. The sentiment is as direct as the action: "I am glad you are not dead."
In other words, what changed us was war.
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