Ethics Heroes: The Mourners of Harold Jellicoe Percival

It’s a simple story.

Thanks Dad. Thanks, Harold. Oh, shut up. Justin!

Thanks Dad. Thanks, Harold. Oh, shut up. Justin!

From the Los Angeles Times:

When Harold Jellicoe Percival died last month, the British World War II veteran’s obituary mentioned that he had no close family to attend his funeral. But after the obituary went viral, hundreds of people showed up to honor him Monday. Percival, who served as a member of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, died on Oct. 25 at the age of 99. His obituary requested that “any service personnel who can attend his funeral service would be appreciated.” It spread across social media brought it to the attention of service members and veterans organizations in Britain, They, in turn, rallied people to attend his funeral and honor his memory on Armistice Day.

There were reportedly 100 mourners in the church, and another 400 standing outside.

The ethical virtues demonstrated here are respect, gratitude, kindness, and citizenship. Somebody please explain this to Salon’s clueless, obnoxious, ungrateful and ethically, historically, logically and rhetorically-challenged writer Justin Doolittle, who argues that there is no reason to thank veterans for doing the dirty work of democracy and putting their lives on the line to protect his.

Doolittle tastefully chose Veterans Day to mock the concept that the armed services “protect our freedoms,” which is, if broadly stated, undeniably true. His essay makes the intellectually indefensible leap that asserting that citizens should be thankful for the military protecting the American way of life is the equivalent of holding that American freedoms  exists at the pleasure of the U.S. military, which suggests that praise and gratitude empower the military to take our freedoms away whenever they choose. From that insulting, military and U.S. denigrating perspective, Doolittle goes on to argue that gratitude toward the military is an offensive partisan and political response. He years for the good old days of the Sixties, when people like John Kerry regarded our soldiers as murderers and monsters.

I considered deconstructing his offensive essay in detail, but frankly, neither it nor he are worth it, and res ipsa loquitur: the piece of garbage speaks for itself. Unable to fairly rebut the duty we all have to thank the men and women who, in Jack Nicholson’s apt words before he did himself in, “stand on that wall” risking life, limb, and future to do so, Doolittle keeps distorting the position he is arguing against into a straw man, that to thank veterans is to believe that “our entire existence as free people ….only exists at the whim of the U.S. military.” Who believes that? Who has ever claimed that? What those among us who are not ideologically-addled do recognize is that the U.S. military has saved the nation and its citizens many times from forces abroad that would end our freedoms. Doolittle even denies this:

“The “freedoms” most Americans think of when they hear the term are enshrined in constitutional and statutory law. They are in no way dependent on the size, scope or even the existence of the U.S. military. If John Lennon’s ghost assumed dictatorial control of the U.S. government tomorrow and, as his first order of business, disbanded the entire military, Americans’ “freedoms” would not suddenly vanish.”

Somebody please let this silly, ungrateful, vile man know that World War II was not fought against John Lennon’s ghost.

The mourners of Harold Percival seem to understand that.


Sources: Salon, Los Angeles Times




39 thoughts on “Ethics Heroes: The Mourners of Harold Jellicoe Percival

  1. Don’t people usually grow out of that phase by the end of college? The vague belief that there’s no evil in the world, that violent men don’t need to do violent things to keep the evil at bay? I bet he tells his children “When the bully at school punches you, just stand up and say ‘please stop doing that, it isn’t very nice!'”

      • I know. I think the essay is like a time capsule from 1967. People who thought like this were lunatics then. Why Salon dug up one of them now, I cannot fathom.
        I was feeling bad about some of these anti-veterans remarks.
        Then I read a tribute that our own Zoe wrote about her dad and granddad.
        Maybe she will share it here.

    • Is that really the impression you got from reading the article? I don’t see Doolittle is being the stereotype of a sissy-boy pacifist. It seems more like he’s against the military worship going on at sporting events.

      • That was the main thrust of his article, but between the article and the comments there seemed to be a broad thread that since the constitution guarantees certain rights we just have them, automatically, no intervention needed. While it’s certainly true that the rights aren’t given at the pleasure of a government or group, they still can be taken away. I may also be projecting but his whole tone and examples seem very representative of the set of people that just assume things will turn out fluffy bunnies and that respect and honor for the military are like, totally patriarchal, man.

  2. I can’t but groan when people point out that “more people die from X than from terrorist attacks on the US…” as part of some adolescent argument against military buildup, security measures, or war in general.

    Yeah, and I’ve lost more valuables due to my own stupidity over the years than due to armed robbery, too. I’d like to KEEP IT THAT WAY, in perpetuity, thank you. Keep doing your job, law enforcement.

    If fewer people die from ANYTHING less often than from foreign attacks against Americans, then the armed forces wouldn’t be properly doing their job at all. I don’t know why this is hard for some clowns to understand.

  3. Somebody please explain this to Salon’s clueless, obnoxious, ungrateful and ethically, historically, logically and rhetorically-challenged writer Justin Doolittle, who argues that there is no reason to thank veterans for doing the dirty work of democracy and putting their lives on the line to protect his
    Whoa, this guy is a douche of epic proportion.
    It’s been my experience with guys like him…they are cowards, of the worst kind.
    I mean, read what he’s written regarding our troops and then picture him defending anyone with a rifle.
    It’s like an oxymoron.

    • Doolittle seems to want everyone to live by the creed that “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” He needs some kind of experience that he evidently has not already had – or, if he has had it, has failed as a result of having it – to realize just how unprotected and vulnerable everything about his life is, even with people like the U.S. military, TEA Party and the Democratic National Committee looking out for his interests.

        • I loved poor Janis (the song’s author, not so much) but that iconic line about freedom is a great example about how simplistic poetry can be. “Freedom from responsibility” may mean “nothing left to lose,” but you never have nothing if you have a life, a country, and anyone who relies, assists, believes in or trusts you. It sounds good, but it’s crap…as meaningful as

          “Nanana nananana nanana nananana..nananananananana.
          ..Bobbie McGee…nyaaaaa.

          Great song, though. I have a legal ethics parody of it about the Unauthorized Practice of law in “Ethics Rock”:

          License’s just another word for setting people free
          But license for a lawyer won’t stretch far
          Not when you can’t cross borders tryin’ to earn a client’s fee
          Using e-mail, phone calls, fax or car
          Might get me in a fight with somebody’s bar.

  4. I will give him ONE benefit of the doubt. It’s worth saying that, in that the military is an arm of the government, our freedoms are not at their “pleasure.” We don’t have rights because the government chooses to allow them, or to deploy the military as it does. In the monolithic sense that “the military” is a single entity, it does not give us our rights, or anything else. That’s a good thing to remember, but it breaks down when you forget that the single monolithic entity is actually made up of individuals, those who are NOT a massive arm of government, who are willing to lay it on the line to protect what they hold dear, on behalf of others. So, y’know, not at all what this author is saying.

  5. I think the best response to Doolittle’s flawed commentary is:

    “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    That is why this country thanks veterans. Doolittle is free to say what he thinks, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an ignorant fool.

    • And it doesn’t mean that any publication that give him a forum for an indefensibly ignorant and offensive screed like that shouldn’t be judged harshly. Controversial opinions? Fine. Devil’s advocacy? Fine. Iconoclastic attacks on conventional wisdom? Sure. But Doolittle’s essay is just dumb, arrogant and poorly considered. A competent editor would have just said, “If you can’t do better than this, try another profession” and thrown him the wadded up manuscript. This is one of those posts that just makes everyone who reads it a bit more stupid for having done so.

      • The problem is that all involved in the approval and publication process likely agreed with him. Its the only way the alarm bells didn’t go off in someone’s head… But I can’t say I’m surprised by Slate.

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