Monday, January 05, 2009

That Skinny Kid With the Funny Accent

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is the most prominent person in the world of online progressive activism and publishes the largest and most influential political website in the world. Regardless of if or how much one agrees with him, he is an extraordinary person whose example serves to remind sincere Americans of all stripes what binds us at our common core.

In 2006, Moulitsas wrote about his entry and service in the U.S. Army.
Six weeks shy of my 18th birthday, I reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to train as an MLRS/LANCE Operations/Fire Direction Specialist, managing operations and logistics for a missile platoon.

I was a mess of a human being. I was 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighed just 111 pounds, and didn't have a shred of self-confidence. In high school, I had been the short, skinny, Salvadoran war refugee with the funny accent who looked half his age (still do) and read books in the (then) lily-white Chicago suburb of Schaumburg. A deadly combination.

I was also a Republican. As a 17-year-old precinct captain in 1988, not even old enough to vote, I helped deliver one of the district's best precinct performances for Henry Hyde. I had a framed picture of me with George H. W. Bush.
From his bio:
The son of a Salvadoran mother and Greek father, Moulitsas spent his formative years in El Salvador (1976-1980), where he saw first-hand the ravages of civil war. His family fled threats on their lives by the communist guerrillas and settled in the Chicago area.
Markos Moulitsas is not the proverbial kid in his pajamas, blogging from his mother's basement. Far from it, bloggers and their blogs (at least the prominent ones), are the new and dominant political medium. Moulitsas has much to do with that. I am not a veteran, so I have come to my appreciation of the military as an institution from listening to veterans of all kinds, including Moulitsas, who writes movingly:
Military service is a sacrifice from the beginning. The cheap combat boots assigned to new recruits blister the toughest of feet -- after one particularly grueling 20-plus-mile road march with a 100-pound rucksack, I literally squeezed out blood from my socks. But basic training was the best thing to ever happen to me. They say they break you down in basic training so they can rebuild you into a real man. I was already broken when I arrived at Fort Sill. For me, it was all building.

Eight weeks later, I emerged a brand new person, this one weighing 140 pounds. And after my three-year stint, while I was stationed in Germany and missed deploying to the Gulf War by a hair, I emerged as a Democrat.
Many people go through life and find themselves at varying times on either side of any particular fence or another. Fences are, after all, simple and rather arbitrary constructions. No matter what labels we may assign ourselves over time, there is, at our core, something more solid, unmovable and real that transcends any label we'll ever come across.
The military is perhaps the ideal society -- we worked hard but the Army took care of us in return. All our basic needs were met -- housing, food, and medical care. It was as close to a color-blind society as I have ever seen. We looked out for one another. The Army invested in us. I took heavily subsidized college courses and learned to speak German on the Army's dime. I served with people from every corner of the country. I got to party at the Berlin Wall after it fell and explored Prague in those heady post-communism days. I wasn't just a tourist; I was a witness to history.
To be fair, Moulitsas goes on to suggest that the Army and military today is not the same as it was then, but his testimony certainly shows the potential of the institution, its history that produced most veterans with us today, and how our nation's international presence and even war offers transformative experiences for really the entire nation. Exactly what transforms and to what end is certainly worthy of reflection.

Not coincidentally, many of my favorite clients are veterans, and whether we talked about their service or not, I always learn a lot from them as human beings.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga may have been a scrawny kid entering the Army, but he emerged as a ferocious force that continues today as he serves his country earnestly in different and prominent ways.

Moulitsas earned a JD from Boston University, near where I earned my MBA. Moulitsas is also a pianist and composer, and while there, he recorded a CD with a track named, "Along the Banks of the Charles," a reference to the Charles River, which divides the city of Boston and the city of Cambridge. It runs past downtown and along the campuses of MIT and Harvard. Moulitsas does a fantastic job of capturing what it feels like to be in Boston as a graduate student and break away from arduous study to retreat to the banks of the Charles... feelings of headiness, frightening momentum, and desperate optimism tempered by the high stakes of it all...

An appropriate way to begin blogging in the New Year of 2009.