March 13, 2014

Guantanamo Bay Diary #2

Gary Thomas — 

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Because of the political issues involved, “Gitmo” has become synonymous in some circles as the worst of the United States’ foreign policy abuses. I stated last time that this is not and will never be a political blog. It’s focused on marriage, and this post no less than others. But spending time at Guantanamo did remind me of how the same marriage can be viewed so differently.

Did you know, for instance, that Guantanamo isn’t just a holding pen for detainees, but that we’ve been there since 1898 when we defended Cuba from Spain? Cuba was so grateful they gave us a one-sided lease (which they wrote), stipulating that only the United States can break it. It existed long before any detainees arrived, and has been used for other humanitarian purposes, as we’ll see in a moment.

Did you know that we essentially run a “retirement home” for elderly Cubans who chose to stay on as workers on the base when the gates were closed? It’s not an official retirement home, of course, because the military doesn’t work that way, but our government didn’t want to abandon Cuban nationals who had served the troops (for better pay than they could have gotten in Cuba) and, because of political sensibilities, didn’t want them to have to cross back over once they could no longer work. So we take care of them, house them, feed them, and provide medical care.

Did you know that the United States built a refugee camp at Gitmo in the early 90s to help Haitian and Cuban nationals who fled to the base because of political turmoil? Lisa and I drove on the abandoned airfield that held the camp. At one time, there were over 50,000 people being fed and medically cared for by our military. Some of them arrived on boats that are ridiculously small and haphazardly built. The boat pictured below came from Haiti, holding an astonishing 45 people.

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Did you know that we have tried to release a number of detainees who were deemed of no threat to the U.S., but that when we let one go, word came back that he was immediately executed by the country that took him in (with his organs “harvested”—literally)? After that, we held onto  the remaining ones at a separate camp, removed from the other detainees, until a safe place could be found. The last one in that category was released just this year.

The commander who drove us around the actual camp where the detainees are held pointed out the accommodations made for the detainees’ religious observance, and showed us the hospital where they get (in his words) “better medical care than anyone riding in this car.” Some might scoff at this, but in reality, our country pays for about 4,000 people to serve (yes, and guard) less than 200 detainees.

To be honest, I came away thinking Guantanamo Bay is the perfect place to hold avowed attackers of our country. It’s a fair debate as to whether people should be held without a sentence, but as to where to hold them while we decide (an entirely different question), I can’t imagine a better situation.

Yeah, all my information was gleaned from the military’s point of view. Even so, it’s a much broader narrative than what I heard in the media when Gitmo was a political football and called a “blight” on our national character and a “disgrace” to our values.  Caring for refugees and the elderly, protecting people that other nations would just kill? And that’s the reality, isn’t it—the reason that we have detainees to begin with is because many other nations would have just killed them long ago.

What does all this have to do with marriage? When I talk with couples, I see the same discrepancy between what is reported and what is factual. Things are rarely as they are initially described. In fact, I once jokingly said that my job as a pastoral counselor is to tell infatuated dating couples considering marriage that things may not be as good as they seem, when the next hour I’ll tell a disappointed married couple that things may not be as bad as they seem.

My kids laugh at the gross discrepancies between The Sacred Search and Sacred Marriage. That’s because the two situations are addressing two different mindsets. Dating couples tend to have rose-colored glasses; too many married couples have ultra-dark shades. The truth is usually somewhere in between.

What about in your own marriage? Have you spun your narrative in such a way that you’ve lost the joy and wonder of your relationship to the point that you’ve become blind to the good things happening? Sure, there are a few things that trouble you, and there might even be some big things, but even the presence of big troubles doesn’t mean there are no positive elements to appreciate.

It’s particularly easy to adopt this same skewed attitude with our kids. When we set the bar at “perfection” (we’d reject this in theory, but in reality, I think many parents really do all but hold their kids to this standard), then we look for the bad and, no surprise, find it. But what if we sought out—with the same intensity—the good our kids are doing, and were just as eager to encourage as confront? Might that not change our attitude?

Life, including marriage and parenting, is not a one-dimensional reality. For our own sanity, as well as to serve our desire to grow in the family environment, we have to explore both realities, the good and the bad, the healthy and the sick.

Our families and our country aren’t perfect. But I bet, if we’re determined, we can find some good in both.


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5 responses to Guantanamo Bay Diary #2

  1. I love your comments comparing the dating couples with the married couples! We certainly do our dating couples a disservice to portray marriage as easy. When couples are dating — and my husband and I were certainly like this — it is so easy to believe that “we will be the couple who doesn’t go through the rough stuff together because we are so perfect for one another.” If we could be more realistic with those who are dating and not set them up for such a letdown they would have more resilience when the inevitable challenges come.

    Thank you for reaching out to these military couples. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be married and in the military. Thank you for offering them your support, wisdom and encouragement.

  2. Chris Schroeder March 13, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you for coming and opening eyes!! …. and the signed book!!

  3. Gary, thanks for coming down and also for writing this post! For those of us who live here and love it, it is so frustrating to only read negative things in the media.