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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Neptune Warrior

Monday, September 24, 2007
USS Cole – Orkney Islands 57°47N 004°17W

There’s nothing like the sea to occasion thoughts of mortality. On deck this morning the southernmost of the Orkneys was just visible off the port bow. We were on an easterly heading, still in the “box” assigned the ship prior to commencement of the war games tonight and for three days to come. In principle the military exists to address threats to the security and independence of its government. The promise of such confrontation animates the enterprise, especially of the officers, most of whom (women not excepted) see themselves as warriors, subject to the specialized division of labor that characterizes the contemporary warship. Yet the sea is all around us. Capt. Geoff Bowker, one of the British officers aboard to coordinate the land-based aircraft participating in the “Neptune Warrior” exercises, remarked that the bay just to the south on the coast of Scotland was the scene of the scuttling of the ships of the German fleet trapped there at the end of World War I. So many humans have followed their debris into the sea.

The motile yet uniform character of the ocean dramatizes the transient character of life. Not only do we each of us have to give up our lives, sooner or later, but we alone have evolved the capacity to notice this is so. In addition, we are all painfully conscious of the fact that life itself—and the processes of which it is a part—will go on without us. There is no more forceful experience of this to be had than to be out at sea, land only a memory over the horizon. It’s not that it’s dangerous, either.

Of course I would survive less than thirty minutes were I accidentally to be thrown into this cold sea. The chances of this, however, are astronomically smaller than the likelihood of my death in traffic pretty much anywhere I might be driving. So it’s not the danger. What’s brought home is the fragility of human existence, dependent as we are on the vast processes of the world providing for and protecting our existence. This train of thought is altogether welcome and one of the benefits of this travel. Under the conditions of daily life and familiar routine it is rare to find the world that contains and supports us so immediately present to the sense.


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