Americans versus Germans and Brazilians

A friend works as a helicopter tour pilot. The operator has a fleet of beautiful EC130s. One day a colleague was flying the usual route when the Turbomecca engine remembered that it had been built by the French. There was an instant loss of power and it was time to enter an autorotation. Unlike in training, the engine failure did not come with quotation marks (a throttle rolled to idle) and did not occur conveniently over a smooth clear surface. The pilot did the best he could and the helicopter landed hard enough on some uneven terrain that the gear was bent. Two groups of tourists were on board. The Germans booked a replacement flight for the next day. The Americans went to the hospital “to be checked out.”

Separately, as part of our ground school class at MIT, we scheduled a Brazilian Air Force officer (and current MIT PhD student) to talk about flying the F-16 and working as a test pilot. Here’s some email correspondence:

the American (me): MIT is doing an article on the class and the journalist, cc’d, would like to talk to you about your role. I explained that you’re going to give a talk on the last day of the class (Thursday, Jan 18, around 12) on the differences between Brazil and the U.S. and also, of course, about your heroic adventures in the Air Force!

the Brazilian: “Keep in mind that there is nothing ‘heroic’ in defending my country during peaceful times. We all prefer this way, right?”

I explained to him that, with this kind of attitude, he would never make it in the U.S. military….


8 thoughts on “Americans versus Germans and Brazilians

  1. Phillip, don’t mistake cry baby urbanites from the Left Coast and Socialist Northeast for Americans in general. BTW, the Americans won’t be going to a hospital to get checked out if a third party is not pick up the tab — third party = insurance.

  2. “the Turbomecca engine remembered that it had been built by the French” –
    une déclaration belle et vraie

  3. Perhaps Brazil doesn’t put its troops in harm’s way with the enthusiasm that American Presidents do. Do you really believe that the American military doesn’t do much fighting?

  4. Brian: The point being made was not about how much fighting goes on, but on the American tendency to celebrate members of the military and “first responders” as heroes regardless of whether acts that would have been regarded as heroic 100 years ago are performed.

    For example, in a debate among my neighbors regarding Hanscom Air Force Base and its impact on our property taxes, some folks said that we shouldn’t care what it costs because the Air Force personnel who work there are heroes and putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom. They were ready to hand out to every military person who ever piloted a desk at Hanscom. I unwisely injected some facts into the debate, e.g., that there are no based airplanes at Hanscom and that therefore nearly all of the work done is office work so that the main risk of on-base injury would be from a Cisco router falling out of a rack. This was, needless to say, regarded as hate speech.

    (see also : “About 80 percent of the jobs in the military are non-combat occupations.” )

    [Separately, winning a Medal of Honor does not preclude a person from trying to profit from child support. See (And a spokesman for Bristol Palin commented: “My values are such that a real American hero doesn’t ask for child support.”)]

    In short, the post is about whether a country will tend to treat individual members of a military as heroes, not about whether the military overall does some fighting and/or generates some combat heroes.

  5. (We also celebrate heroism in general more than other cultures, I think. Teachers are described as heroic for going to work 180 days per year (minus paid sick time, paid parental leave, etc.) at a union job. Single moms are valorized for cashing welfare and child support checks. Americans who have sex with rich older guys in exchange for cash or career advancement are described as “brave” for coming forward and being paid additional cash for telling their stories. So either we have a lot more heroes than other societies or we have a lower standard.)

  6. In the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm there’s a scene in which everyone but Larry David greets a veteran with a “Thank you for your service”: “the whole night is ruined!” –

    It’s another symptom of the same “celebratory tone” you refer to, which, I believe, is one part of a wider sense of American collective patriotism.


    Talking to a friend in the USAF, deployed in Europe (and who has previously done tours in Afghanistan and Iraq), regarding this specific point, her comment was: I have no illusions that I am here to help protect American interests. She conceded, though, that many of her colleagues to have this sense of performing an “inflated” service to the nation.


    Finally, in my own country, possibly like in Brazil, military people aren’t highly regarded in the public eye. While veterans of the Vietnam War are no longer shamed in the USA, veterans of our own African Colonial War (that also finished in 1975) are hardly afforded any public recognition or reverence.

    One joke goes: there’s an intelligence measurement unit called the “tary”, and (with SI prefixes!) you have megatary, kilotary, decitary, centitary and mi(l)litary (in my language, we don’t use two “L” for milli-).

    Regarding Brazil, however, it should be noted that the country was under a 21-year repressive military dictatorship until 1985, and the Armed Forces only recognised the existence of acts of torture and killings in 2014 after the report of a “National Truth Commission”.

  7. Francisco: That is an awesome clip. Thank you! It is good for showing the social ostracism that ensues from failing to bow to convention!

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