John Livingston

First In, First Out

I was happy to hear about the release of American basketball star and two-time Olympic Champion Brittney Griner from a Russian Prison in exchange for Viktor Bout known to US intelligence agencies and the DEA as “the merchant of death”, an international arms dealer who is responsible for the deaths of several Americans. The press releases surrounding the prisoner exchange speak volumes about the priorities, virtue, and sense of valor that many in the press and elite progressive ruling classes have for people who put their lives on the line serving in the military and in our intelligence agencies. Ms. Griner’s sentence was inappropriate by US standards and her crime at best would have been a misdemeanor in our country. Her real crime was believing that the rules in Russia didn’t apply to her.

Maybe in our country celebrity is above the law, but not everywhere. Throwing her in the “gulag” was harsh and inappropriate for the crime of being caught with some marijuana oil. Her exchange for an evil murderer was also inappropriate. We should have gotten more in the exchange especially because retired Marine and US businessman Paul Whelan has been imprisoned for over four years on charges that are even more dubious than those against Ms. Griner.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke jubilantly about Ms. Griner’s release stating: “She is an important role model and an inspiration to millions of Americans in the LGBTQ+ movement and to Americans of color” What does that have to do with anything? She is an American citizen who was used for Russian propaganda purposes and leveraged with the help of an American sports media to release an evil arms merchant and a killer.

Meanwhile another American who happens to be a Marine veteran and not a celebrity is left behind. The status and the priority of the life of a celebrity athlete is apparently higher than a military veteran who has served his country and placed his own life on the line for us. Or maybe it is the political value of the athlete that is more important. In my entire military career, I never served in battle. I was a physician who had the honor of serving those who put themselves in harm’s way daily. As a young Ensign medical student, I served on ward SOQ-12 at Portsmouth Naval Hospital and got to meet many Navy POWs who had served years in prison in Viet Nam. Listening to people like Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden claim the false valor of having either for themselves or their children—Bo Biden was in the JAG (legal) corps and the only time Pete ever “crossed the wire” he did so at his own request and at the cost of endangering the lives of others who had to keep an extra eye on him. In my day we called that a  “Kerry” after Lt. John Kerry who dipped his little toe into the shallow end of the field of battle and then claimed a combat medal so that he could run for office in the future.

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During the Viet Nam War John McCain was offered to leave prison earlier than his fellow Navy pilots but he refused the offer. His answer and reason—”First in—first out”. Those who had been in the prison the longest would be the first to leave confinement. Even though it would have been a great propaganda coup for his North Viet Nam captors to have the son of a US Navy admiral leave early because of his celebrity; valor and virtue and a loyalty to a “code” prevented him from “taking the bait”. Modern day celebrity athletes or ESPN sports commentators or Presidents or today’s members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, may never be able to understand his allegiance to The CODE.

When Marines are in the field, the line at the mess tent begins with the lowest ranking enlisted man. The higher-ranking officers including Generals eat last. The message—celebrity doesn’t have a place in the real world of the Marines. The rule: Feed those first who have been fighting the longest and the lowest ranked Marine first.

During Viet Nam, we used to wear bracelets to remember those who were missing in action(MIA) or prisoners of war (POW). I am going to wear a small bracelet to remember Paul Whelan until he is returned to his country and family.

Ms. Grinner’s father served in Viet Nam and was a police officer. In 2019-20 she refused to stand for the National Anthem for almost all the WNBA season. I wonder what her father must have felt. He certainly paid the price for her activism. Maybe Ms. Grinner could help, and she and her family could also wear a Paul Whelan bracelet instead of “wearing felicity”.

I also must wonder if she tonight is as proud of being an American with her freedom, as Paul Whelan is of being an American in his captivity. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. FIRST IN—FIRST OUT

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3 replies on “First In, First Out”

Unfortunately, both countries involved in an exchange get a vote in the outcome, and first in first out is not typically one of the top ten interests. Nor should it be.

While certainly if a homogenous group of people such as soldiers are all held captive for the same reason, first in first out might be a relevant principle. But it is not worthy of being the sole or even primary guiding principle for the release/exchange of prisoners by default. First in first out should not automatically apply to different people held under different circumstances.

For example, what if an American citizen possessing the same character (or lack thereof) as Viktor Bout was detained first. Should his release be sought before that of someone like Paul Whelan who was detained later? Of course not.

Many other factors besides first in first out can and should influence these decisions. In the current situation, Russia, based on its interests, choose to offer the choice of the release of Ms. Grinner or no one. We chose, correctly, to accept the deal.

To argue for the principle of first in first out when it was not even an option is to argue that Ms. Grinner should have been left in prison until some arbitrary order of release could be achieved in the future.

First in first out has a place among the many strategies that can come into play in these situations, but it is limited in when it is appropriate.

WE in fact have NO policy when we try to negotiate the release of civilian captives from foreign governments. By allowing them to set the terms and the principles we only incentivize those governments to capture more innocent American civilians so they can use them to gain the release of people who we view as combatants. A civilian for a murderer is hardly a fair exchange.

Pie in the sky wishes Dr. Livingston. Griner hates America. She is a selfish, shallow, mentally ill individual. She belongs back in the gulag.

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