Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden vs Erik Kristensen

Now that Bin Laden is dead,  we will all be awash in information about his life complete with speculation about why people like him emerge from the masses to perpetuate evil.  These journalistic efforts will no doubt draw on the countless research efforts conducted by astute academics hell bent on understanding Bin Laden's mind through herculean effort to retrace and recount every significant element of his life.  All of this will be performed under the justification that if we can just understand him, we might be able to pinpoint what went wrong and take corrective actions so that millions of future Bin Laden's don't continue the fight of their Martyr.

Well count me among those who think all of this effort to understand Bin Laden is a complete and total waste.  Sure, journalists must present the news and academics must study history but to anyone who wishes to look at the events over the last 20-30 years and pursue something good and noble, I have a very different research project for you.

I don't want to know why Bin Laden and his crew love death. Instead, I want to know why fallen Navy Seal Erik Kristensen loved life.  To whomever can answer that question, a great reward awaits because Kristensen lived a one in million life.  And yes, I am sorry to inform you academics who have put so much effort into studying Bin Laden, but the life of little known Erik Kristensen is easily far more interesting and of lasting value to humanity than anything you can tell us about that crumby person who died in his mansion in Pakistan.  You might have trouble getting some funding together to do it, but the payoff will be so much richer for everyone.

By the way, I'm not kidding about this.  The life of Erik Kristensen should be an academic subject pursued with vigor by academics from every country and culture in the world.  What everyone should be looking for is the Kristensen effect.  Let me tell you what we know about this effect so far based on a survey of people in possession of data related to this phenomena.

According to the observations of those that knew him, Kristensen possessed a little understood and practiced ability to make friends with anyone.  Doesn't that sound valueable? Everyone wanted to be his friend. It didn't matter if you were a jock, a geek, a moron, or just some random person. Everyone was on the same team...always.   Kristensen was laid back and 'content to be himself.' When you met him, he left an impression.  "I only met him for 30 minutes but he made a lasting impression" says one Internet memorial.   He loved life and wanted you to love it with him.   If you didn't, he could easily still make you laugh, a power he wielded well into his military career.  In fact, his sense of humor and wit is probably a key element of the Kristensen effect and may be worth investigation in it's own right.

In another online memorial, Nick Shulz wrote:
The thing that always impressed me about Erik was his character. He had a huge heart (and not just because he was a big guy). I got to know Erik at a time when most young men are tempted to cultivate a phony image — trying hard to be cool, tough, clever or slick. Erik was the opposite. He was self-confident without being boastful; strong without being mean or menacing; smart without being a show-off. Erik made everyone around him better by providing an example of what it is to be a real man.

Although he attended the Naval Academy, he pursued the study of the arts and Naval Academy (and later St. Johns for advanced study).  While his Academy classmates were wondering which military tactic prevailed in some famous battle, Kristensen was trying to figure out if anyone wrote a poem about it.  At his Naval Academy funeral in the summer of 2005,  his cousin told the story of visiting him in Tahiti and being convinced by him to paddle in a small boat to a nearby island. Mid-journey, while Kristensen was laying back in the boat & remarking at how amazing of a place they were, after a moment of silence, he calmly asked her if she happened to know where the paddles were. They had fallen out and were drifting a significant distance away from the boat.  Not exactly a procedure the Academy or Seal training might impart.  Yet another element of the Kristensen effect: luxuriously aloof?

Of those who served with him, the impressions he formed were consistent: funny, witty, bright & unusual.  Well liked by all.  Steve Pulliam:  "I served with Mr. Kristensen primarily on the bridge and quarterdeck. He made every watch interesting, from quoting the Uniform Code of Military Justice to discussing Shakespeare or Melville."  He studied French and prior to his untimely death, had been slated to take part in the Olmsted Scholar program, which would have afforded him a stint at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.  I don't think very many Navy Seals speak French.  Another interesting tidbit of an interesting life.

The data we have to study the Kristensen effect ceased accumulating June 28, 2005 when LCDR Kristensen lead a search and rescume mission to serve fellow Seals engaged in Operation Red Wings.  He was 33 years old.  I never met Kristensen but I'm far more interested in his life than Bin Laden's.   And if any useful academic out there exists, please know that the Kristensen effect is ripe for study.
A good rule of thumb for anyone is if you ever hear the name Bin Laden, use it as a reminder to learn something about the life of Erik Kristensen.

Phillips Academy Obit
Erik Kristensen Wikipedia Page.
Erik Kristensen Memorial Charity.
Lone Survivor.
Navy Seals
Washington Post Article
Erik Kristensen Online Memorial
Another Online Memorial
Blog Post about Kristensen
USS Erik Kristensen