Why, I have always wondered, would you encourage anybody to go the whole nine yards? What kind of achievement is that when the goal is, at least in football, if cheerleaders can be trusted, as I believe they can, "First in ten; do it again."
What, I've perenially wondered without ever remembering to look it up or ask, is the point of stopping one yard short of the goal? What, precisely, is gained by that? If you're going to fight for nine yards, why not give that extra little push and actually accomplish something?
Today, my decades-long confusion was cleared up. I'm excited to report that I got the answer while watching a rather silly spy movie with my compadre. It turns out that my error in understanding is that all along I thought we were talking about football.
I was wrong.
The nine yards doesn't refer to football but to a far more serious endeavor. At least since World War II, ammo belts -- the kind soldiers carry for military operations because that's how much fits in an average ammo box-- have been nine yards long.
To go the whole nine yards, then, means to give it all you;'ve got; to pour until the jug is empty; to take extraordinary measures to preserve the lives and physical wholeness of your colleagues; to keep using what you've got 'til you use it up. Life and death, in other words.
Now I have a new question about "the whole nine yards"? I want to know why we toss it into conversations about meaningless activities? Go the whole nine yards to meet a company goal? Go the whole nine yards to finish an art project? Go the whole nine yards in getting a proposal written? Go the whole nine yards in training your dogs, detailing your car, fixing a gourmet meal for friends?
I'm not saying those activities are to unimportant in the ordinary scheme of things. Rather, I'm saying that they have nothing to do with life and death; and that a phrase born out of war, out of the deaths and maiming of military personnel and civilians shouldn't be trivialized in common conversations. With an all-volunteer army, it's easy for Americans to pretend that, while war may still be hell, it's a newer, gentler hell -- the kind of hell you get when the feet on the ground in Afghanistan and other hot spots belong to poor people and to minorities (not mutually exclusive groups) rather than to the profile of soldiers during the days of the military draft, when anybody and everybody's brother or cousin or high school friend or colleague's child could be on the next boat or plane heading into a war zone.
We need to go the whole nine yards to support military families.
We need to go the whole nine yards to provide effective protective clothing and vehicles and equipment for the military on the battle fields.
We need to go the whole nine yards to provide the support -- physical, mental, emotional -- that our veterans and their families need when a military person returns from battle. And, yes, by that I mean not only hospitals with no rats in the hallways but also qualified therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, medical personnel, chaplains, folk life experts, poets, projects, and seminars to allow as much healing as a given person needs and wants.
Those tasks are more important than a first down in a football game. They mean the difference between life and death, between a life of paucity and a life of abundance.
Wounded Warrior Project
Support Our Troops By Supporting Their Children
If you know of other organizations making a difference in the lives of military personnel and families, please leave a note in the comments section.