Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stone Garden

In the bungling and bellicosity that constitute
the back and forth of history,

worsened by natural disasters and unprovoked cruelty,

humble citizens pay the highest price.

--Paul Theroux

Blessed [are] the peacemakers:

for they shall be called the children of God

--Matthew 5:9

I've got a tombstone hand

and a graveyard mind,

I'm just twenty-two

and I don't mind dying

--Bo Diddley

Understanding that a peacekeeping is not the same thing as a peacemaking . . .

When traveling Ranger sticks to the routes that lead to the small towns; his destination, to find the
heartland in each region. Much as in Europe, most small towns here have war memorials, and it is disquieting when passing through these towns, many of which so faithfully memorialize their war dead, to realize the number of men who were sacrificed for our country.

For the smallest towns it is almost outrageous the number of men who didn't come home -- men not easily replaced, men who were the solid core of a slice of America. The vacuum left behind must have been staggering to all involved, and the losses were not a one-time occurrence.

In one town, the Vietnam KIA's outnumbered the WW II losses; in another, Korea had claim on that honor over the Republic of Vietnam. One town among the many with such memorials is the tidy little enclave of Walpole, N. H., home to documentarian Ken Burns and located in the Monadnock region, childhood stomping grounds of Lisa's mother. The town is very much as it was 70+ years ago, and could serve as a Twilight Zone set of prototypical small town America.

The Walpole war memorial was one block off the downtown square, and was among a small walking area divided according to conflict. The names of the killed were chiseled in stone long after any heart remembered the actual faces -- young men forever lost.

The last chiseled panel was dedicated to "Peacekeepers". Not everyone realizes that peacekeeping can be a deadly pursuit, and many people died from this little town trying to keep the peace in far-flung zones. One wonders what peace they were trying to keep, and how long -- if at all -- it was kept. Whatever the answer, they ended up becoming a memory etched on a cold granite section of wall.

But the peacekeepers recede as one pans to the final panels, for
the town of Walpole has had the foresight to place totally empty panels of granite at the end of the wall, to be filled in as needed, as new wars arise and new dead fall.

Iraq and Afghanistan will be ninth and tenth on Walpole's tally of wars that have gobbled up soldiers as if they were Girl Scout cookies. Now, we can anticipate new work for the chiselers on a wall called "Libya", or maybe they'll go under "Peace-Keepers", depending on how the Men Who Label Wars decide the matter.

But whatever the categorization, servicepeople keep dying and some tourists dutifully witness the names on the plaques. The continuity of such death in a society dedicated to the pursuit of happiness is a thought worthy of consideration.


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  2. Jim - Thanks for a good post. I hope you will visit and post some additional small town memorials in the future.

    You too, Svenn. We should remember all war dead, not just the military ones. The civilians usually end up suffering far more than the ones in uniform.

  3. mike,
    One small omission from this essay was the continuity of the deaths. Some were trans generational. Some family names donated stock in several wars. This should be clearly noted.
    On this particular trip one of our readers took us on an insiders tour of Concord. We saw British graves that were literally right next to the road, but they were marked and maintained. Buried where dropped.
    The only reason i noted this memorial was the to be continued nature of the effort. It was a given that future wars will suck down some more folks. I wrote this only to show the stupidity of intervention in Libyan goat fucks.
    I will do one more since you ask. It was an unofficial memorial found in Vermont.
    I'm such a dummy , it never occurred to me that SO is Svenn O. I assumed it meant Spec ops.
    As always, nice talking to you.
    Same to you SO. Thanks for your input. Always.

  4. Interesting to contrast the German memorial with the American one. The German marker is all dark stone, with the picture of the soldier's little family on one end looking very grim and oppressed. The American version, on the other hand, is very pretty, bright and sparkly, almost perky.

    I wonder if that speaks to the difference people come to feel about war when they experience it as something that you simply send other people away who never come back, a sort of terminal vacation for your loved ones compared to experiencing it as something horrible and overpowering that comes for you, kills and destroys everyone and everything around you and - assuming you survive - leaves you desperate and stricken amid the wreckage like the humans in a movie Martian attack, powerless to stop the nightmare and randomly doomed to extinction?

  5. Chief,
    I think you are right. I think Americans haven't had a clue what the costs of war is...all they remember is the mythical "heroes" of WWII coming home, somber, resilient, ready to get on with life.
    All the admirable things they find wanting in themselves.
    Then the Vietnam war, and the waffling intrasignece of the American government, the belt fed bodies being sent to Vietnam, the body bags and incomplete bodies coming home, the whole social nastiness of that era caused a backlash.
    So...to white wash it all, lets us revel in our "heroes!"
    Let us commmenerate "their" sacrifices.
    Let us cheer their "losses" for they are our losses, even though we haven't lost anything ourselves.
    Let us "watch" our heroes in action slinging lead left and right on youtube, glorying in the mayhem and swagger of a solid John Wayne performance.
    Let worship our heroes vicariously through epic acts of movie-making, paens, and stories to remind us of how great we are!
    Ooo...it's good to be an American...and look we have the stones to prove it!

    P.S. My hopes is that your snark detectors were on. I hate war, I hate the costs of war, I hate the mayhem that is war, but most of all I mourn the valuable lives that are wasted in war.
    Sure...some wars have to be fought...doesn't mean we have to like that damnable thing.

  6. Sheer,
    Sure...some wars have to be fought..
    I don't accept this assumption as being true/correct.
    Up to now all wars that i've studied have all been exercises in futility. But we still interpret them as heroic.
    Why do we have war? War is stupid, but yet we market ourselves as an intelligent species.
    I do not accept the validity of any war that the US has ever fought. All could've been avoided by applying intelligent solutions.
    If Japan in 2011, if not 1945 has taught us ,is that war is now an act of criminal insanity.
    Western society has ultimately destroyed itself/selves. The opera is not over , but the fat lady will sing. The reason is that intelligent men such as yourself assume war to be inevitable.
    It's hard to take the final step.