Monday, May 30, 2011

Opening Doors

Twenty-six years ago this October I spent a long half hour under some sort of Caribbean bush with a man about my age. We didn't have much to say. And he couldn't say much, anyway, being dead.

I didn't know, and never learned, who he was, or how he had come to that lonely little hole, under the roadside bush, to be killed defending his hardscrabble little island from the power and the glory of the United States of America. But there he was. Twenty-something years of diapers and lullabies, stories and tears and hugs, schoolbooks, scoldings, ideas and ideals, love and fear and hate and hope had come down to this; face-down in his scattered effluvia, eventually to be dragged away and tipped into a hole and covered up like trash.

His place at the table forever vacant, his memory slowly fading.

I'm here, today, with my wife and my children and my house safe around me. And a lot of that was because of the willingness of my people to fight - in the Revolution, against slavery, against fascism - and, yes, to die.

But I'll bet that if you could have asked him, he probably would have asked for nothing more.

And, as always:

"It seems to me that the VERY best thing for the majority of Americans would be to think of this Memorial Day not as time reserved for barbeques and softball in the park, but as the time it took a 19-year-old private to bleed out, alone amid the dying crowd in the grass before the wall at Fredricksburg.

The time it took a husband and father to convulse his way into death from typhus in the tent hospital outside Santiago de Cuba.

The time that the battalion runner, a former mill hand from Utica, New York, spent in a shell hole in the Argonne staring at the rest of his life drizzling out of his shattered legs.

The time it took for the jolting trip down the Apennines to the CCP, unfelt by the father of three because of the jagged rip in his gut wall that killed him that morning.

The time required to freeze a high school kid from Corvallis, Oregon, to the parched high ground above the Yalu River.

The time it took for the resupply bird to come for the plastic bag that contained what had been a young man from the Bronx who would never see the Walt Frazier he loved play again.

The time taken up by the last day in the life of a professional officer whose fiance' will never understand why she died in a "vehicular accident" in the middle of a street in Taji.

I'm satisfied with my Army service, and don't kid myself that there will be a day when the killer ape "studies war no more".

But the recent enthusiasm for war as video entertainment for the masses sickens me.

Every single fucking human being needs to have it driven into his or her forehead with a steel nail that every single day in every single war some person dies a stupid, meaningless death that snuffs out an entire world in a moment. That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were the windows to a universe that is forever lost.

That the price we pay for forging our national will is paid in the unlived futures of those we kill and those of us who die to make it so.

Maybe then we'd be sure of what we want to achieve before we reopen the doors of the Temple of Janus."

(cross-posted, as always this day, from GFT)


  1. Chief,
    I always feel that my service was inadequate when i think of what went before us.
    The death marches, defense of Corregedor and Bataan. Chosin and frozen battles at 35 below zero. The Bulge and the Huertgin, the Rapidq. Anzio. Pointe Du Hoc..The list is long and harsh.
    I doubt that i could've run with those troops. It defies my imagination and i was a soldier.
    My sacrifices were minor in comparison, and i never fail to remember this fact. In fact i'm grateful that i was not called to see those fights.
    It was simply the luck of the draw.
    Nice essay.

  2. jim: Oh, yes, very much yes. The tiny, tiny piece of war I saw was both more than enough for me and left me with a bottomless well of respect for those who truly saw the elephant as well as the knowledge that I would have had to be twice the man I am to have withstood that fire.

    I wish that every American could know that, too, so we might, just might, think two or three times before sending other Americans into that inferno.

    For all that I understand that there are times that war cannot be avoided, in the main we would be well advised to have listened to the wisest of our Founders when he reminded us "There never was a good War, or a bad Peace."

  3. Good piece, Chief. You are so eloquent that I'm consumed with envy.

    WRT Ranger says, well, I know him, and I figure he would have done what he had to do, no matter the war, no matter the century. And I actually believe most military fellows I've known would have. Every time we find ourselves feeling inadequate about something, along comes somebody saying, "Wow, I could never have done that." Fact is, humans, good ones, anyway, rise to whatever occasion they're faced with. The true pity is that anybody ever has to do it.

    BTW, gentlemen, I spend this day telling the civilians around me who don't know any better that, although they can always buy me a drink, they need not kiss my ring on this particular day. I do give them directions to the nearest veterans' cemetery. And then I spend some time thinking of dead guys I know.


  4. I have spread this piece around and showed the directions to it, I think that much of it.

    Publius has it right, I believe, none of us really knows what we can do until such terrible conditions arrive.

    How big is that ring Publius? :)

    And a hello to you Ranger.


  5. 怒可以復喜, 慍可以復悅, 亡國不可以復存,死者不可以復生。

    Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life...