Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dies Irae

I post this every Memorial Day. I don't feel quite the same level of suppressed anger this year as I did in the "Support the Troops" Dubya Years when this weekend became a pep-rally for wars that most U.S. citizens were utterly indifferent to other than as entertainment. But, still.

I have little or no hope that I can ever change the way this "holiday" is celebrated. There will be parades and movie festivals. Warplanes will flyover baseball stadiums. Flags will wave. People will "thank" someone in a uniform for service that was neither done for them nor has profited the serviceman or the civilian.

Few, very few, will visit a war cemetery and ponder the reasons we seem incapable of not making more war dead.

But I will continue to post this every year and hope.

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 to FSB Albany 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've been proud to be a soldier. But the modern view of 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 10-penny nail that every single day in every single war some person dies a stupid, meaningless death that snuffs out a world in a moment. That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were once the windows to an entire universe.

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, and what we do, before we open the goddamn doors of the Temple of Janus.


  1. I'm presently reading Jeremy Scahill's "Dirty Wars".

    There are no Righteous Wars, no justification for what our nation is doing with our weaponry overseas.

    A history that I did not know until a FB buddy posted it:

    Memorial Day got its start after the Civil War, when freed slaves and abolitionists gathered in Charleston, S.C., to honor Union soldiers who gave their lives to battle slavery. The holiday was so closely associated with the Union side, and with the fight for emancipation, that Southern states quickly established their own rival Confederate Memorial Day.


  2. But then we also bastardize all the other important days on our calendar. Our religious holidays Xmas, Easter, and Halloween have all been sold out to commercial interests. Presidents' Day likewise! And Thanksgiving has turned into binge eating (hey, grocery stores need their money-day too). Independence Day is turned into a 50-state party of political speeches (although I do love the high school bands and the cowgirls on parade - call me callous).

    So Memorial Day is not that much different in our national consciousness. I did spend the morning though in a light rain at ceremonies in two local small-town cemeteries. Not many people showed up, mostly old folks like me.

    I think the victims of war, especially the women and children, deserve as much (or more?) honor than the fallen heroes. So my reading list for the Memorial Day weekend is a little different this year. I am reading two female authors, both survivors of war: Duong Thu Huong's 'Novel Without a Name' and Yoko Kawashima's 'So Far From the Bamboo Grove'. Amazing reads both. Better by far than reading a bio of Patton and certainly better than reading of Kitchener putting Boer women and children in concentration camps.

  3. I asked several friends who emailed out "Tomorrow we should all thank our veterans for their service" messages to wait until November, when the real Veterans Day takes place. I tried to be gentle, even though it kind of makes me see red.

    Mike- the fact is that people use "holidays" as they see fit, not for the purpose originally intended. Memorial Day is simply a long weekend that has something to do with folks who were in the military.

  4. mike, if you're set on reading female authors, make it a trilogy and read this one

    And Thanksgiving?

    Just a little hiccough betwixt Halloween and Black Friday. And just consider this, if Thanksgiving was celebrated on Fridays, we could have ourselves a Black Sabbath. :)


  5. mike: I won't disagree. This "holiday" just irritates me more because it's gone so much further from its solemn origin than any of the others (many of which weren't very solemn to begin with).

    I watched part of some sort of high mass from the National Cathedral yesterday and had to turn it off when the color guard came tromping down the nave complete with rifles at shoulder arms. Now THERE's a proper offering for the Prince of Peace; an instrument of violent death. The whole sanctimonious business made me retch. I wanted to be able to climb to the lectern, boot out the cardinal-bishop, and read the assembled dignitaries the Messenger's speech from Twain's The War Prayer.

    I understand how the glorification of war springs from the "honor" of soldiers and soldiering. But I can't and never will learn to like or accept it. The sorts of mindless flag-waving should be - if it has to be at all - confined to Independence Day or Flag Day or whatever. Celebration of services rendered in uniform, as Al points out, are the point of Veteran's Day. Memorial Day is supposed to be a day of reflection for lives wasted in war. The purpose or point or value of the war is really immaterial. This day should be one of national mourning and reflection, and it is our shame and dishonor that we do mourning really badly. We really need to take a lesson from the British Commonwealth and their solemn observance of November 11th.

  6. Chief: We really need to take a lesson from the British Commonwealth and their solemn observance of November 11th.

    If there is anything contemporary American culture does not wish to address head on, it is death. It is becoming more and more common to replace mourning with "celebration of life" gatherings. I'm not suggesting that death be faced by maudlin means, but refusing to recognize it as something final and solemn is a new approach, and one that results in "Happy Memorial Day" mentality versus honoring those who gave their lives in service.

  7. Al: Perhaps it's that. I don't know. The U.S. has always been a sort of "don't-think-about-the-bad-stuff" kind of place, but this is ridiculous. I guess the thing is that while I understand WHY it happens it still irks the shit out of me.

  8. Chief: Mark me down as equally irked.