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How Happily We Send Our Children To War

November 14th, 2015 No comments

First O Songs for a Prelude

civil war dead

First O songs for a prelude,
Lightly strike on the stretch’d tympanum pride and joy in my city,
How she led the rest to arms, how she gave the cue,
How at once with lithe limbs unwaiting a moment she sprang,
(O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!
O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O truer than
steel!)
How you sprang–how you threw off the costumes of peace with
indifferent hand,
How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and fife were heard
in their stead,
How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our prelude, songs of
soldiers,)
How Manhattan drum-taps led.

Forty years had I in my city seen soldiers parading,
Forty years as a pageant, still unawares the lady of this teeming and
turbulent city,
Sleepless amid her ships, her houses, her incalculable wealth,
With her million children around her, suddenly,
At dead of night, at news from the south,
Incens’d struck with clinch’d hand the pavement.

A shock electric, the night sustain’d it,
Till with ominous hum our hive at daybreak pour’d out its myriads.
From the houses then and the workshops, and through all the doorways,
Leapt they tumultuous, and lo! Manhattan arming.

To the drum-taps prompt,
The young men falling in and arming,
The mechanics arming, (the trowel, the jack-plane, the blacksmith’s
hammer, tost aside with precipitation,)
The lawyer leaving his office and arming, the judge leaving the
court,
The driver deserting his wagon in the street, jumping down, throwing
the reins abruptly down on the horses’ backs,
The salesman leaving the store, the boss, book-keeper, porter, all
leaving;
Squads gather everywhere by common consent and arm,
The new recruits, even boys, the old men show them how to wear their
accoutrements, they buckle the straps carefully,
Outdoors arming, indoors arming, the flash of the musketbarrels,
The white tents cluster in camps, the arm’d sentries around, the
sunrise cannon and again at sunset,
Arm’d regiments arrive every day, pass through the city, and embark
from the wharves,
(How good they look as they tramp down to the river, sweaty, with
their guns on their shoulders!
How I love them! how I could hug them, with their brown faces and
their clothes and knapsacks cover’d with dust!)
The blood of the city up–arm’d! arm’d! the cry everywhere,
The flags flung out from the steeples of churches and from all the
public buildings and stores,
The tearful parting, the mother kisses her son, the son kisses his
mother,
(Loth is the mother to part, yet not a word does she speak to detain
him,)
The tumultuous escort, the ranks of policemen preceding, clearing the
way,
The unpent enthusiasm, the wild cheers of the crowd for their
favorites,
The artillery, the silent cannons bright as gold, drawn along, rumble
lightly over the stones,
(Silent cannons, soon to cease your silence,
Soon unlimber’d to begin the red business;)
All the mutter of preparation, all the determin’d arming,
The hospital service, the lint, bandages and medicines,
The women volunteering for nurses, the work begun for in earnest, no
mere parade now;
War! an arm’d race is advancing! the welcome for battle, no turning
away;
War! be it weeks, months, or years, an arm’d race is advancing to
welcome it.

Mannahatta a-march–and it’s O to sing it well!
It’s O for a manly life in the camp.

And the sturdy artillery,
The guns bright as gold, the work for giants, to serve well the guns,
Unlimber them! (no more as the past forty years for salutes for
courtesies merely,
Put in something now besides powder and wadding.)

And you lady of ships, you Mannahatta,
Old matron of this proud, friendly, turbulent city,
Often in peace and wealth you were pensive or covertly frown’d amid
all your children,
But now you smile with joy exulting old Mannahatta.

Drum Taps, Walt Whitman, 1865

Not a Hero

November 11th, 2015 No comments

2012-01-28 19.21.21

I volunteered to the Navy to avoid the draft. That turned out to be a good strategy because I got my draft notice while I was in boot camp. I served in the Mediterranean in a gunboat squadron, then on a submarine rescue ship, and finally served as an instructor for aircraft carrier electrical systems at Lakehurst, New Jersey. I made friendships I’ll never forget. Now as I grow older I remember those days with great fondness, forgetting, as we do, all of the almost unbearable BS that goes with serving in the military. I learned some of the greatest lessons of my life: how to keep myself and my stuff squared away, how to show up on time (a lesson a lot of people today could stand to learn), how to be responsible for both my triumphs and my mistakes, how to show proper respect, how to sacrifice for the common good, how to cooperate with people you don’t like, how to remain loyal to your comrades, how to drink and cuss like, well, a sailor. I do not regret one second of the time I spent in the Navy.

I was in the military during a time when those who served were not celebrated, often vilified. It wasn’t hip to say “thank you for your service.” Military folks and veterans were not thought of or referred to as “heroes.” And that’s ok because very few of us, then or now, were or are heroes. Absolutely nothing I did in the military, other than putting my life on the line by being in the military, was heroic. I never thought of myself as a hero. Most of what people do in the military is tedious and boring and a lot of it is just plain stupid. There are times when some are thrown into situations of extreme crisis, where some reveal their true character to consist of a great love for their fellows and their country. They are the heroes. But that wasn’t me. In other circumstances, perhaps. But at this point we’ll probably never know.

Today we are celebrating Veterans Day. Veterans Day honors all who served. Today’s veterans are all volunteers. More than we would like to acknowledge are coming back broken from hellish situations. They need care, they need jobs and opportunities, and most of all they need to be welcomed back into society. It is not patriotic to honor the theoretical hero with parades and careless words of false gratitude while the real veteran sleeps on the street or constantly wrestles with private nightmares and can’t get any relief. It does not honor those who served that we sit idly by while 25 times more veterans die of suicide than combat.

We as a society need to stop celebrating war. Few who have ever been in war think it’s a very good idea. In the Vietnam era we let our distaste for war turn into cursing the veteran, to our shame. We must not now allow the opposite shame of letting our media driven celebration of “heroes” make us forget the horrific cost of war. Working for peace is harder than sliding into war. But if we love our kids, if we really want to honor veterans, it is an effort worth making.

What makes a hero?

November 8th, 2015 No comments

If you are truly interested in honoring vets this veterans day, watch this…

Silence is Complicity

November 6th, 2015 No comments

argonnedead

 

Here’s an interesting historical tidbit kids. You are probably aware that Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11 to commemorate the armistice that ended the fighting in World War I, which went into effect at 11AM on November 11, 1918. It coincides with the celebration of Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in other countries, and was observed as Armistice Day in the United States until 1954, when the name was changed to honor all US veterans.

What you might not know is that the armistice that ended what was then called the Great War was agreed to at 5AM on November 11, 1918. Word quickly reached the front on all sides that fighting would end at 11AM. You would think that, armed with this knowledge, all sides would have exercised restraint for the next six hours to minimize further casualties. But in fact the opposite occurred. Military commanders of all of the antagonists drove their troops to even more intense fighting (if that were possible) in an effort to gain as much tactical advantage as possible. The result was that during those last few hours, when everyone knew the fighting was about to end, literally thousands of men were killed.[1]

The purpose of remembering on Veterans Day is “to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”[2] One way of framing its meaning is that it is to honor those who were (and are) willing to give up their hopes for the future and endure possibly horrific conditions in order to defend and preserve something that, for them, seemed to be more valuable than life itself. That something is summed up in the phrase “common good.” It is not Memorial Day, which honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but in an uncertain world the difference between veterans and the fallen can be a split second arbitrary decision or a bit of luck. The willingness we honor is significant, whether the veteran served in combat or not.

But I think the commemoration of Veterans Day has become, more than a time to honor the veteran’s commitment to sacrifice, an occasion to enshrine the occasion of their sacrifice. We have a tendency to equate the willingness to sacrifice with the justice, even the necessity, of the cause. Those who put their lives on the line were heroic in doing so, we do not want to believe that the cause for which they were willing to sacrifice was less than heroic.

The problem is that we then tend to equate criticism of the cause with criticism of the veteran. “How dare you suggest that I or my veteran was willing to sacrifice for something that in the end proved less than noble?” A consequence of our memorial is that criticism of war can be seen as unpatriotic. And yet, as the last six hours of World War I remind us, war is often ignoble, brutish, senseless, stupid. Even more so when young people’s lives are lost or forever scarred in battles fought for causes other than the “common good.”

If we want to honor our veterans we have a responsibility to ensure that they are not placed in harm’s way for the power interests or profit of a few. We need to ensure that their safety and lives are put at risk only in cases that truly serve the “common good.” As those who have much to gain and little to lose sound the drum beats of war today, drum beats that carelessly portend the slaughter of our children, our acting to ensure those drums are silenced is the least we can do to show our appreciation of those who are willing to serve. Speak up against war. Silence is complicity.

[1] Persico, Joseph E. Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918, World War I and Its Violent Climax. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005, ©2004.

[2] “History of Veterans Day,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, last modified July 20, 2015, accessed November 6, 2015, http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp.

“there was no one left to speak for me”

November 1st, 2015 No comments

save-your-country-from-them

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Martin Niemöller

Our enemies are not those we are being programmed to hate, our enemies are the ones doing the programming. We’d better wake up, people, or there will be no one left to speak for us.

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