Monday, May 31, 2021

‘You fight alone, you’re dead.’

Photo for the Sun-Times by Ashlee Rezin Garcia

     Memorial Day, on Monday, honors the fallen, as opposed to Veterans Day, in November, which honors living vets. That must be complicated, because some folks always point it out. Which must also be necessary, since others still get it wrong.
     I want to lump the two together and focus on the “honor” part. What does that mean exactly? What does honoring vets, living or dead, look like? Fly the flag, say the pledge —that’s what I do. Post on Facebook old photos of family members who served? Lots of that. Share stories of military bravery on social media, waved under the noses of other people, almost as a rebuke. I double-dog dare you to share this!
     And all this honoring helps ... who exactly? It certainly feels good for the person doing it. Nothing wrong with that. I like flying the flag. Going through the motions of respect has gravitas and the illusion of significance. 
     But honor, in itself, is overrated. Honor is so easy. A solemn nod. A ginned up tear. And back to the TV or barbecue. Everyone is so happy to congregate again; I’m hosting one barbecue and attending another.
     It’s also easy for the holiday’s purpose to be overlooked entirely.
     This at a time when the military is more important than ever. You can argue whether the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made us safer. But I believe to the bottom of my heart that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and other career soldiers saved American democracy last fall. They never fired a shot, but they stood shoulder to shoulder and kept us from becoming a dictatorship. We don’t know the full scope yet. But we will.
     In the meantime, entertain the idea that all that moist-eyed flag waving might wound the very people it is supposed to uplift.
     “It upsets me when so-called Americans go and fly these flags on these various holidays, Memorial Day and Veterans Day,” said William Hooks, who served for 20 years in the Marine Corps. “They play the game, when the time to be compassionate toward veterans is when one needs bus fare. Who needs a second chance or a job."

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  1. My 1972 discharge from the Navy included two days of reintroduction to civilian life seminars. So serious a program that I brought a date to day two. By that time, probably thousands of undiagnosed cases of PTSD had resulted in death to veterans of the Vietnam war. And while George W Bush cut VA funding before starting his misguided military actions, groups like Wounded Warriors raise money to ameliorate the shortfalls in the Nations' treatment of our heroes. Saluting the flag doesn't help them at all, it's mere whitewash for a darkness in Americas soul. as John Prime said, "Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore, it's already overcrowded from your dirty little war..."

    1. In 1963 I believe we had a whole week of civilian reorientation, the high light being told the equivalent civilian occupation to our navy rating. My Commissarian buddy was very disappointed to be described as a short order cook — he insisted that he considered himself a chef.

  2. The cognitive dissonance around 'honoring' becomes more intense as modern battles are no longer fought by massive army's, and a vanishingly shrinking portion of families endure the suffering of members lost. Doctor Johnson's comment that 'any man must think meanly of himself for not have been a soldier or gone to sea' has considerably less relevance. And then not all veterans are equally worthy of veneration. My many years of military service, active and reserve, were useful but fell short of the heroic. My big brother, on the other hand was serving on the USS Enterprise when it was crippled by Kamikaze attacks. And then there were the Hells of Guadalcanal, and Bougainville, and the Ia Drang valley.

    The first world war generated numerous poetical comments on the subject. This by Siegfried Sassoon.
    "The bishop tells us: When the
    boys come back
    They will not be the same,
    for they'll have fought
    In a just cause: they lead the last attack.
    They have challenged death and dared him face to face."

    We're none of us the same the boys reply.
    For George lost both his legs;
    And Bill's stone blind;
    Poor Jim's shot through the lungs
    and like to die
    And Bert's gone syphilitic;
    You'll not find a chap whose served that hasn't
    Found some change"
    And the Bishop said: "The ways
    of God are strange."


  3. Instead of or in addition to venerating the heroic and memorializing those who paid the ultimate price couldn't we pause to consider how to stop sending people into wars?

    Naive ? I suppose so. But if everyone at least contemplated and reflected on a peaceful coexistence throughout the world maybe we could at least reduce the number of people, soldiers and civilians who are killed often in seemingly senseless conflict.

    Wouldn't this be the most noble tribute to those who went before?

    Namyoho renge kyo.

    The lotus sutra. Chanted by Buddhists for universal peace


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