|Civil War family via Dream Dogs Art|
I never have much to say on these holidays that memorialize soldiers and war and killing and dying. I shirk from expressions like freedom isn't free. I feel a roiling conflict when asked to honor the soldier and not the war and risk the censure of those who take to these easily. I might even envy them. I don't begin to understand the life of a Marine, the dedication, the camaraderie, the duty. I saw the movie Lincoln this weekend and was struck, again, by the simpler brutality of the Civil War when men fought against men, most of the time, in hand to hand combat. It is at once heroic to watch and absurd. I also happened to read an article in the New Yorker magazine called Atonement about a very young Iraqi veteran tortured by a debacle in 2009 when his unit in Iraq opened fire in a street battle and brutally murdered members of a family, including a baby. He eventually tracks down the remaining members of the family and asks for forgiveness, which they give to him, but the cost of this atonement took my breath away. Over 4,000 American soldiers died in Iraq and over 150,000 Iraqis died. This morning, the Los Angeles Times newspaper includes an article titled 2 Wars, 11 Years, 725 fallen Californians. The article states that 41% of these soldiers who died were not yet 22 years old. Sixty-three of them were still teenagers. Those numbers don't make me feel proud; they make me feel ashamed. No, freedom isn't free, but sending boys away to fight and kill never works, has never worked and will never work. On Veterans' Day, I will honor those who have fallen and those who have had to kill others in the name of freedom or liberty or God, but I feel sad for just about everyone.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)