Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans' Day

This is the Canadian cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer. It holds some of the dead from one country in one battle of the Second World War. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

It's November 11, or 11/11, which is an easy date to remember. It was first celebrated in 1918, when the guns fell silent in Europe on what would come to be known as Armistice Day. It ended what was, at least up until that time, the worst war Western civilization had ever fought. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson announced that World War I would be the "war to end all wars". If his optimism had been justified, that's what we'd still be calling this day. No doubt, we'd be sadly shaking our heads at the folly and the sad, futile loss of life in some event from long ago.

Instead, we now call the day Veteran's Day. In Canada and much of the English Commonwealth, it's now Remembrance Day, and in much of the West it has similar names. The changes of name reflect the fact that we've fought an even more destructive war since then, and many more before and after.

At his blog Sic Semper Tyrannis today, Patrick Lang quoted this bit of dark humor from a Captain Wilfred Owen, who served in the British Army in World War I:

For 14 hours yesterday, I was at work-teaching Christ to lift his cross by the numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.

Veteran's Day - "Only the dead..."

Capt. Owen died a week before the Armistice. John Kerry's words before Congress during the Vietnam War are as sadly relevant to that long-gone war as they are today:

How Do You Ask a Man to be the Last Man to Die for a Mistake?

How do we ask anyone to die for a mistake, once we realize we've made one? Clearly, wars can't be gotten out of as easily as they were gotten into. That's fairly obvious - the "war to end all wars" is a classic example of that fact. Still, you have to ask yourself why, thirty years later, Kerry didn't heed his own words when it was his turn to decide whether another generation of American kids should go to war. In the end, Kerry at least tried to stop the madness. There are plenty of worthless bastards, on both sides of the aisle, who did precisely nothing to stop this thing. They acted as if it was some terrible burden to risk political repercussions to stop a foolish war.

I wish they'd take a hard look at this cemetery and tell me who is bearing the real burden.

It's a day to remember our veterans, and thank the ones who are still alive to thank. It's also a day to remember the ones who now need our help. But I'd like to ask one more thing of all Americans. Please, the next time some "leader" insists that we must go to war against some enemy who hasn't attacked us, and who seems to represent little real threat, can we ask them "Why?" As in, "Why do we need to risk the lives of our soldiers in some place we've never heard of, so they can kill people they have no argument with? Why must we believe you without you having presented a shred of real proof?" And if the answer is "We know more than you do. Trust us.", tell them "Go down to Arlington - find the biggest, tallest flagpole there, and fuck yourself with it."

That's how I'd like to see us celebrate Veterans' Day. With a little well-placed skepticism.

UPDATE: Bob Geiger adds this thought: Don't pretend to "support the troops" and then refuse to support the G.I. Bill. (h/t Eli)

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