Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

Memorial Day 2017

May 29, 2017

Memorial Day was originally a holiday to honor the Union dead in the Civil War.  They should not be forgotten.   The painting below illustrates the Battle of Gettysburg, with Union defenders on the left, Confederate attackers on the right.

A Memorial Day War Nerd: Gettysburg Was The Finest Fight Ever in the World by John Dolan, aka Gary Brecher, for The eXiled.

The fantasy of cost-free conflict

May 30, 2016

Novelist Ben Fountain wrote an article in The Guardian on Saturday about how we Americans accept unending foreign wars as normal, although only a tiny number of us are willing to fight in those wars.

We know the fantasy version, the movie version, but only that 1% of the nation – and their families – who have fought the wars truly know the hardship involved.

Ben Fountain The Guardian

Ben Fountain

For the rest of us, no sacrifice has been called for: none.  No draft.  No war tax (but huge deficits), and here it bears noting that the top tax rate during the second world war was 90%.

No rationing, the very mention of which is good for a laugh.  Rationing?  That was never part of the discussion.

But those years when US soldiers were piling sandbags into their thin-skinned Humvees and welding scrap metal on to the sides also happened to coincide with the heyday of the Hummer here at home.   Where I live in Dallas, you couldn’t drive a couple of blocks without passing one of those beasts, 8,600 hulking pounds of chrome and steel.

Or for a really good laugh, how about this: gas rationing.  If it’s really about the oil, we could support the troops by driving less, walking more.

Or suppose it’s not about the oil at all, but about our freedoms, our values, our very way of life – that it’s truly “a clash of civilizations”, in the words of Senator Rubio. If that’s the case, if this is what we truly believe, then our politicians should call for, and we should accept no less than, full-scale mobilization: a draft, confiscatory tax rates, rationing.

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Lest we forget: the fallen of World War Two

May 30, 2016

Click on fallen.io/ww2 for an interactive version of this video.

World War Two was in sheer numbers the greatest mass slaughter of human beings in human history.  It was an era of great heroism and great crimes—great heroism not only by those who were fighting in the good cause, great crimes not only by those who were fighting in the bad cause.

I take nothing away from the honor due to the Americans who fell at Normandy, Guadalcanal and other battles in saying that, compared to Russians, Poles, Germans and many other nationalities, the USA got off lightly.

The makers of the video take satisfaction in the fact that no comparable mass killing has taken place in the subsequent 70 years.  I think that, overall, this is true—although Koreans, Vietnamese and others might see things differently.

I recall, though, that people in 1913 took satisfaction in the fact that nothing comparable to the Napoleonic Wars had taken place in Europe for nearly 100 years.  Their mistake was to assume that peace is something that can be taken for granted.

The thing the current generation needs to think about is that there is that is in place that would prevent the outbreak of another world war.   We, too, take too much for granted.

The best way to honor the fallen is to make sure their sacrifice does not have to be repeated.

Ben Grierson, a forgotten hero

May 25, 2015

Originally Memorial Day was a holiday to honor the fallen soldiers in the Civil War.

The war was fought by the South to preserve slavery and by the North to preserve the Union.  But although the North had the better cause, the South to this day has more glamor.

Benjamin Grierson

Benjamin Grierson

So on this Memorial Day, I remember a Northern hero—Ben Grierson—who conducted the most impressive raid of the Civil War, who never turned his back on black freedman afterwards and who, in the words of Gary Brecher, did not have a weak or a mean bone in his body.

I didn’t know anything about Grierson, except for an old movie starring John Wayne I saw years ago, and brief accounts in Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, and James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, until I read Brecher’s article about him.  Brecher is the pen name of the author of PandoDaily’s War Nerd column, and he is not easily impressed.

Grierson was scarred by being kicked in the face by a horse as a boy, and grew up with an aversion to horses.  But when circumstances put him in command of a cavalry regiment, he adapted.

Grierson’s first assignment was chasing guerrillas in Tennessee, where his kin came from, under Gen. Lew Wallace. The one thing everybody knows about him is he wrote Ben Hur, which I had to watch as a child because it was supposedly “Christian,” but Wallace was a pretty good officer, and he set Grierson to work hunting fellow Tennesseans.

Here again Grierson is like this ridiculously perfect officer-and-gentleman type; he crushed the local bushwhackers but the Tennessee ladies loved him for his perfect manners. You don’t get that a lot from ladies you meet while hunting down their kin, but that was Grierson, Mister Ridiculously Perfect.

What he was famous for was Grierson’s Raid.

Grierson left Tennessee in mid-April 1863 with a brigade of about 1700 men from two Illinois and one Iowa regiments. From the beginning he was in enemy territory, which like MacPherson says, is one handicap Forrest never had to face.

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Disabled veterans deserve better from USA

May 26, 2014

3.ZjgNh3FelFUThe Veterans’ Administration scandal is more than individual mismanagement and bureaucratic coverup.   It is also that the VA doesn’t have enough money to keep up with the increasing number of severely disabled veterans.

CNN reported that veterans are being forced to wait more than the 14-day maximum set by President Obama, and that many VA hospitals have covered this up by keeping veterans’ names off the official waiting list until they could meet the deadline.  At one hospital, CNN reported, 40 veterans died while waiting to be treated.

Note: This figures are not adjusted for inflation

Note that these figures are not adjusted for inflation

There is no excuse for this, any more than there is an excuse for high school teachers and administrators falsifying student test results.  But when you have a bureaucracy that says your career depends on meeting impossible numerical goals, and you lack an independent means of checking results, there will be cheating.  It is not justifiable, but it is predictable.

Memorial Day was originally a holiday to honor the Union soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the Civil War.   Because of medical advances, a smaller percentage of troops die now than died then on the battlefield and in military hospitals afterward.   The ironic result is that a higher percentage survive to live with the mutilations and amputations of war.

2.t0lGEo8cPEIThe Washington Post reported that the percentage of veterans applying for disability benefits is the highest on record.  I don’t believe this is because this is because (or at least not mainly because) of malingerers.  I think the higher disability rate reflects a higher survival rate.

Mismanagement and coverups in the Veterans Administration are wholly the fault of the Obama administration.  Lack of sufficient funds to do the job is the responsibility of both the administration and of Congress, and the congressional Republican budget hawks in particular.

It is right and fitting that we honor our war dead with parades and flag ceremonies on Memorial Day, but it should not stop there.  We honor our dead when we pay our debt to the living.

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Memorial Day music: Last Post, Taps, Il Silenzio

May 27, 2013

Melissa Venema was 13 years old when she performed this trumpet solo in 2008 at Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 2008.  It sounds to my ear like Taps, a bugle call I heard every evening in 1957 at Fort Eustis, Va., when the flag was lowered at sundown.  Taps is a shorter version of Last Post, which is traditionally played at military funerals through the English-speaking world.

I wondered if the performance had any connection with the annual Memorial Day ceremony held by Dutch people at the American Military Cemetery in the Netherlands at Margarten, just six miles east of Maastricht.  This cemetery holds Americans who died fighting in World War Two to drive the German armies from the Netherlands.  It originally contained about 18,000 graves, but some American remains were shipped home, and the cemetery now has 8,301 plots.

Each dead American has been adopted by a Dutch family, who try to obtain photos and learn all they can about this particular person’s life, and who pay their respects at the graveside every year.   I was touched to learn this.   However, as it happens, Melissa Venema’s trumpet solo has nothing to do this this.  She was playing Il Silenzio, which is, I am told by Wikipedia, an Italian pop music selection composed by trumpeter Nini Rosso, based in an Italian cavalry bugle call.

No matter.  She played beautifully, and we can think our own thoughts as we listen.   We can remember the brave American soldiers, and also the brave Dutch Resistance fighters, who gave their lives to keep their countries free.

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The meaning of Memorial Day

May 30, 2011

Memorial Day is the most meaningful of our national holidays.  Maybe it is the only one that has any meaning.  The Fourth of July is no longer an occasion for listening to patriotic speeches on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence; we watch fireworks displays, but don’t necessarily remember what the displays are for.  Thanksgiving is a time for feasting and maybe for expressing gratitude for our blessings, but nobody except maybe school children remember the Pilgrims and their quest for religious freedom.  Presidents Day, combining Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, is an insult to both of our national heroes.  The only national hero to whom we pay any respect at all is Martin Luther King Jr.

But it is well that we celebrate Memorial Day, originally created to honor the Union dead in the Civil War and now to honor all who have fallen in our nation’s wars.  The men (and now women) in the uniformed services pledge to put their very lives at the service of their community.  As somebody once pointed out to me, the armed services are the only institution in which you can be ordered to do something that is almost certain to get you killed, and it is a felony to refuse to obey that order.

Even if you think a particular war is a mistake, even if you think most wars are a mistake, even if you think all wars are wrong, you have to respect that patriotism and dedication.  Soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and other troops serve at the orders of the President and Congress, who are accountable to we, the people.  The troops do not send themselves into battle.  If a war is wrong, the responsibility rests not with the troops, but with we, the people.

The American military has another virtue, and that is deference to civilian authority.  They’re not in the habit of staging military coups.  The military in many other countries, including our Latin American neighbors, regard themselves as the repository of national patriotism, with the right to take over when the civilian authority is on the wrong path.

Our American exceptionalism reflects the greatness of the first commander-in-chief, George Washington.  He always followed the orders of the Continental Congress, no matter how much he disagreed.  At the end of the Revolutionary War, he was so popular he could easily have made himself king or dictator.  Some people proposed that he do so, and, given the serious disarray of the newly-independent states, there were strong arguments in favor.  The liberators of many Latin American nations did just that.  But Washington disbanded the army and went home to Mount Vernon, to await the call of a legal civilian government.   That has been the tradition of our military ever since.

The oath that the members of our armed forces swear is not personal loyalty to a dictator or king or the armed forces themselves, but to the Constitution of the United States, which they swear to support and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Over the generations, they have kept that oath.  It is their willingness to sacrifice their lives which won independence for the United States as a nation, preserved the Union from being broken up and kept the nation free from foreign monarchs and dictators.  We the people can show our gratitude by honoring the memory of the dead, attending to the needs of living veterans and each, in our own way, supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States.

Memorial Day: a chain e-mail

May 30, 2011

A dear friend sent me this e-mail chain letter a few days ago, and I’ve received other versions of it over the years.  I agree whole-heartedly with the feelings behind it, especially “God bless them all!”  But there is one word I would quibble with.

It is the
VETERAN,
not the preacher,
who has given us freedom of religion.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the
VETERAN who
salutes the Flag,

It is
the
VETERAN
who serves
under the Flag,

ETERNAL REST GRANT THEM O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON
THEM.

We can be very proud of our young men and women in the service no matter where they serve.

God Bless them all!!!

Makes you proud to be an AMERICAN!!!!!

The word I quibble with is “not.”  If I were circulating that e-mail, I would change “not” to “as much as.”   We honor the men (and now women) in uniform who have given their lives to defend the United States against foreign monarchs and dictators.  But, with all respect, it is we, the American citizens as a whole, who have kept the United States a free nation.  What our fallen troops have done is to make it possible to have an independent nation in which to establish freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, the right to vote, the right to free trial and the right to vote.

If I were writing an e-mail chain letter for Memorial Day, here is how I would phrase it:

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Hispanics and the Bataan Death March

May 31, 2010

Some years back I was a regular visitor to Santa Fe, N.M.  One of the things I saw there was the Bataan Memorial, commemorating the Bataan Death March of 1942.  U.S. forces in the Philippines were besieged by the Japanese forces on the Bataan Peninsula until they were starved out. When they finally surrendered, they were marched 65 miles in scorching heat without food or water, and many died.

About 1,800 members of the 12,000 U.S. troops were members of the New Mexico National Guard, who had been called up in 1941, prior to the outbreak of the war, to reinforce U.S. forces in the Philippines. Evidently the top brass thought that the predominantly Hispanic membership of the New Mexico guard could relate well to the Spanish-speaking population of the Philippines.

On Memorial Day, we honor all Americans who sacrificed their lives while serving in the armed forces of our country. With all the recent controversy over Arizona and its immigration law, it is worth remembering that Mexican-Americans and others of Hispanic heritage are part of that heritage. They are not interlopers.

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