Thursday, November 11, 2004

Now's Not the Time for Your Tears

It's Rememberence Day in Canada . The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The official end of World War One. The Great War. The War to End All Wars. When we come together to remember the price paid, by so many, in our many wars.

That is the official reason for the holiday but more and more it feels like a celebration of war itself. I can't celebrate. The celebration feels like a betrayal of all those lives not lived. All those people, all those young men. All the novels not written. All the things not invented, explorations not made, and children never cherished. Husbands and fathers who never came home. All that promise and possibility wiped from the earth in one big swipe.

It is hard not to remember that WWI was not nearly the end of war.

It fills me with sadness but it also fills me with determination to denounce this current American madness for what it is. We remember the Holocaust and swear to never forget, "Never again". But, already we have forgotten and prepare to do it all again for new and better excuses remarkably similar to the excuses we've always used.

I remember a very hot July day, on the pistol range used by the Jefferson County, Alabama sheriffs department. I was 13 maybe 14 years old, out with my dad and a couple of other deputies Braving the heat to practice for an up coming match.

There was a man there, about fifty, who came with one of the deputies but certainly wasn't any kind of police officer. He was nice. Soft nice like a Sunday school teacher without the fakeness. Cops can be nice too but it's different. Harder, there's always an sort of jovial brutality in cop nice.

I was wearing army fatigues, as I always did at the range. My favorite cop , Duke, was also in the National guard and he wore fatigues to the range.

The man asked me my age and then wanted to know why I was already dressed like a soldier. It was a strange question, in the company. No cop had ever asked such a question and I knew a lot of cops. It was obvious that the man didn't like it.

He was irritated and said something about the War to End All Wars and how stupid it was. "Dressing babies like fodder for the next war". I was offended at being referred to as a 'baby'. But I was more taken by the man and his passion, so unexpected in the company. More so than I knew, at the time.

When I realized he was irritated at my dad and not at me, my curiosity was seriously piqued. It was hot as hell on the treeless range. The man gave me a bottle of Frosty root bear. That was when the bottles were shaped like bears or maybe snowmen. It looked cold, even in the sun.

We took the pop over to a lone water faucet standing in the weeds near the target shack, to cool it off. He tried to tell me why my fatigues bothered him and that it wasn't personal to me. I didn't understand anything he said.. But I knew he had a different attitude towards the wars than I had heard from my dad or any grown up. What struck me and makes me remember him was the deep sadness I saw in his eyes.

I remember that, most of all.

A couple of weeks ago, I took an elderly friend to her hair dresser appointment in an area more residential than my usual downtown turf.. Every street corner had two or three boys dressed in sharp new military cadet uniforms. All looking about ten to fourteen yrs.

They were selling poppies for the coming memorial day. I talked with a couple of boys who wanted to know why I wasn't wearing a poppy. I told them but I was more interested in listening than talking.

One particularly bright young man, who had been selling his poppy quota quite aggressively, agreed with me that in a sense the holiday was a celebration of war because, "War is important and we have to be ready, all the time." He quoted something insane from Gen. Paton about war being the height of human endeavor.

We spoke amiably enough, for a moment. I walked away thinking about the man on the shooting range, all those years ago. Now I understand what I saw in his eyes when he looked at me and my army fatigues.

But, now is not the time for our tears. It's time to gird the loins, buck up, and rededicate ourselves to the task of resisting this current madness.

If we fail to raise our voices at every turn, then only the war lovers will be heard.

a good read for Rememberence day


At 6:41 AM, Blogger Ian McGibboney said...


Thanks for the compliments you sent me, and consider them returned. You write with some of the most fearless nerve around, and I can't thank you enough for that. The United States can't thank you enough for that.

I had read this post of yours last night, even before you sent me the link, but it freaked me out too much at the time to comment. You didn't say much I didn't already know, but seeing it from your experienced perspective really made it all seem real and inevitable to me. I've been thinking about it all night.

I understand what you mean about the uniforms. In that sense, Louisiana is not all that different from Alabama. If only we as a nation didn't try so damn hard to manufacture heroes, maybe we could step back and assess ourselves. I don't know. But people like you and I must press on, so that people know our voices count. Because they do in this sea of uncertainty.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger ThomasMcCay said...

"If only we as a nation didn't try so damn hard to manufacture heroes"

I think we are in bad need of some new thinking about what a hero is.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger frstlymil said...

Thank you for this. I admit to shedding a tear or two. My grandfather fought in the War to End All Wars at the age of 16, as did his 8 brothers. After he came home, I'm told he never spoke of it, and as a child visiting my grandparents home, I noted early on that when the subject came up he would get very quiet in a way that seemed actually louder than anything else in the room. I agree that we need to re-think our manufacturing of heros - and so many other things in this country - and that the celebration of war HAS become the norm, rather than the exception.


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