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CSotD: A day for honor and decency

We’ll bookend this long weekend with Memorial Day cartoons, starting with the present day offerings, which varied from the standard salute-and-weep pieces to the foreboding viewpoint Pat Bagley offers.

You could argue that cartoonists who comment on politics in their Memorial Day cartoons are hijacking the holiday for partisan purposes, but, then again, there will be plenty of partisan hijacking before this weekend is over.

Memorial Day began as a day of reflection to honor the dead of the Civil War, specifically the Union dead at first, with the Confederacy marking its own days of mourning.

Towards the end of the 19th century, there began to be reunions at places like Chickamauga, where Union and Confederate veterans met in the unique camaraderie we now see unfold in Vietnam, where men who once tried to kill each other share the bond that only they know what they experienced.

This is why Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1884 speech, “Our Hearts Were Touched By Fire” is the most appropriate reading for the day.

The thrice-wounded veteran speaks of his own experience and makes it universal, but even more universal within the fraternity of those who served:

Not long ago I heard a young man ask why people still kept up Memorial Day, and it set me thinking of the answer. Not the answer that you and I should give to each other — not the expression of those feelings that, so long as you live, will make this day sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth — but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories, and in which we of the North and our brethren of the South could join in perfect accord.

Most of my friends from high school served, most of my friends from college did not. Four years — 1967-71 — made much of that difference, politics made the rest.

As the non-veteran son, grandson and father of veterans, I respect Holmes and his brethren, and, while I do not have standing to join in their responses, I do have the right to join Bagley in casting a very dubious eye on the preparations which appear to be under way for a political distraction that will kill young men and women without cause or need.

Still, while I opposed the war, I was never drafted and so never faced a decision.

I know that people who imagine what they would do in combat often find reality quite different, and I also know that those who imagined what they would do if drafted in a war they opposed discovered that their reality did not match their imaginings.

There was a fellow who was a prime speechmaker at campus antiwar rallies who, when drafted, announced his plan to “subvert from within,” and that drew immediate horse laughs, even from his friends.

Others weaseled out of it, some by joining the National Guard and becoming Weekend Warriors, one who was close to minimum weight and so fasted for several days before his physical.

And, for that matter, if you enlisted prior to being inducted, you could usually take options that would keep you out of the rice paddies, though you couldn’t claim any noble political reasons for your choice.

A few — a very few — served their jail terms, and I admire the courage of their convictions.

And a few actively, purposefully dodged the draft by faking disabilities, generally with the help of a doctor who was a family friend.

Or perhaps a tenant.

 

Which brings us to Jim Morin and the spectre of the chickenhawk.

There is a continuum that starts with Pat Tillman and runs to Donald Trump, and where you are on that scale should determine your right to send other young people off to war.

But of course it doesn’t.

 

Jeff Danziger is a Vietnam veteran, and thus has perfect standing to question what is going on, and I assume the second soldier’s response is intended as sarcasm.

History will tell which of those things you were, and you’d better hope for a future in which something honorable will also seem credible.

 

But, as Marshall Ramsey suggests, perhaps we should be mourning something else that now seems dead and gone.

I’m not there quite yet.

 

But I’d like it if the scenario in Clay Bennett‘s cartoon didn’t end with yet another wealthy defendant hiring an attorney to bargain things down to a misdemeanor.

Meanwhile, as to the holiday, we should mark the sacrifice of individuals, not the policy of nations.

 

Besides the stirring words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, it’s a good occasion to remember John Jones, an escaped slave who found his way to Elmira, New York, where he served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

When Elmira became home to a POW camp, Jones took on the job of burying the Confederate soldiers who died, and, beyond his assigned task of taking them to the Woodlawn Cemetery and burying them, he added an optional task of his own.

Around the neck of each of these late defenders of slavery, the escaped — not yet “former” — slave hung a small bottle with a piece of paper inside, identifying him by name and outfit, information that Jones also inscribed on the wooden boards he raised as temporary headstones.

Thus, unlike POWs at other camps, North and South, these young men were not anonymous, and, when the war ended, nearly all of their families chose not to repatriate their remains, but to leave them alongside their comrades, now with permanent headstones, thanks to a man born in bondage but dedicated to honor and decency.

 

 

 

 There are those still living whose sex forbade them to offer their lives, but who gave instead their happiness. Which of us has not been lifted above himself by the sight of one of those lovely, lonely women, around whom the wand of sorrow has traced its excluding circle–set apart, even when surrounded by loving friends who would fain bring back joy to their lives?
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

Community Comments

#1 Mary McNeil
May/25/2019
@ 3:21 pm

One of my classmates from Grade 1 through graduation went to Canada and has never come home. Or regretted his choice.Especially now.

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