Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day, 2014

My father's stepfather fought in World War II, and helped liberate a concentration camp. What he saw there clearly changed my "Uncle Fred"--so my sister and I called him, as he married my grandmother long after we came on the scene. He had an extraordinary gentleness, and an awareness of what mattered that I admired then and even more so now. But many who survived that trauma were marked differently than my Uncle Fred, and suffered for years after they come home, as do their successors.

From Herman Wouk's The Winds of War:
Victor Henry turned his face from the hideous sight to the indigo arch of the sky, where Venus and the brightest stars still burned: Sirius, Capella, Procyon, the old navigation aids. The familiar religious awe came over him, the sense of a Presence above this pitiful little earth. He could almost picture God the Father looking down with sad wonder at this mischief. In a world so rich and lovely, could his children find nothing better to do than to dig iron from the ground and work it into vast grotesque engines for blowing each other up? Yet this madness was the way of the world. He had given all his working years to it. Now he was about to risk his very life at it. Why?

Because the others did it, he thought. Because Abel’s next-door neighbor was Cain. Because with all its rotten spots, the United States of America was not only his homeland but the hope of the world. Because if America’s enemies dug up iron and made deadly engines of it, America had to do the same, and do it better, or die. Maybe the vicious circle would end with this first real world war. Maybe it would end with Christ’s second coming. Maybe it would never end.
In War and Remembrance, Wouk wrote (through the fictitious correspondent Alistair Tudsbury), that in World War II, "Men fight as far away from home as they can be transported, with courage and endurance that makes on proud of the human race, in horrible contrivances that make one ashamed of the human race." We seem mired in that paradigm still. Brave soldiers, women and men now, are taking terrible risks and paying prices up to including their lives. These veterans, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, receive woefully inadequate support and treatment.

Whatever we think of any given war, we should hold our veterans, living and dead, in high esteem. One last quote, from T.H. White, depicting a despairing King Arthur, written in the darkest days of WW II:
But here and there, oh so seldom, oh so rare, oh so glorious, there were those all the same who would face the rack, the executioner, and even utter extinction, in the cause of something greater than themselves. Truth, that strange thing, the jest of Pilate's. Many stupid young men had thought they were dying for it, and many would continue to die for it, perhaps for a thousand years. They did not have to be right about their truth, as Galileo was to be. It was enough that they, the few and martyred, should establish a greatness, a thing above the sum of all they ignorantly had.
Our veterans deserve better of us. Remember the fallen, and care for the living.

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