Memorial Day   (2016May30)

Monday, May 30, 2016                                            11:50 AM

Last night PBS aired the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC—and all weekend long there have been war movies on TV—I just watched one of my favorites on TCM—“Sergeant York” (1941). An uncredited portion of the soundtrack contains “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” (by James Milton Black, 1892) sung in church at the beginning of the picture. Afterwards at the piano, I guess I mixed it up in my mind with (“Give Me That”) “Old-Time Religion”, another traditional gospel song from 1873.

ELD 064My dad is in this picture somewhere–he served in Korea after boot camp, and made it home safe.

Anyhow, I decided to improvise on that, since the soundtrack of the movie had those themes woven into the music. I began by trying to pick out the tune, but if you can get past that, I think it turned out alright in the end. I’m remembering the fallen today—have a safe and happy Memorial Day, everybody.

Memorial Day – Observed   (2015May25)

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Monday, May 25, 2015                                            12:14 PM

Remembrances are tricky. There’s no critique in a eulogy. Why speak ill of the dead? They can’t hear you. I’m looking forward to my own eulogy—must be nice to have people talk about the good and overlook the bad.

Americans have little sense of soldiers as defenders of the homeland. We don’t have any borders to speak of—just oceans. Hence our navy is really the picket-line for the USA. But 9/11 changed even that—as have drones. The conservatives describe the modern military paradigm as ‘fighting over there so we don’t have to fight here’. Yet we are just as vulnerable to the keyboard of an angry teen hacker in Teaneck, perhaps more so, than any imaginary horde attempting a beachhead on Martha’s Vineyard.

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It’s become so tangled that many people have begun to see non-involvement in the Shia/Sunni civil-wars of Mid-East nations as a viable military strategy. Recent perusals of Bin-Laden’s archives show that he wanted to keep American targets as the terrorists’ focus—and he did succeed in virtually bankrupting this country by blowing up a single skyscraper. Lucky for us, he’s dead—and ISIS is a far more benign group of thugs who prefer to shoot at things closer to home. If we can just counteract their YouTube recruitment videos, they’re dead to us.

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Unfortunately, they have stumbled onto something that is almost as aggravating to Americans—they’re destroying the cultural history of our earliest civilizations. Human suffering is common—but these jerks are smashing museum artifacts—priceless, irreplaceable art from the dawn of humanity. But that is just for PR—they take most of their plunder and sell it on the black market to fund their armies.

So let’s not forget, on this Memorial Day, that Americans who get rich selling arms to the globe, and rich Americans who buy artifacts on the black market, are the support network for these ‘terrorists’. People say we should stop sending drones into the Middle East—I say we should stop sending money and arms there.

But today is about honoring sacrifice. Mothers who’ve lost one of their own children in battle are troubled by the paradox of glorifying something that could very well take another, or one of their children’s children. Young men who are proud to play their part in our military sense a dark message that their greatest glory will be found in death. Disabled veterans may find themselves bitterly reflecting that the dead have it much easier than some of the living—and get the lion’s share of respect and honor from their countrymen.

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To me, it’s a historical issue. To honor the dead from the two World Wars, the Civil War, the Revolution, et. al. is a straightforward sentiment. By comparison, all the ‘wars’ that followed the advent of the A-bomb—Korea and Viet Nam—became something less than ‘all out’ warfare—they were Political. We tempered our forces, fearing that ‘all out’ aggression would involve the Red Chinese—which would have transformed those ground wars into a nuclear World War III. The interpolation of politics into the fighting and dying became the kindling that sparked the anti-war movement.

Subsequent ‘wars’ drew even further away from the idea of fighting with all our might and resources—today’s military actions are a hodge-podge of nation-consensus-building and domestic opinion-polling. The boys and girls who are ‘sacrificed to our freedom’ today are just as likely to be the victims of one day’s poor polling points—or some cheap contractor’s shoddy manufacturing.

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Plus, there is no more ‘war at home’, as we had in WWII, with USO stations, fund drives, ration books, and flags in the windows. Part of the PTSD suffered by today’s returning veterans is the disorientation felt when they return to a country that’s barely aware of what they’re doing. They suffer, bleed, fight and die thousands of miles away, on the other side of an ocean—and come home to bored, sensation-seeking civilians who hardly knew they were gone.

If we’re going to have war in the Middle East, we should have a little Memorial Day every damn day. Failing that, we should stop sending our young people to die in places we don’t care about. Or maybe we should rename today “Oil Day”.

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Opening Shot—Pending   (2015May21)

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Summer Day, Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch, c. 1870 – c. 1903 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

 

Thursday, May 21, 2015                                          6:44 PM

A tragic death in the west coast family and medical issues on the east coast cast a pall of sorts over what should have been the joyous celebration of my love’s graduation. But here, we have grown used to taking the good with the bad—it seems to have become a constant—I can almost hear Karma’s footsteps dancing about every moment of life nowadays. The greatest drawback to my perspective is that I suspect Celebration, anyway—I’m much more comfortable with a day that passes without incident or remark. Good news seems to beg for bad news, so I’m a big fan of ‘no news’.

With such mixed feelings I face the impending Memorial Day Weekend—a festival marking the beginning of summer, with the paradoxical theme of remembering the fallen of past and present wars. Memorial Day has a heightened frenzy to it since it marks the beginning of summer and the end of school which, for kids at least, signals the start of months of fun in the sun.

This iconic weekend mixes that glee with the grind of throngs of hostesses and hosts trying to light charcoal, avoid burning the barbecue, and keep an eye on the kids in the pool or in the shallows of the beach. And the glee and the grind are mixed with the ghoulish reputation Memorial Day holds for being an annual high-water-mark for traffic fatalities, DWIs, and reckless driving in general. It’s as if we honor the fallen by slaughtering each other on the highways.

It’s like Christmas, almost. Holidays mean good times. Good times get people excited—and excited people are dangerous. The bigger the holiday, the more tragedy looms at its elbow. Not that I don’t enjoy a grilled sausage or a dip in the water—I’m just leery of Celebration. Celebration is the teetotalers’ inebriant—and leads to just as much mischief, in my experience. Add a few beers and you’ve got the worst of both worlds—I guess I’m just too old to appreciate that mixture of risk and uncertainty like I did as a young fellow. Oh, yes—I used to celebrate like a madman—but I seem to have lost the knack of it.

As young people we tend to get bored and impatient with peace and quiet—as we age, we learn to cherish it for its lack of problems and trouble. We also acquire a sense of responsibility—the kryptonite of fun—so we’re doomed to lose our taste for loud parties and wild times. Plus, we get winded almost immediately. What can I say? Don’t grow up—if you can help it. It’s a trap!

And enjoy the weekend, everyone—but not too much.

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A Summer Afternoon, Lake George N.Y., Seneca Ray Stoddard, 1855 – 1880 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

 

In Memorium

20130422XD-Googl-Mandelbrot03So what are we dedicating in memory today? Fallen fighters, great men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice—and all those whose sacrifice is drawn out over a long life of ‘walking wounded’ through their days—and all soldiers, really, it seems (now that we’ve accepted Post-Trauma-Stress as a disorder, rather than a sign either of cowardice or of a non-battle-related psychosis) we should be laying wreaths at the graves of their innocence and peace of mind, amputated forever from all who see combat, even if they returned to us apparently unscathed by bullets or shrapnel.

And how could they not? Many third-world places ‘live’ in PTSD, their society is arranged around PTSD—as would yours if you had to physically scramble for the bits of food that represent either starvation or survival for your entire family—every day, and hiding from bands of mercenaries (or in some cases, the US military).

We are raised to be civilized in most of our country—with growing areas of unrest due to economic hardship of a depth and duration not seen since the 1930s. Perhaps we are wrong to do so. Perhaps we should raise our kids as the Spartans did, preparing them for war from the moment of their birth. Or we could just enlist recruits from those areas of our nation which see conditions not unlike the third-world.

Whatever we do, it will still be nothing compared to the firefights and kill-zones our children encounter when sent to the Middle East (or elsewhere) as soldiers—if our children fight, all our tenderest, most loving hugs and kisses will be wasted. Worse, we provide them with a past the memory of which is part of the torture of seeing combat—the tremendous contrast, the overwhelming urge to return to the land of the ‘living’, makes their nightmare worse.

Are we to remember the victories they fought and died for? What did we win in Iraq? Nothing worth Americans’ lives and blood. What are we still trying to win in Afghanistan? Our enemy, Bin Laden, was living in the country next door—the war in Afghanistan made it easier to muster up a helicopter night raid into Pakistan to kill Osama. Have we freed the Iraqis and the Afghans? Not really—they have their own way of freeing themselves and we seem to be in the way.

So I think it is just and proper that we remember, on Memorial Day, that our fighting men and women do their duty, same as the Light Brigade, and we should be serious about sending them in harm’s way. They will fight and die and bleed, and they will always win (a real plus, as armies go) whether they are sent on a fool’s errand or in defense of our freedom. So perhaps, more importantly, we should remember the next time we go to war, as we do today, that it is no small thing to send crowds of our best young people into an orgy of violence.

Osama Bin Laden proved this to us—he relied upon our willy-nilly response to the 9/11 debacle to trick us into spending rivers of cash to ‘close the barn door’, if you will. This, with a little help from greedy Americans, caused our economic implosion five years ago. We beat the Soviets the same way (which makes it even more galling) by scaring them into outspending their means on the ‘war-tech race’ that ended the Cold War—and the Soviet Union.

So we look with pride on the heroes in uniform today and yesterday, particularly those who never came home, and we feel the security they provide to this entire country—and we steel ourselves for the future. For only by keeping our military out of questionable conflicts can we solemnize our responsibility to make sure their blood isn’t ever on our own hands.