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November 11, 2005

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Twenty-one years ago the girlfriend of my best friend was kicked out of the air force for being a lesbian, with threat of a court martial if she didn't name three women she'd had sex with.

A red poppy wreath with pink triangles has been laid at the war memorial by a gay veteran every 11th November for over three decades: and for over three decades, the staff there have quietly removed it as soon as the ceremony was over.

Let us also remember those the military themselves will not thank and prefer to be forgotten.

I honor them as well, Jesurgislac, even if the powers that be don't.

NO MAN'S LAND
Eric Bogle

Well how'd y'do, Private Willie McBride?
Do you mind if I sit here, down by your graveside?
And I'll rest for a while in the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day now, and I'm nearly done.

And I see by your gravestone you were only 19,
when you joined the Glorious Fallen, in 1916,
well I hope you died quick, and I hope you died clean...
or Willy McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lonely?
did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles play the "Last Post" and chorus?
did the pipes play "The Fields, and the Forest"?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And though you died back in 1916,
to that loyal heart, are you forever 19?

Or are you a stranger, without even a name?
forever enshrined, behind some glass pane,
in an old photograph- torn and tattered and stained,
and faded to yellow, in a brown leather frame?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lonely?
did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles play the "Last Post" and chorus?
did the pipes play "The Fields, and the Forest"?

Now the sun's shining down on these green fields of France,
the soft wind blows gently and the red poppies dance,
the trenches have vanished long under the plow,
no gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.

But here in this graveyard it's still No Man's Land,
as thousands of white crosses in mute witness stand,
to Man's blind indifference to his fellow Man,
and a whole generation that was butchered and damned.

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lonely?
did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles play the "Last Post" and chorus?
did the pipes play "The Fields, and the Forest"?

And one final question, young Willie McBride,
do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you the Cause?
Did you really believe that that War would end wars?

For the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
the killing, the dying, it was all done in vain.
Young Willie McBride,
it all happened again...
and again
and again
and again
and again...

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lonely?
did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles play the "Last Post" and chorus?
did the pipes play "The Fields, and the Forest"?

May I make a pitch for honoring veterans by not screwing those still alive and the survivors of those who died out of their medical benefits? Bush has been trying to slowly squeeze the life out of the VA system by depriving it of funding--an act made particularly obsence by the fact that under Clinton reforms to the VA system turned hospitals in the system from the last resort of the desperate to places you'd actually want to be if sick.

And while I'm ranting, can we also honor those willing to die for their country by making it less likely that they'll have to. Honor a soldier--end the pointless war in Iraq.

Well, I'm just going to take this moment to give my thanks to all those who have fought and died for our country. The newspaper said there may only be 30 or 40 US veterans of WWI left (and only 8 still collect benefits), so I will bow my head for those dragged into that conflict. We got off lucky, but let's honor them this day before they're all gone.

I second John Biles' comment.

Soldiers are imperfect. Armies are imperfect. Governments are imperfect. Societies are imperfect. Causes are imperfect. Wars are imperfect.

Never was there a war fought for an entirely clean motive, nor a soldier who risked his life, and perhaps died, from singularly pure motivations.

But that ought not diminish our appreciation for the horrible necessity of such sacrifices, nor our honor for those who made them.

I never knew Willie McBride, and nothing can repay him his life. I can never appreciate him fully. Nor can any of us.

And that too is another of his sacrifices.

My (now departed) grandfather fought in the Pacific during WWII and my uncle fought in Viet Nam. Neither one of them would or will talk about their time in the military; both became pacifists in their later life. Two of my favorite people.

Jesurgislac:: this picture is from our "rememberance"day in May last year, when we remember those who died (and die) in the war. There are a lot of ceremonies, this is the one at the homomonument in Amsterdam.

In September we commemorate operation market garden. The site has a.o. a database with fallen soldiers (photo's, stories, pictures of their grave), and memories from various veterans.

This day will forever be Armistice Day to me, so in that spirit I offer this:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Dianne:

Sadly, Bush used the day to tout in his speech how much he has allegedly increased those benefits from those existing under Clinton. What is true is that spending has gone up, but not nearly enough to match the increased need becasue of Bush's war. So benefits have overall gone down.

Nothing like using the day for scoring cheap and dishonest political points.

John Biles,

The last Australian veteran died a month ago now. It's sad in many ways: the remains of lost generation have been too old to be grandparents for a long time now.

To my grandfather, who fought in WWII in North African and the Pacific, and to his fellow soldiers, I honour you.

My maternal grandfather served in the RAF as navigator on a mosquito nightfighter escorting bombers over Germany. He never spoke about his experiences, though to his dying day he had an extraordinary aversion to the smell of exhaust fumes - I imagine it probably dated from his time in the service. It was only after he died that I found out he had served as squadron leader when he was posted in the occupation forces.

Tonight I'll toast all those who served, and all those who work daily to make their service unneccessary.

Since this is an open thread, and I posted my own Veteran's Day post on my own blog, another topic: say, Charles, remember all that terrible Democratic voter fraud in Washington State?

This is a particularly notable paragraph:

In each letter, Logan also included a copy of the challenge itself, in which King County GOP Vice Chairwoman Lori Sotelo attests "under penalty of perjury" that she has "personal knowledge" that, contrary to state law, the voter doesn't reside at the address at which he or she is registered.
Oops.

"The last Australian veteran died a month ago now."

I have a feeling a word dropped out of this sentence. Unless there's been a massacre recently of all 50,000 Australian Vietnam War veterans. I'm inclined to think there are quite a few WWII Aussie vets, as well as the Korean War vets, the smattering of Gulf vets, those who fought in Malaya and Indonesia, and so on.

Bwah. Ha. Ha-ha-ha!

"The last Australian veteran died a month ago now."

Simply unkind and unnecessary, Gary. He of course meant WWI veteran.

Teresa Nielsen-Hayden's One Stop linklist for all things WWI

I would guess the last Aussie Great War veteran is mentioned in one of these links. If you visit, you will understand why I can't be more specific. I spent an hour on poets, paintings, and Tolkien's Fusilladers.

Gary, yes there's an elided "WWI" that I sort of intended readers to pick up from the comment I responded to. There are of course also many living WWII veterans in addition to Vietnam veterans and Gulf War veterans.

About WWI vets. My dad, growing up in the Yukon, remembering very vivdly the parades of vets on 11-11. It horrified him, and it may have informed much of his subsequent foreign policy skepticism. A couple of days ago, I heard an interview on WNYC with Robert Fisk on the occasion of his recent book. He spoke at length about his father's WWI experience and how long a shadow those inherited memories cast on his own experience.

Here's the thing about WWI: millions died for very abstract policy and economic goals whipped into nationalism. If this much is debatable, I will simply pronounce myself perplexed. Most historians, as I read them, seem to agree that WWI was an almost inevitable, stupid, trainwreck of an outcome of ongoing political and economic decisions.

Thst realization, that WWI was stupid, brutal, insufficient, and perhaps inevitable, is one of the meanings of the poppy. It's a good lesson.

I'll never forget my horror upon learning that my close friends at the local public school had spent a full semester of "Western History" in an extended role-playing game designed to illustrate the arbitrariness of concentration camps.

"Simply unkind and unnecessary, Gary."

So much for idle chit-chat. Aside from the minor fact that I didn't write what you quote -- but I get that you're referring to the viciousness of what I did write -- "I have a feeling a word dropped out of this sentence." -- this turns out to be the case. Why this is offensive, I don't know; probably demi-semi-Asperger's on my part again.

"If you visit, you will understand why I can't be more specific."

There are reasons that won't happen that I don't care to discuss, but the name you're hyphenating there isn't hyphenated, and they're fairly irritable about people getting their names wrong.

"Thst realization, that WWI was stupid, brutal, insufficient, and perhaps inevitable, is one of the meanings of the poppy. It's a good lesson."

Indeed it is, and an utterly necessary one.

It also needs to be said, though, that the wrong lesson was drawn by so many after the Great War. They "learned" that all war was pointless, useless, and evil, led by corrupt or indifferent politicians, and an evil military.

Which, among other problems resulting from the destructive Versailles settlement, led directly to WWII. That was the wrong lesson. It turns out that some wars are pointless and useless and nothing but evil, but that while all wars contain great evil, not all of them are pointless and useless. Refusal to resist Hitler, but to instead either surrender, or be isolationist, or be a pacifist, were wrong choices.

So, unfortunately, we don't have any easy and simple general answers to guide us as to whether a given war is a worse idea than avoiding it, although that's certainly a good starting presumption that only great heaping mounds of clear evidence might start to overcome. (All In My Opinion, of course.)

The first sentence was inoffensive; the probable omission could then have been helpfully surmised and supplied. Why did you feel it was important to add the following?

"Unless there's been a massacre recently of all 50,000 Australian Vietnam War veterans. I'm inclined to think there are quite a few WWII Aussie vets, as well as the Korean War vets, the smattering of Gulf vets, those who fought in Malaya and Indonesia, and so on."

If it was necessary, let us know why.

Gary,
I don't disagree with you. It's just that in my experience, WWII is taught to the exclusion of the historical conditions that produced WWI. WWII is pedegogically turned into a moral question, rather than an historical one.

Mary, IIRC, is not one of the regular commenters, and I thought should be treated a a guest.

Now how might I interpret that additional paragraph, citing numbers and eras?

1) You thought Mary was ignorant of the fact of other veterans of the succeeding wars.
2) You thought Mary had intentionally devalued the service of those other veterans.
3) It was gratuitous snark directed at a guest.

Prehaps I am overlooking a possibility.

Well, if I occasionally leave word or two out of a sentence by mistake, and it's entirely clear what I mean, I'll be as annoyed by people commenting to overclarify as some people might be by innocent mispunctuations of their complex name.

Ooh, fun poetry game, writing a poem about a word without using the word, esp. if it is implied by the meter/rhyme scheme. Sadly not my invention.

Actually, I don't care about corrections (correct ones, anyway). Just don't tell me if I misspell "occasional".

Just don't tell me if I misspell "occasional"

Shouldn't that be 'occasionally'? ;^)

"Why did you feel it was important to add the following?"

I tend to like to support what I say with facts; it's pretty much a reflex, Bob. And I'd say "why not?," but the fact is that I will plead, as I frequently must, to the fact that I'm sure I have what seems like -- and probably is -- an almost constant low-level default sarcasm that is pretty much inaudible to my ears and imperceptible to my brain. I was raised in an ultra-sarcastic family, and the standard level of discourse, I eventually learned, was one that I found to be baseline neutral (unsurprisingly) until it went to real sarcasm, but which most other non-family people found to be witheringly sarcastic (and what we thought was sarcastic, they thought was viciously out of bounds).

Ever since finally figuring this out, to some degree over a period of time, in my late teens/early twenties, I've striven to lower that tone, and try to better hear how others might hear phrasing, but I confess that I've never done remotely satisfactorily at that, and I'm still pretty tone-deaf to what seems to me to be, out of my mouth, innocuous or friendly banter, but which clearly frequently instead comes across as some sort of hostile attack or put-down. I mean, I know when I'm intending to be perfectly friendly and good-natured, so it's not so easy for me to recognize, at least in advance (and sometimes even retrospectively), that I'm not clearly (or at all) communicating that to others.

So: I'll grant, now that I look at it, that it's easy enough to read my follow-on above as a snotty put-down. Sorry about that, Mary. I can only plead that that's not what I had in mind, or at least that the tone of my factual support was intended to be good-natured-humorous, not "you ignorant slut." I'm pretty bad at clearly communicating that, too often, I'm afraid. My bad. Sorry.

"WWII is pedegogically turned into a moral question, rather than an historical one."

Perhaps so; doubtless at least sometimes. Myself, I think that the flow of international politics, the consolidation of European empires at the beginning of the 20th Century, extending from the events of the 19th and into the conflicts of colonialism, both economic and political, and thus to WWI, Versaille, the rise of Communism, Fascism, and nationalisms, depression, discussion of economic theory, public attitudes towards militarism and war and politics, and into WWII, along with consideration of the competing theoretical and practical and moral aspects of communism, fascism, and democracies, all kinda needs to be taught in one vast flow of intertwined events.

Admittedly, this isn't useful practical advice.

rilkefan is right, I'm not a regular commenter. I can't recall if that was my first comment here but it would certainly be in the first two or three if not the very first.

Gary, the main problem I had with your response was that the subject of the neglect and active hostility to Vietnam veterans is a pretty sensitive one (although not as much in Australia as I believe it is in the US) and I therefore felt unjustly accused of perpetrating something quite nasty. However, since you intended it be be humorous (and I come from a family with a similar level of sarcasm I think) and I can certainly read it that way, apology accepted, no harm done. (And there wouldn't have been much harm even if you hadn't apologised.)

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