I have been away from this 365 Project for enough time now to consider it a failure, and I believe that feeling of failure has been part of the reason for the massive writers block that I have had towards writing any of my thoughts over the past couple of months. However, that is not to say that I have not been alive. Memorial Day seems like a fitting day to share my existence, for whatever it is worth, once more.
. . .
As we all know, Memorial Day’s purpose is to pay respect to all of the nation’s servicemen and women who have answered the call to serve, however it came to be, and paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of not only our physical nation- but our very way of life.
It is absolutely right for us all to take pause and reflect on just what it means to serve this nation in a vocation which does not guarantee a return to a normal way of life, or even a return to life at all. Above all else, we should truly take pause and contemplate what it has meant for those men, throughout history, to have been drafted into service to fight for a cause they know little to nothing about. And many died in service of those causes. Too many.
In recent decades, the military has become an all-volunteer service. I believe it is right for us to take pause and truly attempt to contemplate, to really think about, just what it means for a man or a woman to stand up and say they believe in America enough to volunteer for its defense- even to the extent of laying down his or her life in that defense. I am not here to decide which service member is more patriotic: the one who volunteered or the one who went when called, even if grudgingly. I cannot decide that. I neither have the mental capacity nor the right to make that sort of decision about millions of Americans. Neither do any of you. And certainly neither does the press nor any politician. Politicians should just thank their lucky stars that the end result has remained the same: They call. We go.
Presently, my Nephew Nicolas is the representative from our family who has answered the call to serve and is doing so honorably on this day. He is earning his Veteran status- a status that will remain with him for life, and this country is correct to hold open doors for him at every opportunity because if that status. He has pursued this calling since he was very, very young and he followed through as soon as he became eligible. No second guessing. No pause. No debate. He simply stated he will go, no matter what the duty requires of him or what the end result will be. We all wish for the absolute best for him, but that is not to suggest that he has not thought about all the possible outcomes in our very unstable world. For the first step he has taken by enlisting, he has already proven himself to be a member of the League of Heros. Membership is always earned, never gifted.
I paused after high school and before my enlistment. And then I witnessed the events of 9/11 unfold with my own eyes. The pause simply disappeared. Maybe I was fortunate that the Department of Defense selected Cuba as my unit’s mission in 2003, but I cannot ever seem to put to rest the idea that maybe I could have done more- even if it was completely out of my hands. I made a decision with the best knowledge I felt I could afford myself, and the end result is the same: They called. I went.
My father was on the other side of the coin: he was drafted. My Dad barely had six months in this country after immigrating from Scotland when his number came up. My Dad, from all that I understand, came to America for the grand promise: streets paved with gold and finding the American Dream for himself. My Dad did not have a thorough education about the Vietnam conflict, nor was he raised like the rest of us with the American Pride that is instilled in us from young childhood. He is a Scotsman. He is more Highlander than John Wayne. He is Sean Connery, not Clint Eastwood. But the end result is the same: He chose the American way of life, and however sudden… They called. He went.
His Dad, from what I understand, volunteered for service in the Royal Navy and served honorably throughout the duration of World War II. As did my Mom’s Dad, who was drafted into US Army service during World War II. Both of these men made a career out of their service to their respective nations. Both are great men, and deserved to be respected for the simple fact that a call was made, and they went to work. No matter how deadly each of these encounters were.
We are fortunate that we have all survived these calls. We are humbled by those around us that did not. We feel guilt about survival, but know that those who did not survive would never ask us to live our entire lives in mourning.
. . .
So that is a small part of what Memorial Day means to me, and my family. Now I would like to express a thought that I began when I mentioned my grandfather served with the Royal Navy.
The British Empire has always been an ally of ours, even when we thought they hated us during the revolution. They have always loved us because we have always been the red-headed step child of the British Empire. That is why once it was all said and done, Britain has almost always been right by our side and we beside theirs. So with that said, I would expect everyone here to think to themselves that my Royal Navy grandfather was equal to my US Army grandfather, insomuch as they answered the patriotic call of their respective nations. Both were good guys, and I expect you would agree on that point.
What if I said my Dad was from Germany? Would it change your opinion if my grandfather was a member of the German military during World War II? Not as an SS agent, but as a foot soldier just on the other side of the battlefield as our American soldiers were. What if he was a German soldier on the beach of Normandy during the invasion? What if he fought the Soviets in the far eastern front? What if… he was a Soviet? Would that change your mind about him being a hero, a person deserving to be a respected veteran? I suspect it would.
Let me ask this another way… before you, like, you know, you the reader… before you were born, did you have any input whatsoever about the geographic location where you would be born? I understand about family lineage and all.. but seriously, as early as you were a single-cell microorganism, what input did you have? Did you choose to be American because you sought the American way of life? My Dad chose this American life, but did you? If you were born in 1925, is it conceivable that you could have just as easily been born in Austria or Italy or Germany as you were born in America?
To me, it seems that a very small number of circumstances would have to change for any of that to happen.
Am I glorifying the Axis powers of World War II? No. The Nazi Party and everything it stood for was completely and categorically wrong. It was… doubleplusungood. But… were the foot soldiers? Not the SS members… not the ones who believed so much in the Nazi Party that they volunteered for service to slaughter millions of civilians in the most inhumane manner history has ever known… not them. They are assholes. But the foot soldiers who were drafted into service during a conflict they had little to no knowledge about and served in the same capacity as an American Infantryman, but with a different patch upon his sleeve. Were they so bad?
You see… kings and titans are what they are. But none of us here are kings or titans. Or tyrants. We simply don’t play on that level. If we are lucky, we are “middle class” members of a very intricate machine. We don’t know each other’s role in the machine, but we do know that productive members all have a role to play in the machine’s function. That is enough any of us to have to know, really.
None of us on the level that we live get to make the decision whether or not we will create and live in a democratic society, a socialist society, a racist society, or a completely out of their damn mind nut case society. (Hitler. Lenin. Stalin. Kim Jung Un.) We don’t get to make those decisions. We are born into them. Most of us will die in the society in which we are born. Most of us will not ever gain enough factual knowledge to even properly contemplate our present form of government versus alternative styles of government and then have the freedom to make a choice under which we wish to live. We won’t. We might think we do, but we just won’t.
If we are lucky, we were born into a society that we happen to agree with. For me, I am very happy to have been born into a society that works fairly well, but that I also have the legal right to question it without threat of arrest, vaporization, or something worse: ignored. I am lucky for that. I suspect most, if not all, of you fall into that category as well. Phew!
We are lucky that we were not born in North Korea.
But what if we were?
Do you think that any of those people have any clue what life is actually like in America? They haven’t a clue. They don’t have a clue because their government has made it absolutely impossible for any of them to ever be in a position where they could question their government and objectively compare it with neighboring nations, or America. To question is to be arrested. If they are lucky. Truthfully, to question in North Korea is to commit suicide.
But now I would like to circle back to my original question: Would the circumstances that would have had to been present which would have led to my grandfather having been born in Germany really have made him any less of a veteran? Or would the only real difference have been who made the phone call. His action was still the same: They called. He went.
*My grandfather did serve the British Royal Navy and fought against the Germans, just for the historical record.
. . .
The background to the question is this picture:
It is a Soviet Army soldier playing an abandoned piano in the middle of a war zone on some random day during one of the many times in which the tyrants seemed dead-set on destroying our planet. But the hell with the politics: Look at the soldier. No. Look at him. He is a boy in grown man’s clothing. He is not playing the piano because he is a socialist. He is not playing the piano because he is the author of the Russian Gulag. He is not playing the piano because he is anyone’s enemy. He is playing the piano because he is alive. He is human. He likes art the way the rest of us likes art. He is playing the piano because, whether drafted or volunteer, he is a serving member of his military. He is a patriotic member of his country, who probably went into the conflict believing his nation was correct, or the most correct, and he was honorably serving that nation in furtherance of that cause. And on this day that cause brought him an someone’s piano together, after it was blown out of their house in a most violent manner.
And maybe he died during that service. Maybe he didn’t. Who knows. But he is a veteran of a terrible war that did not start with him, nor did it end with him.
He was wearing that uniform because a number of decisions were made, prior to his birth and without his input or consent, that made him born as a citizen of the USSR. They called. He went. Even if grudgingly, he still went.
. . .
So let’s say you are on the front. You have your weapon trained on the enemy. You kill him. As it turns out… he was that boy in the photo above. Does it matter? Not in war. Well, not in war in our present definition of how wars are fought, anyway. That guy dies or you die. Permanent. It is the same as when you swat a fly: You will never, ever see that specific fly again. It is gone. You’ll see another one later… a different fly… and you’ll kill that one too. Because you know that is what you are supposed to do. You know that is what you are supposed to do because the author of the war told you so, and you have no other information available to counter that argument. It becomes easy because you do not see that boy playing the piano. You see him as a fly. Not a human full of emotion, hope, and promise. You do not see him as someone who is trying to do the best he can for his family with the information his government has allowed him to have. You don’t see this. You are trained to kill him before it is possible to see any of this. He is a fly.
. . .
So this Memorial Day I am here to say thank you to all my brothers and sisters who have defended, and continue to defend our nation. For me, I believe the American way of life is valid, important, good, and worth defending.
And this Memorial Day, while thinking of those millions of men and woman have never returned home, I am filled with a certain hope: Throughout history, the actual number of soldiers necessary to fight any particular battle has gone down. Dwindled, in fact. It has shrunk from the thousands lining a battlefield to a few tactical members inserted into an environment because we are getting smarted on how to kill the enemy. That’s good, but not great.
Great is this: Us regular people realize that the most effective way to handle any dispute is to put the authors in the ring. President Obama doesn’t like Putin? Fine. We have provided him with a 747 and a personal trainer. So send him on the plane, fly over there, meet Putin in the bar and kick his ass.
Primitive? No, it is not. It is advanced. It is possibly the most advanced means of handling conflict possible. In business, we would simply say this is “removing the middle men.”
It’ll never happen because politicians are what they are… but wouldn’t that be something?
I will never forget the true cost of the freedom I continue to enjoy.