A few thoughts collected yesterday when reflecting on Veterans’ Day and what service means:
- No song or prayer or parade or image captures the meaning of serving in the military as well as “The Green Fields of France,” by Eric Bogle (as covered perfectly by the Dropkick Murphys). The lyrics are brutal and sad and fatalistic and even pacifistic, but you don’t doubt for a second that Willie McBride served his country with honor.
- In the late 1990s, I toured the European cemeteries in northern Egypt, the cemeteries along the Mediterranean where the World War 2 dead are buried. The German cemetery had no individual graves, just huge pillars marking each German state and the names of the soldiers, arranged by rank. The Italian cemetery was a cathedral, with windows looking out to the sea. The Allied cemetery included a memorial building (of some kind, I honestly can’t recall anything but that it was there) and individual gravestones, marked not only with name and country, but also military unit and religion. The obvious, stark, and revealing cultural differences overshadowed something else: these were all foreigners, buried in Egypt, the memorials kept in perfect condition, the memories of the foreign dead right out in the open for all to see. After The War to End All Wars it must have seemed almost normal to have another global total war, with millions dead. But that “normal” seems impossible now.
- My father-in-law, when the discussion turns to politics, campaigning, and the military, likes to recall how George McGovern ran for president, but never mentioned his military service. Not that McGovern wasn’t proud of it (the man flew B-25 missions in WW2), just that it was not, in McGovern’s mind or Big Daddy’s, relevant to running for office. Its hard to imagine that mindset today. Just as the military has become less democratic — that is, made up of people from our entire democracy — it has become more political, at least on the surface. I like McGovern’s attitude. His service wasn’t a stepping stone to a political career; it was his way of serving our country, that’s all. And that’s quite a lot.