Monday, November 15, 2010

One Cheer for Veterans

       I am in the process of producing several posts which examine modern American wars -- and war in general -- from a rather critical point of view.  I am fairly certain of my facts and my arguments, and I hope to be persuasive.  At the same time, I am aware that some of the people who will read this are veterans.  (So were my father and two of my uncles -- World War II.  But they are now all gone from us.)  Some other readers, while not themselves veterans, count veterans among their most beloved friends and family members, and feel a special and understandable loyalty to them.  Yet others are even now in active military service.  I welcome their presence, their readership, their participation, and their comments pro or con, and I write this post hoping to avoid any unnecessary misunderstanding.

       I am going to offer one cheer for veterans.  Only one, it is true, but it will be a transcendent cheer.  Transcendent, because in my view it lays hold of Heaven itself.

       I begin with a memory of the day of the assassination of Egypt's president, Anwar Sadat, in October, 1981.  According to the press reports and video clips of the occasion (I can do no better, I wasn't there),  President Sadat was standing in review at a parade, when assassins in the parade formation opened fire.  At the crucial moment, Sadat's bodyguard, who may have been in on the plot, dropped down and took cover.  Undefended, Sadat was immediately cut down.  That act of collective cowardice, if it was that, spoke volumes.   All the talk of brotherhood and loyalty dissolved into a bloody puddle of betrayal and dishonor, the spirit of Judas moving as he ever does.  The stain of that shame has not yet been removed.

       I contrast that with the attempt on the life of Ronald Reagan a few months earlier in the same year.  In that event, the men of the Secret Service leaped into action to shield the President with their own bodies, and wrestled the killer to the ground while he was armed and shooting.  That act of willing self-sacrifice also spoke volumes.  All the talk of partisanship and controversy surrounding the president resolved into a sense of heroism and national honor, at least for a time.

       The words of Christ ring very clear here -- at least they do in my own head:  "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  And the free willingness to do so is the crucial thing:  often the actual death of the willing is not required.  Those who lay down their lives may often be granted the grace to take them up again.

       I take the Lord of All Worlds at His word, that He honors this great love at its offering, and if a man dies in such an act, I believe he is welcomed immediately into the Holy Presence.   Furthermore, I take these words as authoritative as against anything any Church or theologian might say in the negative.  Love, it is said, conquers death; and it also conquers the fear of death.

       There is no doubt in my mind that often times men join the military service of their nation with just such noble thoughts in mind.  In America, we much admire the ragged solidarity of the farmers and youngsters at Valley Forge.  We like the story of Nathan Hale who, though a spy, had "but one life to give for his country."  (Not quite the same as "his friends," of course, but let us move on.)

       I like these stories, as you do.  And I suppose every nation remembers its heroes who died for their friends in battle, or perished in the defense of hearth and home.  I like the poem about the old Roman hero, Horatius.  Even though the poet is a 19th-century Briton (Macauley), I think he fairly captures the old ideal in its pagan form:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
   The Captain of the gate;
"To every man upon this earth
   Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
   Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
   And the temples of his Gods,

"And for the tender mother
   Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
   His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
   Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
   That wrought the deed of shame?"

       Thus far, the one cheer.  The transcendent cheer that recognizes that warriors do sometimes lay hold of the holy reality of that great love that lays itself down for its friends.  Some men ridicule the notion of "foxhole religion;"  I do not.  Foxhole religion may indeed be religion of the purest (because most transforming) kind; may a merciful and gracious Father God bless all who call upon Him, in whatever extremity.

       But these acts of honor are the exception rather than the rule in war.  For every Horatius who must defend the bridge, there also must be the "false Sextus" (and his numerous army) who force Horatius into doing what he does, and who either know, or know not, what they do.  And even if the sacrifice is noble, and accepted as such, the fields and cities are filled with destruction and death.

       And even poor noble Horatius can wonder -- are his fellow soldiers really honorable, or do they stand guilty of vicious aggressions of their own?  Are their Gods, and their temples, worthy?  And if not -- what then?

       If I may presume a perhaps-too-general opinion, it seems to me that whole cultures, whole nations, have lost their way here.  The Vikings, for example, seem to have had a notion that death in battle guaranteed a place of honor in the feasting halls of Valhalla -- despite the fact that their warriors were, more often than not, the pirates and the pillagers, the killers of defenseless monks and the kidnappers of girls.  Did the Lord of All Worlds count this as "laying their lives down for their friends," and guarantee them His beatitude, or had they been deceived -- perhaps willingly, perhaps not -- by the war god whose true name is Moloch?  I wonder.

       But more to the point, what about the United States of America and its wars?

       I beg you to read your history carefully.  Carefully.  What were the reasons why brave and seasoned old warriors had second thoughts -- commanders such as Scott, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton, Butler, and many others?  Why do some veterans come home and become outright pacifists?

      War is a very ugly business, mostly because very many ugly men do very many ugly things.  Sometimes, because they want to; sometimes, because someone has told them that they must.   And by no means is all of the ugliness on the other side, nor is all of the honorable sacrifice on our own.

      Let us not beatify all veterans.  Some are honorable men; some are knaves; and some are simple fools.  Just like the rest of us.


  1. Robert,

    Well said. We should be careful when speaking of our veterans. They undertoook their service for mostly patrtiotic and goodhearted reasons. It was their leaders who failed and who sold them out. It is the leaders who deserve our ire.

    I also think there is a place for military virtues. Men who serve their country in the military tend to be responsible, honorable men, men you'd want at your back if you were walking in a shady alley.

    Such energy should not be discouraged, but should only be directed toward noble means. When it is misused by politicians, especially politicians who have never served, true patriots must speak out, for the good of our troops and their honor.

  2. This might be slightly off topic, we'll see how this develops...

    you know one thing I've noticed, and its starting to feel downright blasphemous, is in the context of all of the
    "emergency AARRGGHH WE'RE AT WAR!"
    "we're at war with muslims extremists. If we don't fight them, christianity will cease to exist!"
    "just don't screw with Israel, cause God's got their back no matter what."
    kind of talk are the people who pay lip service to what Jesus said, by saying things like "well we have to love them, but their just such extremists, they're probably not going to see the light..."
    "Really those people are beyond redemption, I mean I know that God can do anything He wants, but there's know wrong with them." (My response is 'its called sin you idiot, and we're all in that boat!')
    Nowhere do you see a bigger thrust both for and against this type of thinking, than with the "brave" men and women of our armed forces. I use the quotes, because some are and some...arent.
    Its notable to see people who do put themselves aside for the good of others, like Butler, Derrigan, Pat Tillman even, if the reports that keep surfacing about what he was going to spill are true, positively marginalized by society. Pop culture is horny for war, even though they say their not.
    Their military folks credentials, they're unimpeachable, so the burial at sea, media style, is favored. If that fails, the bullet sponge approach (in the case of mr. Tillman) is taken up.
    In this way, their honor tends to work against their message, fufilling another prophetic utterance. Jesus said "The world hated me, and it will hate you." in context of laying your life down for another, and loving others as Christ had loved.
    It makes me wonder if more of us who are serious about Jesus need to start being more serious about this and provoking people to really think about this stuff.

    The Big Lebowski: Are you employed, sir?
    The Dude: Employed?
    The Big Lebowski: You don't go out looking for a job dressed like that? On a weekday?
    The Dude: Is this a... what day is this?
    The Big Lebowski: Well, I do work sir, so if you don't mind...
    The Dude: I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.

    Tom, sick of seeing people get shot up Bionic

  3. Dear Tom Bionic,

    This is absolutely ON topic. Thanks for the post.

  4. "...and provoking people to really think about this stuff." Great comment. I'm afraid that many of us scarcely give the least thought to the issues that are of the greatest importance. We drift along with a group of friends or a political party, without really hashing out for ourselves what we really believe. It's too easy to be a Liberal and support abortion without really researching the facts. It's too easy to be a Conservative and support the war without really researching the facts. Growing up I supported the Death Penalty, because it was part of my family's beliefs, and seemed to be part of certain "Conservative" beliefs.
    All these things, abortion, war, death penalty, euthanasia, embryonic experimentation, etc., involve meddling with human life, and we seldom take the trouble to sweat out a few thoughts over them, let alone take a stand or do something about them. Is human life that unimportant? Have we really become that flippant and unconcerned?? Are we not involved in the great conversation between God and Cain? "Where is your brother?" My brother lies in "Flanders Fields". My brother has gone up in dust in a mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. My brother was an embryonic test-tube experiment. My brother didn't make it out of the womb. My brother just died by state mandated lethal injection (and he was no less a candidate for God's love and forgiveness than you or I). Yes, we are our brother's keeper, and his blood is crying out.
    And the moral issue aside, if we do not keep our brethren, who will keep us when the tides turn? There is a meditation (I can't remember the author), a memorial for the Holocaust victims, that lists various groups of people who died the last century. Its lines run something like this: "They came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew." And so forth. The final line: "And then they came for me, but there was no one left to speak out for me."
    A bitter warning of what will happen if we do not begin to love our fellow man.

  5. okay -- I'll try again. "what about the U.S. of A. and its wars/"? Are you saying we accomplished nothing -- that we were duped by some great lie? I feel as if you are hinting at some great evil that we've committed -- or some dark conspiracy that is taking place. Out with it. And, not to be rude, but I did not understand your point Tom. Are you saying that we have been unfair to muslims and duped by Israel. Of course there are peaceloving muslims. One does not have to hate muslims in order to recognize the worldwide acts committed by muslims. History also shows the atrocities committed in the name of Islam. It is an ancient wound between Abraham's sons -- a wound that I don't think can be healed in this world.

  6. Howdy sharon!

    I appreciate you taking the time to read my ramblings. It's important to remember that sometimes I don't even understand my points. It probably best to just assume at all points that I've taken a large blow to the head and am laying in the corner, drooling. I will try my best though to restate in bullet point fashion.

    pt 1. The military man, and wars in general have been used only to further the elites of the world.
    Check out Rev 18,
    smedley butler,
    USS Liberty incident,
    Robert Hanyok's critique of the gulf of tonkin

    pt 2. The lionization of the military man is, at best, used to further dupe the public. In this order, research these:
    -smedley butler
    -pat tillman, esp. what his parents have written, to date about his murder
    -Ken O'Keefe former us marine who was on the gaza flotilla, who been kidnapped, presumably by the IDF or Mossad

    pt 3. Christians are totally o.k. with all of the above, because they've got their head comfortably planted in the sand. They wink at sin and secretly believe that if they don't support their government then muslims are going to institute sharia law, and that will be end of christianity. related to that is that christians also believe that
    Its ok to wink at sin, if Israel does it.
    Its ok to believe that the american dream is somehow a spiritual right. (good luck proving that and not twisting the bible.)
    Its ok to hate others whom you have never met. (notice how the propoganda of cold war communism and the war on terror are so much the same, for one.)
    Its ok to support kidnapping and torture, death squads, as long as its in the name of the good ole USA!
    research these, in no particular order
    The school of the americas (its recently been renamed, and the name escapes me.)
    The organ harvesting ring run by rabbis in NY and Israel, IDF generals, and a NJ state legislator.
    The kidnapping of Ken OKeefe, probably by the IDF.
    The MIAC report.

    pt 4. When people do speak out, even those who have unimpeachable credentials (smedley butler is roundly assumed to be the greatest american soldier ever...) are marginalized so that they cannot be heard.

  7. other research ares for consideration sharon!

    read james bradley's latest book "imperial cruise". We killed 750,000 phillipinos because Robert Taft and Roosevelt believed we were racially superior.

    smedley butler, the most decorated soldier in U.S. history to date.
    "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

    -Gary Webb's dark mission series.

  8. Sharon, thanks for continuing to press the issue, and I sincerely ask you to keep it up, even though it will seem that we disagree. I do not think our disagreement is fundamental, since I think we both believe in the possibility of "just wars," and would only want to participate in the same.

    On the matter of coming "out with it" -- I may not yet fully do so. I am making a broad case against modern war (which, as being aimed at whole populations, can hardly be "just"); and since we are Americans, I am focused particularly on American wars, since they are the ones we are most able -- if we are able -- to influence.

    I am going to make the case that the Afghan war was wrongly planned and wrongly executed, but that will make more sense only after I have examined earlier wars. ( I shall not especially pick on GWBush, if that makes any difference: the planning was well under way in the days of the Clinton administration, when the events of September 11 were only a futuristic dream.) My conclusion will be that a great evil has been committed in our name -- not that "we", you or I or any of our readers committed it.

    But that will take some explaining. I began by discussing World War I for three reasons.

    1. because it is in the distant past, few of us have any strong emotional bias about it, one way or the other, and so we can consider it, perhaps, more clearly than more recent conflicts, where we have loved ones who have hazarded their lives.

    2. because it is generally known among historians that there was a great deal of conspiracy, deception, and concealment of the truth regarding the causes of that conflict.

    3. because, despite that, there has been a concerted effort to smooth it over and justify it.

    I hope to post, soon, on a little-known aspect of World War II that troubles me.

  9. “They have burned our possessions, but they cannot burn Jesus from our hearts.”-origen

  10. For those of you who have gotten this far -- please read my earlier post on "World War I," if you haven't already. It is an essential prelude to this essay and the foregoing comments.

    You are cordially invited to continue in this discussion.

  11. @ Isaac Fox. Re your quote - they came for the jews. It is ascribed to a Dutch Pastor by the name of Pere Larssen and goes this way-

    First they came for the communists, but I remained silent, for I was no communist
    Next they came for the gypsies, but I remained silent; for I'm not a gypsy
    Then they came for the Jews, and I was silent; for I was no Jew,
    And when they came for me, I looked around for someone to speak,
    But they had all been taken.

    Militaries across the world reflect both the morals and value system of their nation. In a country where brutality against their own people is a way of life, that is how a soldier will be. If the victor country thinks it is racially superior to the defeated, then that's how it's army will behave when it is an occupying army. You've had your My Lai, my country has its own messes to deal with. The British honorably used poison gas against the Arabs in the Ist WW Mesopotamian campaign. The French had IndoChina and Algeria. The Allied forces still have the Dresden Bombing, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to answer for.

  12. Further to the above; just Google up Ron Ridenhour-Jesus was a Gook


    This is a link to an article written by one of the committee members of the Winter Soldier Investigation

  14. Thanks, Anon. I have the full quote in a prayer book at home, but didn't remember all of it. It's pointed and poignant. Thanks for posting the whole thing.

  15. Isaac, no thanks reqd. Priviledged to remind u. But just found another link which sums up WW-I in another sense.
    The rhyme went - Three german soldiers crossed the line, parlez vous

  16. It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

    Mark Twain (1835 - 1910), Following the Equator (1897

  17. Anonymous: Thanks for the links about the Vietnam War. I included them at the end of tonight's post, 'Amnesia, Atrocity and The War Prayer." Your further comment here or there (at the new post) are most welcome.