Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

I watched 60 Minutes last night, a show honoring our troops. Featuring the young man who recently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, it showed him to be humble, amazingly thoughtful and well-spoken (he joined the military at age 17). To me, his heroism is only slightly about what he did. The show can be watched here.

When I served in Vietnam, I was certain the guys around me were and would remain the best friends I ever had. Maybe, had I been in similar situations that Sgt Giunta experienced, it'd have been true. In my case, I'm lucky it wasn't. I experienced regular rocket attacks, after which I'd put on flack gear, dash to the clinic while Cobra helicopters fired into the jungle. But I never carried a rifle, never fired a shot, never looked an enemy in the eye. And I was able to move on.

We love war too much.

If the word "hero" has any meaning at all, it unquestionably applies to men and women like Sal Giunta, and everyone with whom he served. But there's an almost indescribable perversity at play here. We call upon people like Sal to fight in wars of questionable value, for reasons we may never know; we place them in situations that no young man or woman should ever face. And, forced to act heroically or die, they do. Often both. As admiring as we should be of them, we should be ashamed of ourselves, and what we did to them. And how we manage to turn it into something to feel good about.

The rest us us watch it on 60 Minutes, get all teary-eyed, slap another magnetic ribbon on our pickup, a couple of flags, and head off to a teabagger rally to rail against taxes to pay for their care. Our definition of patriotism is all about soldiers and war; it's easy, it's so damn easy; it's too damn easy. Rather than sacrifice ourselves, we pretend to through our soldiers. A couple of tears, a throb of the heart. A good day's patriotism. Pass me another Bud.

For our troops I have nothing but admiration. And sympathy. I understand those for whom their service was the high point of their life, and I know that for many multiples more it was the low point, the beginning of their slow and life-long destruction. Sergeant Sal Guinta deserves more respect than nearly anyone I can think of, other than every other soldier who ever served. While we learn of him and his comrades, while we satisfy ourselves by basking in their heroism and fool ourselves into thinking it has some larger meaning, we dishonor them and ourselves by ignoring their needs, electing people who'll make sure the only thing we'll ever have to do is shed a tear once in a while, rather than pony up; rather than being the kind of country that cares for its own (and I mean everyone, not just its soldiers); the country for which they think they served.

A couple of days ago, a few miles from here, a man died in a river. Seeing a dog struggling in the current, he dove in to save it. The dog made it to shore. The man didn't.


rlbates said...

I so agree. Best to you, Dr. Sid.

JB said...

As Sid knows, I give the annual Memorial Day speech here in Twain Harte, as we raise a flag that lay on a KIA burial from our county...and there have been many. About 400 folks, many veterans and wives, but little kids come and bask in the sunshine at the picnic in the park.
It is difficult to bring to anyone who has not seen combat the importance of Memorial back to the Civil War, when southern women placed flowers on the dirt mounds underneath which their loved ones lay..and called it Decoration Day. One million four hundred thousand men and women have died in the 236 years of our Republic, and as Dr. Schwab says, many for causes that were just plain WRONG...crazy and insane.. and since Dec. 9,1941...NONE were voted upon by Congress: (Article I.Section 8) Instead they are Commander in Chief by 1975 when the last name stands on THE WALL, nobody remembers that President Eisenhower sent the first man to 1959. No desire to be accountable.
I salute Sid for his fine piece of journalism and agree completely with his thoughts. Honor this day...there will always be more.

Margy said...

This post reminds me of a research paper one of my college writing students wrote. He was heading into the military when the semester was done and he wanted to support the thesis that every military action the United States has taken since WWII was morally justified and worth the cost in life and treasure. He was so earnest. My heart ached. I usually push my students hard to seek alternative viewpoints as they do their research, but knowing he would likely be heading someplace like Afghanistan within the year it seemed somehow wrong to disillusion him. I suppose that just feeds the problem, though. A problem you captured well here.

Michael Heartsong said...

Bravo, Sid. Bravo! Very well said. Cogently, succintly. There was a time in the history of the world when war might have been necessary, justifiable way of nations or groups interacting with each other. But not any more.

Sending young men and women to do battle and try to kill each other is really silly, in this day and age. And, as you point out, of highly questionable moral or ethical value or justification.

Time to pull back the curtain and expose the Wizard of Oz for who and what he (they) are: people who are NOT making sane decisions and obviously do NOT have the best interests of the country at heart--but only their own mean, little concerns.

A GREAT blog, Sid! Thanks

SeaSpray said...

I thanked my uncles when they were alive for WWII service and this weekend I again thanked my husband for his service. If I know someone has been in the service ..I always do that on these holidays.

Thank you for your service Dr Schwab.

I don't think it is too damn easy Dr Schwab. I'm a conservative ...and I don't think it's too damn easy.

My husband is a Vietnam army vet.

I wrote a lengthy comment earlier, but decided to put in drafts.

Margy - I really respect you for holding back when everything in you must have wanted to counter his viewpoints. His own reality when serving would clarify his viewpoints.

If you haven't seen them, TVLand has been running Mash episodes all weekend. EST - we are 3 hrs ahead of you and so you can catch their final episode ..the movie (Highest all time ratings) and then followed by another airing of the the 30 yr anniversary reunion (aired in 2003) discussing the creative aspects and showing clips of each character. Interesting hearing how /why they wrote the scenes. The writers interviewed surgeons, etc who served in the real MASH unit in Korea. The show was about all wars. After watching all that I did this weekend, I all the more appreciate the show and what they did.

Here is a blog link for one of the writers - his Memorial Day post:

Sid Schwab said...

Seaspray: I hope you misunderstood what I meant in saying it was easy.

Anonymous said...

Dude drowns trying to save a DOG???
and you think people in the South are Stew-pid...
OK, guy probably was from Alabama or Arkansas, moved out west for the BC Bud...
but as a PSA, all dogs know how to swim, its an innate talent, like Blacks and Crime, I mean Basketball...
Seriously, does the first Black President have to play more basketball than the first 43 Presidents combined?? Did you ever see Millard Filmore playing hoops???
Shoot, sometimes I'll throw my wifes Pommeranian in the Pool just for S&G...


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