To Whom Apologies Are Due

Jeffrey here.

As every year, Joey is silent on Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day 2015, writing from Rhode Island, I cited retired Marine General Smedley Butler’s 1935 book, War is a Racket. Butler was awarded 16 medals, including two Congressional Medals of Honor. He fought in Mexico, the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean, and France. He came to believe that deploying American troops had not kept America safe. Military suffering and death were part of an exploitative racket that enriched big business. Here is an excerpt:

Butler died in 1940. He might have felt differently about World War 2 (1941-45), which was a war for survival. As for Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, et cetera . . . I think Butler would say that waging those wars hurt America while enriching big business.

Not that fighting the “good war” (WW2) was anything but a necessary and dirty job. Randall Jarrell’s famous 1945 poem, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner:

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly til my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

On that same 2015 Memorial Day, I cited poet Wilfred Owen, a British soldier killed in WW1. His Dulce Et Decorum Est, about the victim of a gas attack, takes its name from a line by the Roman poet, Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” In 1915, Owen called out that patriotic lie. The last lines of his poem:

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.

And today we think of Tulsa, where on June 1, 2016, we wrote:

A Troubling Past, A Promising Present

Our Tulsa stay (May 31 – June 1 [2016]) coincided with the 95th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot, in which a prosperous neighborhood built by freed slaves and their descendants was destroyed, and up to 300 Tulsans were killed. If that was the “good old days,” we prefer the modern era, in which people in Oklahoma and the USA more or less get along.

We called it the Tulsa Race Riot, because that’s what it was called in the history books. Now it’s more properly called the Tulsa Race Massacre. White Tulsans were mass murderers. Black Tulsans were innocent victims.

Today is the 100th anniversary. Now people are paying attention. That’s a small step toward making some sort of amends.

• • •

Joey and I biked a few miles to clear my head of ball turrets and hoses, gunfire and gas, mass graves and neighborhoods in flames.

On the East Side, the riverside bike path is frustratingly incomplete and poorly marked. We prefer the West Side!
View north from one of the pedestrian/cyclist bridges over the FDR Drive.
Under the RFK (formerly Triborough) Bridge.
We stopped and loitered within 25 yards, albeit on shore. Official warning? In the spirit of Shakespeare, “I bite my thumb at them.”

While taking our spin up the East and Harlem Rivers and down the Hudson, I thought about the meaning of this day.

Parades and wreaths don’t help our war dead. The dead are beyond pain. Thanks, honor, and reparations mean nothing to them now.

The survivors and descendants of the dead—they still suffer.

I apologize to the survivors and descendants of fallen troops, for the wrongs done to them by our country, even when against my will, because I am American and the wrongs were done in my name.

3 thoughts on “To Whom Apologies Are Due

  1. Bravo – wonderful essay about War as Racket – I never read it before. Thank you for the work you do —

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.