Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The War-Gods Were Pleased

A memorial service for a Korean War Veteran yesterday ... before "my" part of the service, a simple military rite at the mortuary, with the folding of the flag and presentation to the widow by two young soldiers dressed well in honor-guard uniform, smart and polished, and gentle.

At the gravesite later in the day, Veterans of Foreign Wars, older men, and one woman who had been a nurse in Vietnam, with a 3-gun salute, so very loud, the crisp sound of empty brass hitting ground-level tombstones; there was another folding of the flag, with readings, this time. The readings were eloquent, poetic - full of god-talk, honor and glory, with a constant refrain, "Freedom isn't free." The man who read read thoughtfully, a veteran of WW2 and Korea - with a kindly demeanor, and he walked with a slight limp; I'm sure he was someone's grampa, a good grampa, I'm sure.

I stood by the mausoleum, uneasy in spirit.

I felt the pleasure of the gods of war, standing tall, front and center, arms sternly folded ... and the Prince of Peace, killed by the gods of war, and the gods of religion, too, wept quietly off to the side.

Nothing new with any of this ... nations have, for centuries, forever, since Lamech killed a man for wounding him (Genesis 4), been falling down at the feet of the war-gods ... wanting desperately to make war glorious, and, of course, always right. "My country, right or wrong," it was noted during the readings.

The man buried yesterday was a good and fine man, who loved his family and gave this world some very good things.

When he went to Korea, he went as all soldiers do, I'm sure, and for 11 months, he was a mail courier, winning a Purple Heart for being shrapnel-wounded.

He was proud of his service, and his family was proud of him.

But I'm uneasy about the deceptions nations spin about war. The terrible lies we tell about the glories of war and the honors of death for god and country.

I cannot fault him for his time in the army, not can I fault the two young men of the Honor Guard nor the old and tottering Veterans of Foreign Wars.

But humankind, all nations, love war ... we really do. It's in our collective DNA ... it's our fatal flaw, this blind loyalty to tribe and land ... and our willingness to close our eyes and ears and dream dreams of glory, even as we send our youth off to be cannon fodder.

I find in poetry, however, truth-telling - with so many of startling poems coming out of Britain during World War 1, when Britain suffered serious reversals, all blanked out by the home-town newspapers, and nearly a million deaths - an entire generation of young men wiped out in the muddy trenches of France.

Here's a poem with truth-telling:

Joining The Colours
THERE they go marching all in step so gay!
Smooth-cheeked and golden, food for shells and guns.
Blithely they go as to a wedding day,
The mothers' sons.

The drab street stares to see them row on row
On the high tram-tops, singing like the lark.
Too careless-gay for courage, singing they go
Into the dark.

With tin whistles, mouth-organs, any noise,
They pipe the way to glory and the grave;
Foolish and young, the gay and golden boys
Love cannot save.

High heart! High courage! The poor girls they kissed
Run with them : they shall kiss no more, alas!
Out of the mist they stepped-into the mist
Singing they pass. 
Katharine Tynan, 1914
Katharine Tynan