The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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Decoration Day

Michael R. Bowen, MD

The Basics

Michael R. Bowen, MD

mbowen@americasvoices.org       
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"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.  The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is worse.  A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
-- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), English empiricist philosopher and social reformer (On Liberty, Principles of Political Economy, Utilitarianism)

May 27, 2003


That was the old name for today's Memorial Day:  the day we went to decorate the graves of our war dead.  Flowers and flags and marching bands are always appropriate, but to my mind the finest decorations ever laid by the stones of the fallen have been black and white:  the printed words of those who've been there.  War has always figured large in great literature, but some of the best reflections have come from ordinary veterans.  Once, on one of those days when a family decides to organize the drawers full of old pictures, my father came across a photo of himself and two buddies.  Seated on a couch, fresh back from fighting the Japanese and still in their uniforms, they look steadily back at the camera without smiling.  "Look at that, Michael.  Like something from Garcia Lorca -- 'Sad, infinite eyes, like newborn beasts of burden'."

War has produced sublime prose.  Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms and Soldier's Home, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet On The Western Front, Steven Crane's Red Badge Of Courage, Robert Graves' Goodbye To All That:  all should be required reading for pacifist and hawk alike.  But the best memorials have come in poems written by ordinary soldiers:

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England..........     (Rupert Brooke)

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Ye smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer as soldier-lads march by,

Sneak home, and pray you'll never know

The Hell where youth and laughter go.     (Siegfried Sassoon)

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Well is thy war begun;

Endure, be strong and strive;

But think not, O my son,

To save thy soul alive.     (A.E. Housman)

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And one of the most heartbreaking war poems I've ever read, this one also from Housman:

I did not lose my heart in summer's even,

When roses to the moonrise burst apart:

When plumes were under heel and lead was flying,

In blood and smoke and flame I lost my heart.

 

I lost it to a soldier and a foeman,

A chap that did not kill me, but he tried;

That took the saber straight and took it striking,

And laughed and kissed his hand to me, and died.     (A.E. Housman)

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Housman reminds us of what we should remember today:  "All gave some, and some gave All".  Let's always keep in mind the ones for whom the world ended as they struggled in our defense.  And let's not forget the ones who came home, but left a piece of their souls on the battlefield.

 

Copyright Copyright 2020 by Michael R. Bowen, MD & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  He writes the weekly column
"The Basics" and the occasional guest column "Mixed Reviews" for America's Voices, a conservative political opinion and educational web site.  His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including Opinionet.com and Enterstageright.com.  E-mail Dr. Bowen at mbowen@americasvoices.org.

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