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Monday, May 30, 2011

Immemorial

Nearly 1.3 million Americans have died in the nation's wars. That is one soldier for every hundred families living today. One soldier for every 270 of us has died somewhere between the shot heard round the world' fired at Lexington and the shots being fired now as you read this on some dusty patch of rock in Kandahar. We all bear the terrible burden of their sacrifice. And the greater burden to make that sacrifice meaningful.

Some wars that are remembered and some wars that are forgotten. And it matters least whether they died standing watch on a lonely frontier with a handful of others in a clash barely dignified with a proper name or in one of the great kettles of war in which men boiled and of which songs are sung, novels written and movies filmed. Up close there is no story but that of the fight itself. The dirt, the sand and the waves. The rush of wind, the sound of a bullet and the long fall from life to death. And from beyond there is nothing but the immemorial sacrifices of those who give their lives so that the nation may live.

By the time Memorial Day or Decoration Day came into being, men had been going off to war for centuries to protect the colonies and then the republic. They had done such an excellent job of it that by the time a day to remember the fallen was set aside, pacifism had come to seem like a realistic philosophy. And that too is the price of service. To do your job so well that future generations no longer appreciate that the job had to be done at all. That those who inherited the security of their sacrifices threw dirt into the faces of those who died for them.

The philosophers of peace begin by demonizing war and end by demonizing soldiers. If war is something unnatural, then it stands to reason that the soldier is an unnatural creature. Get rid of the soldier and we get rid of the wars. The attitude is older than Vietnam. Older than human history. That uncomfortable relationship between the farmer and the hunter. The gatherer and the warrior. And while soldiers dig in beneath the howling wind, the philosophers build their airy castles. The academic fancies himself more moral than the soldier for he knows that war is a senseless and unnecessary thing. The soldier knows that war is senseless, and yet so horribly necessary.

"For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an ' "Chuck him out, the brute!" But it's  "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;" wrote Kipling. And so it has been on this side of the ocean.

The more airy our philosophy has become, the worse the image of the veteran has gotten. Rarely has the American soldier been treated as he should. Revolutionary War veterans were robbed of their pay. Civil War veterans went begging on crutches. WW1 veterans were chased out of Washington D.C. at bayonet point. WW2 veterans were denounced as a lazy and corrupt army of occupation. The Vietnam veteran was depicted as an unstable beast. The modern soldier as a broken killer. But even as we have done better at providing a safety net for veterans, the image of them has gotten worse. We may need 'Tommy', but the community organizers still long to chuck him out.

The modern hero is the rebel. The man who doesn't follow orders, but ends up doing what's right anyway. Every campus since the seventies has been crowded with conformist rebels without a cause. Even the 'Army of One' slogan bends that way turning heroism into a private matter. Something an individual does on his own time. But the heroism of the soldier is not a private act. Our warriors are not savages covered in face paint or riding on the back of pickup trucks through the desert high on hashish. The army is a reflection of our civilization. A group effort. Its solidarity is not based on cinematic archetypes, but on men following rules even when it gets them killed. There is and has always been private heroism in that. But it is a private heroism that springs from the common denominator of the group.

The left mimes horror at the sight of men charging into the face of death, yet their alternative is an equally suicidal conformity. A conformity without honor. A plan without reason. And a future that cannot be.

The military has its uniforms and the left has theirs. The soldiers have their marching orders and their treasonous counterparts have theirs. The former have Arlington. The latter have Kent State. And every day men and women risk their lives so that rebels without a cause may rave on. It is a one sided war, this culture war against the military. A cowardly campaign against those whom they know cannot answer them in kind. This frenzied effort to denounce and dismantle the national defense of a country. Compromise the military-industrial infrastructure enough, and there will be no more war, the left says. And indeed there will be no more war. Only slavery. 

A nation cannot exist only because of its soldiers. Yet without its soldiers it cannot exist at all. The existence of America is a tribute owed to the millions who served, who were wounded and who fell in the line of duty. That their sacrifices have won them the dishonor of their culture is a shameful reflection on the culture, not on them.

The sacrifices of war are immemorial. And yet they are the sacrifices of peace. There is no peace without someone to fight for you. The volunteer army is a voluntary sacrifice. A tribute of courage that passes from war to war and generation to generation. Its refining glory is that legacy. Across the centuries blood spilled is reborn as farms and factories, books and laboratories, skyscrapers and cottages. From the first militia that looked across the frontier of a darkened continent to the soldiers who rise aloft into the sky watched over by the ceaseless eyes of orbiting satellites, the growth of the nation ahead and below them is their tribute.


Yet the more secure a civilization becomes, the more it fears to look back into the red heart of the violence that gave birth to it. War is the womb of nations. But when enough wars are won, then there is room enough for the thinkers and philosophers to imagine a better way. A world without war gained not through miracles, but through the good fellowship of other men. "We have it all figured out," they cry, "all we have to do is be nice to each other." And then they stand with worthless treaties and furled umbrellas in the bloody rain.

We are imprinted to fear violence. The more security we gain, the more flight becomes the dominant instinct. The herd learns to run, hoping for security in numbers. "What of 3,000 dead," say the left, "far more die of cancer in a single year." That is the voice of the herd. The cows who dream of safety at the cost of the cattle ahead of them on the abattoir's long conveyor belt. The ostriches looking for utopia in the dirt covering their own heads. To such people, security equates to morality, and comfort becomes ethics. A refusal to risk one's life except by clambering up the occasional endangered tree becomes heroism. Bartleby and James Dean, the men who don't know why they say no, take the soldier's place in the hall of heroes.

Peace was not won for us by campus activists with kerchiefs shrieking into megaphones or bearded thinkers pontificating smugly about utopia. They have always been its greatest obstacles. For it is not some noble and glorious state. It is the absence of war. And war is only absent in the face of war. Our homes are not kept safe by the books in them, but by the weapons borne in their defense. So too no nation is kept safe from intruders by its libraries, but by its soldiers. Great libraries make great soldiers. But a library without soldiers ends up as the Great Library of Alexandria did when the Muslim horde arrived to claim it. As a pile of ashes.

Thus the existence of a nation and the sacrifices of its soldiers are inextricably linked. One cannot survive without the other. There is no single day alone that can memorialize this most immemorial of sacrifices. It is an endless thing. The life of the one and the other linked together. There cannot be only one or two days in which to remember their service, just as there cannot be but one day or two to remember one's own parents. As their sacrifices are immemorial, so much their remembrance be.

Yesterday was Memorial Day. Today their remembrance is Immemorial.

17 comments:

mindRider said...

Juxtaposisit Switzerland and Israel, both small countries with a strong well trained peoples army and general conscription. The former only having fought for it's freedom once in the 14th century the latter in constant need of the defensive force. Both strongly knitted societies however and in either only one who served with distinction can grow and become someone in politics or in private enterprise as he/she is known by the band of brothers and has proven his/her merit under stress of battle or heavy training for battle. For contrast look at Northern Europe where defense budgets in the various countries are cut to the bone to such an extent that if the remnant of the army would need stones for a slingshot this would spark a heated financial debate in parliament. A parliament where those sit with untested leadership qualities and those "leaders" in the private sector might have a drill sergeant's loud mouth's but lack the untrained man's test for core strength when the going gets rough, all due to having abolished the defense institutes and claiming loudly "we had peace for the last 66 years in Europe" without even noticing that under the cover of the American shield all ability to defend our own freedom has dissipated in what you Sultan so rightly call the airy dreams of philosophers.

Jason said...

The Tang Dynasty of ancient China is known to be one of the greatest Dynasty in history, it's military power is such that for hundreds of years no neighbor countries did dare to attack it. It's trade had bring prosperity to it's people and had made Tang the richest kingdom at that time. But after many generations it's rulers forgot about the importance of military power, they thought since they are so great no one would dare to challenge them even if they don't significant military power, thus the late rulers began to diminish it's military forces without realize the hungrily watching eyes of it neighbors, the ignorant of it's rulers had finally caused the Tang dynasty being devoured by the Khitan and Mongol.

People should learn from history to realize the importance of military in one nation. Chinese has a proverb "Yang Bing I Shi, Yong Zhai I Shi" which can be translated as: Troops have to be maintained all the time so that they can be used when needed.

The main purpose of an army is to prevent others attack you, the peace you have right now is the result of their presence.

mindRider said...

Having been born in the Netherlands in 1943 as a Jew under German occupation I always feel gratitude towards the allied troops most of which where Americans who often sacrificed their lives to liberate Europe and by their dedication to the cause of good made my survival possible.

American Genie said...

As one who knows the high cost of freedom firsthand by the loss of my father in the jungles of Vietnam, thank you for expressing what many of us feel.

G-d bless you, Daniel.

Rita said...

As I am reading them today, in Australia, these words of yours are especially balsamic. You see, today Australia lost 2 more brave soldiers in Afghanistan; one murdered by a "rogue" Afghani "soldier" who was supposed to be trained by the Australians, on the "inside".

We have lost 27 young soldiers in that war, I know, by far not as many as your country has lost...but still....

Both families who have lost their sons today have asked for anonymity, otherwise I would have sent them your words. As it is, I just hope that they will read them anyway.

Thank you.

Irwin Ruff said...

A people's reaction to military troops depends on their position in society. I have seen the illustrations in many historical (starting around 1600CE) and semi-recent Haggadahs (the book that is used at the Jewish Passover service/meal. One illustration is invariably of the four (different types of) sons. Until very recent times, the "evil son" is shown as an armored soldier. To the Jews, a soldier was not a friend defending their rights, but an enemy (even if he was from their "own" country) who would rob, kill, and rape. This has been the case into recent times, with the soldiers of Germany and Russia. And the same criteria apply today to the soldiers of any Muslim country.

It has been difficult for many Jews to switch their views, and to regard soldiers of the U.S. or even of Israel as being their defenders. It may be gradually changing, but not for the left, who seem to want to keep conditions as they were in the 7th century.

but pygmies said...

magnificent...

Anonymous said...

Great article once again, except for one point: I have read that the 4 dead at Kent State were not protesters, but students on their way to class who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, this has has been co-opted by the left.

cornholio said...

Thank you Daniel. G-d bless you.

Paul said...

"Across the centuries blood spilled is reborn as farms and factories, books and laboratories, skyscrapers and cottages".

Poignant and beautiful, Daniel.

Keli Ata said...

Beautiful:)

Anonymous said...

This piece is outstanding. This blog is exceptional. It's relatively new for me and I'm so thrilled I found it. Great writing and perspective on matters of major importance. Thank you.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

thank you all and welcome in anonymous

Greg RN said...

Thanks Daniel, again a perspective that our so called leaders fail to embrace, I think it reflects the moral bankruptcy and lack of humility inherent in their homes for generations, it has always been "Those Others" that have had to fight and die to protect the freedoms they liberaly denounce, they are the weakness our enemies exploit, I keep hoping this current political charade was a cognizant plan to get the left to reveal themselves for who and what they are and that the treason trials and executions will begin, in a similar vein the entitlement class are the masses that the left manipulate and fail to discern thier manipulation and exploitation. Perhaps there is a day of reckoning on the horizon. Thanks again Daniel for all your efforts to be a Beacon of sound Judgement and observation.;}

Greg RN said...

Thanks Daniel, again a perspective that our so called leaders fail to embrace, I think it reflects the moral bankruptcy and lack of humility inherent in their homes for generations, it has always been "Those Others" that have had to fight and die to protect the freedoms they liberaly denounce, they are the weakness our enemies exploit, I keep hoping this current political charade was a cognizant plan to get the left to reveal themselves for who and what they are and that the treason trials and executions will begin, in a similar vein the entitlement class are the masses that the left manipulate and fail to discern thier manipulation and exploitation. Perhaps there is a day of reckoning on the horizon. Thanks again Daniel for all your efforts to be a Beacon of sound Judgement and observation.;}

Greg RN said...

Thanks Daniel, again a perspective that our so called leaders fail to embrace, I think it reflects the moral bankruptcy and lack of humility inherent in their homes for generations, it has always been "Those Others" that have had to fight and die to protect the freedoms they liberaly denounce, they are the weakness our enemies exploit, I keep hoping this current political charade was a cognizant plan to get the left to reveal themselves for who and what they are and that the treason trials and executions will begin, in a similar vein the entitlement class are the masses that the left manipulate and fail to discern thier manipulation and exploitation. Perhaps there is a day of reckoning on the horizon. Thanks again Daniel for all your efforts to be a Beacon of sound Judgement and observation.;}

marie said...

Hello Daniel (and Rita, fellow ausssie blogger.)

I can't thank you enough for putting together the most beautiful words and the most coherent thinking this century has seen.

I hope my children quote you as we quote Kipling and Churchill. Brave, brave man.

Your thoughts are fresh and vital and honest, and the canary in the mine that we all need to listen to.

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