Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Flags, parades and speeches celebrate those who fought and died for their country, but what they did--and still do--is better commemorated by silent grieving over them than with bombast and color.

In "A Farewell to Arms," Ernest Hemingway had his World War I soldier saying:

"I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them on proclamations...and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.

"There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity...Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene besides the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates."

Today is a day for honoring the fallen but disowning not glorifying what the worst in human nature made them endure.


Anansi said...

Thank you for that quote. I was just saying much the same to a friend but Hemingway's words get right to the core of it.
I was raise in the US but moved to Canada forty-two years ago so have a different perspective.

We celebrate Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 but it is always sad. We remember the futility of war and the peole caught up in it on all sides. Last year I sat beside a veteran of D-Day who cried as the old soldiers marched by, thinking of friends that died. It was the first year that he was unable to march for them.

I don't remember Memorial Day being such a glorification of war. Did I miss that part when I was young or have people in the US really changed?

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

“Non dulce non et decor" recalls
this poem (see IV and V) by Ezra Pound:

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization

About my generation’s response to an unjust war, there were street protests, anti-war marches, and body counts reported every night on the evening news along with videotaped images of flag-draped caskets returning home.

But what of the Iraq war and how the Bush/Cheney administration manipulated public opinion? The gave us the Orwellian term, Free Speech Zones, where protests took place NOT in full press view but sequestered … out sight, out of mind. They banned images of returning caskets and denied bereaving families a public validation of their losses. The Bush/Cheney regime suppressed those reminders of war that inform our consciousness. Unable to bear witness to our tragedies, we are left feeling disconnected and utterly senseless.