Memorial Day

Here in the U.S, it’s Memorial Day, the day that we set aside to pay tribute to our men and women in uniform who have put their lives on the line to defend our nation in its wars. On this day, I’d like to present a few links and thoughts:

  1. Here’s my post about Memorial Day from last year.
  2. Memorial Day 1942. Shorpy is my favorite picture blog. it regularly features amazing historical pictures from the first half of the 20th century.
  3. The last full measure: 1863.
  4. From the History News Network, here is a list of posts about the origin of Memorial Day.
  5. Tom DePastino argues that we ought to apologize to the veterans of the war in Iraq, invoking Lt. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.’s speech, in which he apologized to the soldiers who stormed Anzio Beach for his mistakes.
  6. Believe it or not, the last death due to wounds suffered during World War II occurred only one month ago.
  7. “Dying in Vain”: Homeric “Argument of Minerva”: An Ethical Point of War
  8. I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.
  9. A reminder that protests against bombing are not a new thing.
  10. Here’s an estimate of how many Americans have died in wars. (The war in Iraq is not included.) And don’t forget that there are still an estimated 88,000 missing unaccounted for from our previous wars.
  11. A grim reminder that nearly 1,000 American soldiers have died since Memorial Day 2006.

Of all these links, perhaps the story of Lt. General Truscott, combined with the grim story stating that nearly 1,000 American soldiers have died since Memorial Day last year. Compare Lt. General Truscott’s words to those of President Bush and our military leaders today:

The general had swallowed carbolic acid as a child, which gave his voice a gravelly baritone that, said Mauldin, “made other strong men quail.” Unlike Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., a publicity hound whose trips to the front were elaborately staged photo-ops, Truscott shared in the dangers of combat, often going over maps on the hood of his jeep with company commanders as enemy fire whizzed around him. “He could have eaten a ham like Patton for breakfast any morning,” said Mauldin, “and picked his teeth with the man’s pearl-handed pistols.”

Mauldin’s account of Gen. Truscott’s speech at Nettuno is the best record we have of that day. He recalled the general taking the stand and then turning his back on the audience in order to address the buried corpses arrayed behind him. “It was the most moving gesture I ever saw,” Mauldin said.

In his heavy rasp, Truscott told the dead men that he was sorry for what he had done. He said that leaders all tell themselves that deaths in war aren’t their fault, that such carnage is inevitable. Deep down, though, if they’re honest with themselves, he said, commanders and politicians know it’s not true. Truscott admitted he had made mistakes, perhaps many.

Then he asked the dead to forgive him. He was requesting the impossible, he knew, but he needed to ask anyway.

Finally, Truscott debunked the idea that there was glory in dying for one’s country. He saw nothing glorious about men in their teens and twenties getting killed, he said. He then promised the men buried at Nettuno that if he ever ran into anybody who spoke of the glorious war dead, he would “straighten them out.” “It is the least I can do,” he concluded.

Would that we had such leaders as Lucian Truscott this Memorial Day.

Amen.

But, alas, we do not. We appear to have no one who realizes that, regardless of whether the war is perceived as popular or unpopular, justified or not, worth fighting or not, it is not the leaders who suffer the consequences. It is the common soldier who fights, bleeds, and dies.