Respectful Insolence

Veterans’ Day 2006

In the U.S., today is Veterans’ Day; elsewhere it’s Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, marking 88 years since the truce that ended World War I.

Whatever you’re doing, please take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices our men and women in arms have made throughout history to protect our nation. Regardless of your views on the war, remember the sacrifices our troops are making now in Iraq.

I happened to come across this video on YouTube; It’s one man’s tribute to his parents’ service during World War II, and I think including it here is appropriate:

And, finally, a poem that encapsulates the cost of war on the young people sent to fight it:

In Flanders Fields
by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Comments

  1. #1 The Ridger
    November 11, 2006

    You know: I used to post that poem on my division’s intraweb at work every Veterans Day, back when I was still maintaining it. I don’t anymore – maintain it – but I’m not sure I still would. Somehow, when I read it just now, all I could focuse on was the lines “Take up our quarrel with the foe … if ye break faith with us who die” and I’m not at all sure what they even mean any longer.

  2. #2 Steve Watson
    November 11, 2006

    Thanks for the McRae poem, Orac. It’s a Canadian tradition to read that at Remembrance Day observances, though I understand it’s not as well-known elsewhere.

    Ridger: that last stanza is a bit ambiguous, isn’t it? ISTM that Remembrance (or whatever) Day walks a fine line between honoring the dead and glorifying war. I know my father (a WWII vet, albeit non-combat) often felt that way. There’s nothing “good”, per se, about fine young men (and now women, too) being maimed and slaughtered for their country — just sometimes, it’s a sad necessity, to defend some greater good. And many wars don’t even have that much excuse — they’re about stupid abstractions like national pride, or just being afraid of Them.

    Canadian folk-singer Bruce Cockburn penned the following, which I have to believe is a deliberate reply to McRae’s last stanza:

    God damn the hands of glory
    that hold the bloody fire-brand high.
    Close the book, and end the story
    of how so many men have died.
    Let the world retain in memory
    that mighty tongues tell mighty lies.
    And if mankind must have an enemy
    let it be his warlike pride.
    Let it be his warlike pride.

    – Bruce Cockburn “Going Down Slow”

  3. #3 Denise
    November 11, 2006

    While I’m still dabbing the lingering tears, I’d like to recommend a great Daily Kos diary about the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI, Remembering Canada: The First World War.

  4. #4 George
    November 11, 2006

    If only we would stick to defending our nation and our friends, our vets would truly have honorable task.

    signed, a vet.

  5. #5 Debra J.M. Smith
    November 12, 2006

    Thank you for sharing that. I thought you may like to read this: http://www.guyrandalladams.com/vet.html

    Debra…

  6. #6 Nat
    November 12, 2006

    Steve

    The McCrae poem is also regularly read at ANZAC day services in Australia and New Zealand. I had actually thought the poem was English until now.

  7. #7 SV
    November 14, 2006

    Posted way, way too late, but nevertheless… the best song I’ve ever heard about WWI. It’s best to hear it sung (I first heard the great June Tabor do it), but it works as a spoken poem, too:

    Well how do you do, Private William McBride
    Do you mind if I sit here down by your grave side
    And I’ll rest for a while in the warm summer sun
    I’ve been walking all day and I’m nearly done
    And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
    When you joined the glorious fallen back in 1916
    Well I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
    Or Willie McBride was it slow and obscene

    Did they beat the drum slowly
    Did they play the fife lowly
    Did the rifles fire o’er you
    As they lowered you down?
    Did the bugles play the Last Post in chorus?
    Did the pipes play the Flowers o’ the Forrest?

    And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
    In some faithful heart does your memory enshrine
    And though you died back in 1916
    In some faithful heart are you forever 19
    Or are you a stranger without even a name
    Enshrined forever behind the glass pane
    Of an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained
    And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame

    The sun’s shining now on these green fields of France
    The warm winds blow gently and the red poppies dance
    The trenches have vanished under the plough
    No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now
    But here in the graveyard it’s still No-Man’s Land
    The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
    To Man’s blind indifference to his fellow-man
    To a whole generation who were butchered and damned

    And I can’t help but wonder now William McBride
    Do all those who lie here know why they died
    Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
    Did you really believe that this war would end wars
    Well the suffering and the sorrow and the glory, the shame
    The killing the dying, it was all done in vain
    For Willie McBride, it all happened again
    And again, and again and again and again.

  8. #8 Roman Werpachowski
    November 14, 2006

    In Poland the 11th of November is actually a happy holiday, since the end of WWI was the beginning of Poland’s reconstitution as a sovereign state. Hence the attitude towards the day is somewhat different than in those poems above.