How do you do, young Willie McBride?
Do you mind if I sit down here, by your graveside,
and rest for a while in the warm summer sun—
I've been walkin' all day and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen,
when you joined the great fall-in in 1916;
Well, I hope you died quick, and I hope you died clean—
or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?
This installation currently occupies St. Louis' Art Hill, from the art museum itself all the way down to the Grand Basin. Flags—7021 of them—pay honor and tribute to those US military service men and women who have died in the War on Terror since 11 September 2001.
As long as there are humans, there will be war and violence. Diplomacy only seems to work for so long—then there's a war 'reset', and the whole abhorrent process begins again.
Wars about land, wars about money, wars about political ideology, wars about dominance—violence committed to prove a religious or political point. There's probably always going to be some ethically-stunted opportunist who thinks the best—or only—way to make himself or his chosen cause relevant is with a gun or a bomb, dressing hatred up as political comment or freedom-fighting.
Violence, whether sanctified as a 'just' war or not, is as necessary as it is futile, unfortunately. I'm old enough to remember clearly the domestic violence of the late 60s, and the war in Vietnam: on the home front, we had monsters like the Weathermen, who couldn't shoot straight but managed to kill an innocent young professor anyway. Abroad, we wasted our young men on a debacle that had no chance at all of any good outcome.
The horror calling itself Isis today is no better. They're simply people looking for an outlet for hate—cowards who hide, pop up to do their evil, then disappear, protesting man's inhumanity to man by killing more people.
War never again? Tell it to the aggressors of the world—those who kill others for the sake of a depraved ideology no reasonable person could credence for a nanosecond. Build bombs, missiles, and warplanes we say we won't use, for the war machine? Possibly. If such things scare even ONE monster into not starting a war, if they protect just ONE brave man or woman serving in the military, they may be worth it. If they stop some barbarian in his tracks after one vile, aggressive, deadly act, then maybe—just maybe—yes. I'm neither a war-monger nor a pacifist. I hold with no political party, no canned ideology, no religion. I vote by the candidate, and by the issue.
I do think some things are worth fighting for. Liberty—anyone's liberty—is worth fighting for. To the death, if that's what it takes. Even so, war is still a repulsive waste.
I have nothing but respect for anyone willing to give his/her life for someone else's liberty--as opposed to a suicide bomber, who obliterates others to serve his perverted purpose, and himself to avoid being judged and punished for his wicked act.
No matter your perspective on it, war is a sickening waste, an outrage we keep repeating. Those who died 'quick and clean' died just the same—useless, senseless deaths in some godforsaken corner of the globe, whether those who died turned to clay in some anonymous rice paddy in southeast Asia, or mummified in a Middle Eastern desert no one ever heard of.
Great swathes of France...Belgium...Turkey...are still left as necropolises from the atrocity of World War I a hundred years ago. Honestly, I think parks without corpses would serve the living far better, and I'd sooner go myself than send my sons—or anyone else—off to war. Life or death isn't a decision I can make for another human; for myself, only.
Chile...Vietnam...Syria...all made the decision for others the wrong way, for the wrong reasons. And it isn't just the loss of life that bothers me: the collateral wreckage—the soldiers and support personnel who came home changed forever, bent beyond recognition by abominations they'd been through continued the damage. The families who couldn't understand what had happened to their fathers, sons, brothers suffered along with them.
And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And although you died back in 1916
To that loyal heart, you're forever nineteen.
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Forever enshrined behind some old glass pane
In an old photograph torn tattered and stained,
Faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?
And then there are the faithful, patient souls left vainly waiting for word one way or the other—and never knowing for certain, until time and despair draws them, inexorably, to the conclusion that death came for their loved ones without anyone noticing, or remembering.
Last and least are the humble physical reminders....dog-eared photos and letters that are the only evidence these men ever existed, until those fragile things, too, disappear, and the men they bring to mind vanish from memory altogether.
The sun shining down on these green fields of France
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance...
The trenches have vanished long under the plows,
No gas, no barbed wire, there's no guns firing now,
But here in this 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,
And whole generation were butchered and damned.
I remember—so vivdly—my own horror as my sons were forced when they turned 18, to register for the draft like every other young man that age. There's little chance that either would be drafted, but is anyone foolish enough to believe there will be a world without war? Maybe someday there will be—not in my lifetime, or that of my sons...but someday. Maybe someday.
Good, bad, and indifferent, this is my country—my home. For all her faults, flaws, and foolishness, I love her, and I would, indeed, fight to protect her. Underneath the boosterism, ballyhoo, and outright bullshit, there's an enormous energy and generosity here.
I've seen grad students thin enough to read through give their last $5 to homeless people, and I don't know anyone who wouldn't share with another creature—human or animal—in need. We have the freedom to choose for ourselves who and what we want to be, and to choose whatever means seem best to achieve that.
Are these things worth war? You tell me.
We've gone to war for hope, oddly enough. The hope of ending war for everyone, and making freedom a reality for ourselves, and others. Has anyone ever gone off to war actually believing that his would really be the last war ever? Anyone doing so must surely be living in a dream world.
I can't stop a bomber, or a war, and I don't intend to try.
So how will I fight back? Not with a gun. Not with a war plane. Not with a hidden bomb, or a suicide bomb gizmo. Not with hatred, or with violence. I can refuse to be cowed. I can refuse to be isolationist. I can fight back with kindness, and assistance to anyone I find who needs it.
I can, and I will.
I can't help but wonder, now Willie McBride,
All those who lie here, do they 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, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, was all done in vain,
For, young Willie McBride, it's all happened again—
And again, and again, and again and again.
Did they beat the drum slowly? Did they play the fife lowly,
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play the last post and chorus?
Did the pipes play the "Flowers of the Forest"?