Yesterday I sat down to write yet another Memorial Day post (at least my 4th) for Murderati. Every start ended with the same sentiment: There are still U.S. soldiers out there fighting and dying. There are still wars with too much “collateral damage.” Wars still flatten villages, rip families apart, and result in tragedy for many someones. The following poem was written three years ago and I’m running it for the third time on this national holiday. It’s now a tradition. I hope when you read it, you’ll understand why.
Somewhere today . . .
Somewhere today a young woman sits in a muddy blind, her uniform wet through.
She knows she needs to pay attention to what’s happening, that she has to distinguish between a clap of thunder and the burst of a gun.
But all she can do is think of her baby graduating from kindergarten back home . . . without her.
Somewhere today a boy reaches for an automatic with only one hand.
The wind blows dust into his teeth and eyes.
He manages to prop his weapon against a sand-filled sack, using the stump of his other arm—the one where the rebels sliced it off at the elbow—to keep the rifle steady.
Somewhere today a mother waits on the tarmac, watching the military plane land.
It bounces two times on the runway.
Her son would’ve laughed at that.
Through the blur of tired and salty tears, she sees them lift the unadorned casket.
Somewhere today a father stares at the last letter his daughter sent him.
He has memorized every word, read between every line so often it has merged with the next in a confused gray.
Three weeks and nothing.
Not a note, not an email, no text.
He looks to the blue sky and wonders where she is, if she’s all right.
Somewhere today a young woman is shot in a border town
– wrong place, wrong time –
the “collateral damage” of a drug war she’s never played a part in.
Somewhere today a group of young men claim a village for their tribe
kicking children’s toys aside in the abandoned huts of former friends.
Somewhere today war will blast dreams away
cut lives short
and make sorrows long.
we’ll have no need for this holiday.
Thank you. I'm sharing.
Doesn't matter how many times you run this, Pari, it's still just as powerful and just as apt.
Thank you Pari. My Blue Star Mothers banner is hanging in the front window.
Here's a somewhere we don't need that holiday. It's really hard for me to grasp why this means so much to all Americans, when it means absolutely nothing to me. I mean no disrespect, I hope you know what I mean. I was seeing some other day that besides sending a few troops to help the Allies in WWII, Brazil hasn't fought a war since 1870. War is not a part of our society, soldiers are not something important to our history, the valuing of this post is not something of our culture, so, to me, this is all just very interesting.
You have Finados, though? Maybe one memorial day for all the dead is enough?
Reine, yes, we do. It wasn't for the dead that I meant, though, it was for the Military. We just don't do wars, we don't have veterans, that doesn't mean anything to us. Like, to you guys, soldiers are heroes, great patriots. To me, that doesn't really mean anything. As it doesn't to the Brazilian society as a whole.
Memorial day for the dead — all dead — is a different thing. Even if we didn't have that, we'd still not have a memorial day for military like that because it has no meaning to us, that was my point.
Even if we don't need a memorial day someday, I hope we still honor it. I forget who said this, but:
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
Pari, it's lovely. Thank you for posting the poem.
For anyone who loves books and wants to give one to a troop, come to:
You can start at day one's participating author blogs, and for each comment you leave, that author will give you a free e-book and one will be sent to a troop. There are also Kindle Giveaways going on – all money raised buys Kindles to give away (one to commenters, the rest to troops).
Books are the number one thing requested by the troops for "care packages."
I'm in day 2's group and would love to give more books away today.
Thank you too.
I really was prepared to write a different post today, but I looked at the poem and it still says what I want to say about this somber holiday.
You're welcome. I'm sure you fly that banner proudly. We've got some yellow ribbons in our neighborhood.
You raise some interesting points. I think wars are far more common than people realize, that's why I included the child whose hand was amputated. There are the public wars — the ones you're thinking of when you read this post — but there are also the civil wars, the attempts to eradicate certain cultures (such as the Caribes) and others that also fall under MY observance of this day.
I'm right there with you.
What a lovely thought and action — especially today.
Amen. God Bless our troops.
It's not that I hang the mothers banner with pride but in fear of losing my son and grief for all sons and daughters gone. I am not proud of any war or killing but the willingness to do what sometImes must be done to protect innocent life. I am horrified by much of the death that we as a nation have caused, while I strongly believe there are times when we act rightly in defense of ourselves or others, as my uncles and father did in WWII in Europe. And that is the only good thing I have to say about my father. I don't cherish his memory, but once a year I can remember one good thing he did.
Thank you so much for clarifying your position. I'm strongly in your court about wars and about those sons and daughters gone. My prayers are with all who fight now — and with all of their families who wait for their safe return.
Thanks for the poem, and for your commitment to a life without senseless butchery. But I do not see all combat as senseless, and I admire and am grateful for the sacrifices of our troops and their families.
William James, on the even of WW I, wrote an essay titled "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he argued that until pacifism embraces the values that militarists consider so essential — discipline, sacrifice, selflessness, physical endurance, e.g. — it is bound to be eclipsed by the rugged, daring spirit enlivened by combat. Here's a partial excerpt:
Reflective apologists for war at the present day all take it religiously. It is a sort of sacrament. Its profits are to the vanquished as well as to the victor; and quite apart from any question of profit, it is an absolute good, we are told, for it is human nature at its highest dynamic. Its "horrors" are a cheap price to pay for rescue from the only alternative supposed, of a world of clerks and teachers, of co-education and zo-ophily, of "consumer's leagues" and "associated charities," of industrialism unlimited, and feminism unabashed. No scorn, no hardness, no valor any more! Fie upon such a cattleyard of a planet!
So far as the central essence of this feeling goes, no healthy minded person, it seems to me, can help to some degree parting of it. Militarism is the great preserver of our ideals of hardihood, and human life with no use for hardihood would be contemptible. Without risks or prizes for the darer, history would be insipid indeed; and there is a type of military character which every one feels that the race should never cease to breed, for everyone is sensitive to its superiority. The duty is incumbent on mankind, of keeping military character in stock — if keeping them, if not for use, then as ends in themselves and as pure pieces of perfection, — so that Roosevelt's weaklings and mollycoddles may not end by making everything else disappear from the face of nature….
So long as antimilitarists propose no substitute for war's disciplinary function, no moral equivalent of war, analogous, as one might say, to the mechanical equivalent of heat, they fail to realize the full inwardness of the situation. And as a rule they do fail. The duties, penalties, and sanctions pictured in the utopias they paint are all too weak and tame to touch the military-minded… The whole atmosphere of present-day utopian literature tastes mawkish and dishwatery to people who still keep a sense for life's more bitter flavors. It suggests, in truth, ubiquitous inferiority.
I do not believe that peace either ought to be or will be permanent on this globe, unless the states, pacifically organized, preserve some of the old elements of army-discipline. A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy… [W]e must still subject ourselves collectively to those severities which answer to our real position upon this only partly hospitable globe. We must make new energies and hardihoods continue the manliness to which the military mind so faithfully clings. Martial virtues must be the enduring cement; intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command, must still remain the rock upon which states are built — unless, indeed, we wish for dangerous reactions against commonwealths, fit only for contempt, and liable to invite attack whenever a centre of crystallization for military-minded enterprise gets formed anywhere in their neighborhood….
The martial type of character can be bred without war. Strenuous honor and disinterestedness abound everywhere. Priests and medical men are in a fashion educated to it, and we should all feel some degree of its imperative if we were conscious of our work as an obligatory service to the state. We should be owned, as soldiers are by the army, and our pride would rise accordingly. We could be poor, then, without humiliation, as army officers now are. The only thing needed henceforward is to inflame the civic temper as part history has inflamed the military temper.
The entire essay can be read here: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Moral_Equivalent_of_War
Have a peaceful day:
Or, put differently (this time by Yeats):
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
David, I don't think all war is senseless. WWII is a good example — and personal — of why it can be necessary. But I do also think that it +can+ be senseless and far more destructive than it needs to be.
Am I pacifist? No.
Am I an idealist about this world of ours and the chances for peace without great personal sacrifice? No.
Do I admire much about the "militarism?" Yes.
Do I still think that many wars are utterly senseless? Yes.
The poem was stunning. Thank you.
I'm sorry if my tone suggested I was picking a fight. (Ironic, I suppose, given the topic.) And your response underscores how much we're in accord — which, I'm sure, surprises neither of us.
Lovely poem. Touching in so many ways. I also wish for us to no longer need this holiday somewhere someday… Wish being the operate word… Thank you for sharing this! Hugs to you!
Pari, good tradition.
Thanks for the link Billie, will get on and send a book. Excellent way to celebrate this holiday.
All good sentiments, — it's an emotional time, being at war. And not all wars are fought externally — ghettos, drug wars (as your poem points out), violent conflict…is it inevitable?
My protagonist is a veteran so I am steeped in the research and that life, hard to come back after the war…query whether anyone really survives war (this Sunday's NYT's underscores that thought). and it was George Santayana that said it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana
Amen, Pari. Amen.
I didn't think there was a fight there; we were discussing and I merely clarified my stance . . .
I've been watching ARMY WIVES lately and think it depicts some of the real emotional experience of at least some servicemen. I know it's full of Peyton Place-isms, but I like the balance it strikes. What do you think of it?
I can't believe I missed you the first time; it's probably because you're a woman of so few words <g>. But Amen to that.
And . . . JD, Amen again.
You brought me to tears… this is very beautiful and a reminder that today is more than an extra day off from work
Thank you so much. Your comment is an honor.
Pari, if I may…
— Am I an idealist about this world of ours and the chances for peace without great personal sacrifice?
It's worked well enough for Brazil and a lot of out neighbors here in South America. I don't see why I wouldn't work for the rest of the world if they just tried harder.
I really don't mean to offend, but this is truly how I feel…
No offense taken. However, many countries that are peaceful now were born of violence. Many that appear peaceful have tremendous conflict and troubles within that threaten to erupt.
I'm feeling very Tao about this all right now — you know, the yin-yang symbol — with the balance always shifting and each side of that circle containing the seeds of the other.
Pari, there's nothing like that here. We were colonized by Portugal in 1500, and it could have been bloody violent, but it wasn't as bad. While the US was a settlement colonization, Brazil was an exploration colonization, so, they came over, took the gold, the trees, the sugar cane, the coffee and everything else that they could make money off. There were battles, but they were small. Brazil had no strength, money or power to fight back, so, the South Native Americans never did. They mostly let themselves be subdued. Even our independence, there were revolutions inside, of course, but it was a member of the Portuguese Royal Court who declared independence for us, not the Brazilian people themselves. What I mean is… we've been pacifists from the start.
Mind you, there's a growing civil war situation, drug cartels and things like that. But these are internal problems (and not nearly as bad as Mexico or Venezuela, for example). But, in a world wide situation, as in living within the world and relating to other peoples and nations, we've been pacifists, so, I have this very strong feeling that war is senseless and there's a better way to make things work, because it's what I've seen happening my whole life, and in the history of my country. You know we're the greatest emergent nation in the world which has no nuclear power and there's absolutely no intention of ever getting it? Yeah.
Thank you for sharing. Given the news that more Australian troops have died in Afghanistan today, and the fact that my best friend is in the military, this poem really hit home. War is such a tragedy and I feel it is so important to honour those who gave their lives for our country, whether it be ANZAC day, or Memorial Day.
Barbie . . . interesting point of view given Brazil's history and today's struggles. My dear friend Nancy has done a great deal of research in Brazil. She is an anthropologist and travels world wide studying the social phenomena of violence. Perhaps this would interest you: http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/14245
Here is another from the UC Berkeley News: http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/04/30_organs.shtml UC Berkeley is where Nancy is a professor. This is not an internal problem.
Lovely, Pari. Thanks.
Pari, Haven't seen ARMY WIVES but I don't have a TV (I know, and I'm such a big sports fan…that's what the local is for) but I'll see if I can stream it…sounds interest. Although my veteran is a young woman. (I suppose she could have a wife…)
Thank you, Pari. Just. . .thank you.
What a haunting poem, Pari. My first time reading it 🙂