Sunday, June 14, 2009

God and the Soldier we adore...

We sort of hijacked a very worthwhile discussion over at "buggieboy" about the hard times that veteran troopers of the U.S. fights in south-central Asia have had after returning to the supposed safety of the Land of the Big PX.

I don't have much to ad to enlighten or inform, other than to wish that the vicious neglect and callous indifferent to the plight of those who have given their youth, their strength and their hopes in service to a nation that considers them a commodity and a people who prefers their own trivial pleasures was a new and unanticipated thing.

Here's an observation from over 100 years ago discussing the same problem:

"The Last of the Light Brigade"

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an, we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made-"
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

R. Kipling


Lisa said...

Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth
--Will Rogers

sheerahkahn said...

Isn't it strange though that we revel in the worship of heros' that we systematically fail to follow through on the social quid pro quo that goes with it?
On the greater order of things many people do not comprehend the role of the hero in society.
A hero has many praise worthy attributes, but his main function is that he or she did something so out of the ordinary, so beyond the comfort zone that all of us live in that we marvel in communion at the audacity of that one person who dared to be different.
Heros' live to inspire us to do the same, and yet.../sigh
The tragedy of the hero in our culture is much like the dawning revelation that Beowulf's followers had when they failed him.
That failure took the shape of Beowulf's honoring the traditional role of King and mead hall, supplying his men with arms, food, and shelter. And all that he asked in return is that they have his back when the situation came...and it did...and his followers...failed him.
Beowulf died as a heroic king fulfilling his role for both his position and his men. Alas, the same could not be said of his men.
So, as is in the story, so are we now, berift of heroic leadership because we choose to use words to honor our heros' rather than deeds to show our commitment to support them.
The American people, represented by Congress, both House and Senate, have shown the depth of their support for the hero's they so proclaim to love.
Were the deeds of that honor water, a pocket mouse would die of thirst.
No wonder our "heros'" are so embittered...we don't have their backs when we should...why should they continue to fulfill their role?

Lisa said...

"Were the deeds of that honor water, a pocket mouse would die of thirst."

Yes. It is as though we walk through life in a collective amnesia, suffering from ADD which is promoted by almost every institution in modern life.

Morality -- as in a deep, personal guiding light -- is a quaint notion relegated to the times we play dress up on Sunday.

Pluto said...

Kipling is nothing short of amazing. He uses the blunt tool we call English with incredible skill.

Ranks up there with Poe and Shakespeare (who probably borrowed a lot of his best lines) for sheer talent.

Nice summation of Beowulf and the tragedy of heroes in our culture, Sheera.

I like the new picture of you Lisa.

Lisa said...


Kipling is amazing. And thank you -- it was time for a Summer shot.

I am too hot to be looking at me in a hoodie (heat index: 105-107 today + humid.) I'd rather be thinking of the cool CA coast.

Publius said...

I hate to admit this, but after I came back from Vietnam the second time, I essentially said, "Fuck the American people." Took me a long time to get over most of it, but there is always a part of me that despises certain people.

Be prepared. You may see some hostility from today's vets, too. They have the same problem we Vietnam guys and the Korea guys had. Not very many going off to fight the "nation's war." Shit, man, it isn't the "nation's war." It belongs to the guys doing the heavy lifting. Very few people in this country have done any heavy lifting recently. It was same during Vietnam and Korea. I golf regularly with a group of about 12 guys, all of whom are in my age bracket. Two of us served in Vietnam. Two out of 12. It's worse today.

WW1 guys got screwed too. The only war generation that was taken care of was the WW2 crowd. And that's because there were so many of them they took over the joint.

Yet another problem with wars of choice, or "small wars," as some would have it.