Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The guns below

I was watching Aston Villa's truly comical demolition of Bolton Wanderers last Saturday, when I noticed something odd about Villa's rather unpleasant "claret" (read: venous blood red) and sky-blue uniforms.

A small red rosette-thing on the front of the shirt.

I had noticed something similar on the shirts of the teams meeting at Stamford Bridge that day;...the same little rose.

And I remembered that it wasn't a rose.

It was a poppy.

Today we here in the U.S. will do our usual half-assed little remembrance of the end of the Great War. The day just doesn't seem to mean much to us; we call it "Veteran's Day", denaturing even the very name of the occasion into a sort of generic WinCo-label title, as if showing by our contrariness our indifference to the symbolism of the day and what it meant.

When you look for the difference between the "two nations separated by a common language" you can't really look much further than here.

In Great Britain the sports teams wear these little flowers, public officials and policemen, ordinary citizens, for weeks leading up to the two minutes of silence that fall on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year. Bells will toll, soldiers and children march to the memorials and graves and lay their flowers down for the wind to riffle and carry off, silent messages to the dead men swallowed up by the unspeakable great dying.

Here we will wonder why the mail didn't come, and tsk with irritation that the bank and the passport office are closed.

I think I've said everything I need to say about the facile and meaningless "respect" we idly toss at uniforms without trying to understand what those uniforms mean. Instead let me quote the words of a man who believes in a hope and an eternity I do not:
"You all are thanking these men and women for doing things they wish they had never done.
You are thanking them for seeing things they wish they had never seen.
You are blessing them with a hell they wish they had never been part of."
We never seem to learn, do we? That "there never was a good war, or a bad peace."

Let us hope that some day we will.


Lisa said...

Almost every little village in England has a very visible memorial to those killed in war.

When I went over to look for lost relatives, I was frequently greeted by heartfelt comments about small kindnesses "the Yanks" had done for them or their families during The War.

When lives are not lived in a flurry of acquisition of meaningless garbage, such impressions retain primacy and remain crystal clear. We live in a society which reveres upgrades and disposability. It is not made for contemplation of deeper meanings.

But this is the truth: "That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were the windows to an entire universe, once."

Big Daddy said...

Based on Illiad's annual piece (or find the Nov 11 cartoons) the Canadians take it pretty seriously as well. Of course, they were heavily involved in the Great War, as Vimy Ridge and the Newfoundland Cemetery can attest.
It also goes some way to explaining Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery designs and why after almost a hundred years the commonwealth nations still take this very seriously while we seem to mark the occasion with sales at department stores. Perhaps if it was still called Armistice Day and veterans were honored on another day we might take it more seriously.

FDChief said...

BD: I think we expend all our patriotic and veteran-loving rounds on Memorial Day, hence the short-shrift that 11/11 gets.

FDChief said...

Lisa: I think one of the big differences between western Europeans and Americans is that we are fundamentally optimistic - we believe that if we just do good and believe that we'll get the Happy Ending. They've done good and believed and gotten the horror, instead.

Our optimism is part of what makes us so strong as a people and a nation, but it also stops us from seeing the dark and frightening parts of life, too. So we often don't learn the lessons we should from the horrors.

Ael said...

I think that late Fall is a better time of the year for Remembrance Day.

Standing motionless in freezing weather while frail old men and women lay wreaths at the memorial gives one a hint of sacrifice.

It is even better to be a gun number and have to stand still beside 2 and a half tons of bitterly cold steel as it sucks even the memory of warmth from you.

And then, after the ceremony, hot rum toddies at the Legion (veterans club) and listening to the veterans tell their stories.

No, it would not be the same at all to do it in the Spring, with bright sunshine, birds and flowers.

Lisa said...


Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright-sided" discusses this optimistic imperative. It seems to sell big in the U.S., this Norman Vincent Peale Power of Positive Thinking. And there is nothing wrong with hoping and working for the best, but without a realistic assessment of what can be and what has been, the constant "happy warrior" ethos is thin gruel.

Happy Veterans Day is such an odd wish.