Monday, March 04, 2013

Sons of the Widow

Over at the MilPub, fellow trooper PF Khans bemoans our fellow citizens' indifference to our Army brothers' plight;
"(I)t just really irritates me to death when we as a nation have a discussion about the military without mentioning that yes, we are still at war. There's hell to pay for this sort of behavior. And the cost isn't being distributed at all. The question for me in these sorts of areas is and always has been how long can this last? And when the music stops, how do I get a chair?"
Now I'll be the first one to say that the yellow-bumper-magnet "patriotism" has irked the shit out of me since 2001 and still does.


I've also studied something of the history of war and soldiers. And the history of my country at war. And the sad truth is; what we're seeing now, today, in the vast empty expanse of public indifference and ignorance is by far and away more typical of the "American Way of War".

The thing is, PF and I - and probably you, too - suffer from growing up under the shadow of that immense irregularity, World War Two.

WW2 is almost unique in U.S. history; only the Civil War and, to a lesser extent, World War One, managed to get under the American public's skin to any real extent. Both World Wars because of their sheer size, and because the U.S. had to mobilize the entire nation (to a degree; WW1 "patriotism" was as much about the Wilson Administration's fear that Americans wouldn't hate them on Germany enough as it was genuine kill-the-Kaiser emotion), the Civil War because...well, look at it. It's hard to avoid a war being fought inside your own country. Like love and a cough, it can't really be hidden.

But WW2, that vast one-off, got us thinking of war as something "The People" did; we had a draft, everyone knew someone in the Army, or the Navy, or a Marine. Dad worked for the USO, Mom at the war plant, and Buzzy and Sissy collected old pans to Scrap a Jap.

That carried on into Korea and Vietnam, too.

But no more.

We're back to the way it was in 1845, and 1899, and the Twenties and Thirties, too; back to nameless grunts out fighting imperial war for national policy, and unless you have a brother or a father in the service, or are or were in yourself, nobody back home really gives a shit.

And that's the way empires play that game and always have. The thing that, more than anything else, convinces me that the United States circa 2012 really IS an empire (albeit a very odd sort of one without formal colonies or satraps and viceroys ruling over the lesser breeds without the Law) is the way we're back to playing the imperial game. The British did it for centuries. Do you think the British gentleman, reading about Our Heroic Lads bashing wogs, knew or gave a shit about those Heroic Lads as individuals? As people?

Nonsense. They were props for the Imperial Play; the great pageant of the Rule of The Great and the Good, nameless and faceless myrmidons whose job was to smash the demmed fuzzy-wuzzies or, if defeated, die nobly for Queen and Country so that the outraged Briton could call for the destruction of those frightful wogs (or niggers, or whoever the enemy de jour happened to be...)

Do you think anyone outside the families of the men killed in the yearly "Afghan Expeditions" cared? Or, for that matter, even bothered to know who had died, or lost an arm, or eyes, or had their balls shot away in the friggin' "Expeditions Against The Bizoti Orakzais and Black Mountain Hazaras" in 1869? Or the one against the Dawaris four years later? Or the one against the Dafflaa two years after that. Or...

You get the idea.

I'm sorry, man. But that's the way this game gets played. And you need to look around and realize; if you ain't the one in charge of playing it, you ARE the game.

And that is, and always has been, and always will be the lot of the sons of the widow.

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 sabers, 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 and 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 the 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!


Lisa said...

You are exactly right -- it is the imperial's game; the particulars may change (but that much), but human nature remains the same.

What do we have -- a few thousand years of written history? Barney, Fred and Bam-Bam on the cartoon The Flintstones were JUST perfect: we're in the "doing" phase, learning how to corral and codify what we do (destroy and build). We've hardly had a chance to contemplate the implications, and change ... that may not be our lot.

plus ca change ...

FDChief said...

But what makes this profoundly depressing to me, Lisa, is that while this has typically been the default setting for both humans and their socieities it doesn't HAVE to be that way. And arranging things so as to do the most good for the most people (rather than the wealthiest or the most powerful) might very well have a powerfully beneficial effect on those people's lives; decent work at a decent wage in decently wholesome places to live, work, and play.

I won't argue that people won't take every opportunity to fuck that up. But we seem determined to make our lives as dangerous, hectic, fraught, unstable, and perilous as possible by placing power and responsibility in the hands of people who treasure and exalt power and wealth and primacy over all. How the hell that works out well I have no idea.

But the U.S. circa 2013 seems bound and determined to make itself into a narrow oligarchy and a broad lumpen mass, and I have no fucking idea why.