Archive for November 11th, 2010

In Country

(I posted this three years ago for Veterans Day over on the Great Pumpkin. I post it here, in a somewhat different form, for this Veterans Day.

(This one’s for possum.)

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the finest piece of public art in the history of this country. The vision of a haunted ex-Army infantryman, realized by a 21-year-old Asian refugee, The Wall has become a place of pilgrimage, a secular shrine, something unprecedented, unrivaled in our country. Tens of millions of people have brought hundreds of thousands of mementos, gifts, talismans, offerings to The Wall.

Among them, this letter:

Dear Nick:

The little baby you never saw turned 17 in August. She looks like Scotty now; she used to look like you when she was younger.

This was all such a waste. Maybe your sacrifice means this won’t happen again.


Oh, vain hope. Not to be, not to be . . . .



“They Can Not Surrender To Aircraft”

Leamas saw. He saw the long road outside Rotterdam, the long straight road beside the dunes, and the stream of refugees moving along it; saw the little airplane miles away, the procession stop and look toward it; and the plane coming in, neatly over the dunes; saw the chaos, the meaningless hell, as the bombs hit the road.

—John Le Carre, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

As I mentioned here, the Wikileaks release of documents pertaining to Afghanistan held no surprises for those who have attentively followed Operation Enduring Fiefdom. Similarly, the more recent Wikileaks release of documents pertaining to Iraq holds no surprises for those who have attentively followed Operation Iraqi Fiefdom.

Still, Wikileaks is to be commended for making these documents public, and those who leaked them are to be commended for doing so. In the world to come, these last will deserve some sort of medal.

I find that what has struck me most, so far, is something that was not even in the Iraqi document dump itself, but instead a paragraph closing a New York Times piece regarding the release. To wit:

Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The trench warfare of World War I remains the zenith—or, more properly, the nadir—of militarized madness, in the sense that day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, men were ordered to run across open ground directly into machine-gun fire. This continued until a sufficient number of men in both the French and German armies walked away and went home: they simply would no longer put up with such mad shit.

But now we must confront the fact that WWI seems, in another sense, to have marked a sort of high-water mark of non-barbarism. Because at least most of the people who were killed in that war signed up to die in it. Nowadays, by a ratio of 10-1, those whose lives are snuffed out in war are innocents.


When I Worked

November 2010
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