As I imagine is true with most people, the ancestors I know best were soldiers. On my mother's side, her bloodline came to America in the form of a Hessian mercenary in the Revolutionary War, who came to fight for the British, but stayed on. Her genetic father was mustard-gassed fighting for the U.S. in WWI. My father and his four brothers fought for this country in WWII; all but one fought overseas, and all came back alive. I shall forever remain proud of all of those men, and for the women who supported them. Although the cause and the justification varied greatly in kind and in value, all were brave men and did what they had to do.
So some of you haven't been happy with some of my posts on the warfare of modern times. And it's true that my politics, as it were, have changed a good bit since I began these Diaries, notably in the last year. I think that I've become more reconciled to the inevitability of war; it is, at the bottom, an inextricable part of man's history, and ironically perhaps, of his civilization. As long as there has been Man, there has been War, and I believe there always will be. It's in his nature.
Yesterday morning I finished reading the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, with text by Bruce Catton. (If you follow that link, I think it's a different edition; mine was a two-volume set published in the sixties). If, in this age of digital propaganda, you want to read some real history, I suggest you go find a book - preferably an old book. The version of the Civil War that I hear is being taught in the public schools, where it is taught at all, is scarcely recognizable. Your children's teachers will tell you that the war was fought to free the slaves, which is was not.
You'll hear some old Southerners still arguing about who was right in that war; it's a bit late for that, and most sides had their reasons, neither was ready for war, and soldiers were misled a bit on both sides back then, too. Soldiers probably always have been. At least, in the day of my tribal ancestors in Europe, the chief who "declared" the war usually led his soldiers into battle. It's been a long time since the men who made wars had to fight them, or even since their sons had to fight, and that's the biggest shame of modern war.
But regardless of what you think of the screaming Secessionists in South Carolina who really made the rift final that led to the Civil War, there's no doubt that as to what the soldiers in the South were fighting for. Union soldiers were called up as an invasion force; the Southern soldiers were fighting to defend their homes. Under equipped and greatly outnumbered, and for the most part badly led, the Confederates won almost every battle but still lost the War.
It's really not at all hard for me to say where my sympathies lie here. I have two direct ancestors on my father's side, at least, who fought in the War; the father was killed after his own discharge, taking supplies to his soldier son's embattled and under supplied company near Chattanooga - on horseback from Warren County through the mountains. As a legal matter, I think the Southern states' right to secede from the Union was clear. And while the soldiers on each side fought bravely, how could anyone forget how Sherman re-invented Total War for the modern age with this march to the sea? At least Goebbels was honest about his motives!
I graduated high school in 1975, when the disaster of Vietnam was still fresh in everyone's minds and the military was not popular. Joining up was just not something you considered unless you couldn't go to college or couldn't get a job; and there were plenty of jobs. I fell into a lucky window of just a few years, of males who never even had to register for Selective Service. Would I have felt differently in a different time? Perhaps. I do know that the spectre of Vietnam was a dreaded one for almost everyone I knew. I would in know way denigrate the honor, courage or nobility of anyone who fought in that war; it's the people who sent you there, with whom I have a problem.
After Vietnam, bypassing Carter's and Reagan's minor excursions, by the next time the U.S. went to War, it had all gone to bad. Both Gulf Wars have been fought for money -- foreign money at that, lining the pockets of the warmongers. And there may be worse, more sinister forces than simply greed in play, I haven't yet decided. But assuredly, the soldiers who have been sent there (and yes, even the contractors who've had quite a few pieces of silver lain in their silk purses) have been used. Regardless of who or what you believe is ultimately responsible for these crimes against all of humanity, you need go no deeper than Dick Cheney and Haliburton to see who pulls the strings a few levels up from the soldiers. And be ashamed.
So please, on this Memorial Day, do honor and respect those who fought and died in years past for your liberty. Memorial Day was begun as a tribute to Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, and expanded after WWII as an occasion to honor all of our veterans, which is appropriate, I think. But don't stop at those who fought for the American flag. Honor your Confederate ancestors if you have them (and remember Jefferson Davis' birthday is June 3!). The photo at the top of this entry is from Carnton Plantation near Franklin, TN, site of a really stupid battle where lot of men died for nothing; such is the nature of War. That would be a good place to go today.
But, please: If your home, your family, your tribe are attacked, defend them with all your might. Fight for what you know is right. And learn to tell right from wrong. Know when you're being used. And when that happens, fight not the targets that the evil men chose for you, but the evil men themselves.
And now my favorite song about war, courtesy of the Dropkick Murphys...