Some serve, and live for us. Not all heroes are soldiers; and not all struggles are against our enemies elsewhere. Some heroes are founders and builders and farmers. Some are teachers and lawyers and thinkers. Some are mothers and fathers and friends. Today I'm thinking of men who went to war armed with ideas and vision, men and women who made America what it is because they wanted to make the wild land their own and to give hope and the rewards of effort to others who would if they could. Seekers, makers, poets. I remember.
Lord, grant them eternal rest; and let the perpetual light shine upon them.
Today I remember farmers and carpenters and boat-makers and track-layers and woodsmen and cattle ranchers and those who had children and gave birth to our nation. Today I remember ordinary folk who do ordinary and beautiful labor for us all in our nation.
"A successful military chieftain is hailed with admiration and applause, and monuments perpetuate his fame. But the bloodless pioneer of the wilderness, like the corn and cotton he causes to spring forth where it never grew before, attracts no notice.... No slaughtered thousands or smoking cities attest his devotion to the cause of human happiness, and he is regarded by the mass of the world as a humble instrument to pave the way for others." Stephen Austin. 1.
Even if I had two eye with which to see well, the relentless war of all against all, I wouldn't see it all, the microscopic death by the myriad eternally. Bugs too tiny and scenes too vast to grasp, I miss it mostly in my way through day by day. I know the slaughter of innocents, and I wait my time and turn, doing my part in the cosmic round till my turn comes. I feel no shame in my appetite for death and destruction. I like it, and I rejoice in it.
Wilfred Owen looked upon the world in the medium, and in the war saw the clouds of death cover his mates and fell them. While D.H. Lawrence hails poison gas, Owen wrote this poem:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of shells dropping softly behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jilt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. 2.
Only a fool would rush unbidden into war; and only a coward would rush away from fear and disregard for his fellows. But he who stands and fights and sees the horror of his fellows suffering would be a monster who couldn't care for their suffering. With that he carries on. Today he fights; tomorrow he builds anew. Tomorrow he cuts down forests and rips up land and churns pristine waters; he kills and kills and kills, and thinks not a thought as just inside the barn half a pigeon with a broken wing cries out as a rat eats its entrails. Life. If you had to see it, it'd drive you mad.
I don't know any bugs, and I don't think any bugs are friends of mine. I maybe kill a billion of them every day, and I really don't care. I'm sure if I could see my keyboard in the tiny I'd be sickened. I live with what I know and with what I can do for good, or maybe less harm than I'm capable of if I were unrestrained. The violence and the terror remain in spite of my and my good intentions. It is a cruel universe.
Karl Popper said in the "Postscript" to his autobiography Unended Quest:
"I know very well that much is wrong in our Western society. But I still have no doubt that it is the best that ever existed. And much that is wrong is due to its ruling religion. I mean the ruling religious belief that the social world that we live in is a kind of hell. This religion is spread by the intellectuals, especially those in the teaching profession and in the news media." 3.
There's all kind a critters that are killing all the time except when they take out time to make more critters that kill to replace those that die. Life is a hunger. America is a terrible place, you can see it, where bugs eat bugs and everything dies. I learned that long ago. I learned too that mine are mine and theirs are theirs and theirs will eat us if we let them. When it comes to peace I find I'm an atheist to the covered bones. To those who make it possible for me and mine, for those uncovered and buried and laid away for Nature's endless feast, "Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis." Lord, grant them eternal rest; and let the perpetual light shine upon them.
I remember some.
1. Stephen Austin, quoted in H.W. Brands, Lone Star Nation. New York: Anchor Books; 2005; p. 474.
2. Latin verse from Horace, "The Odes," Book iii, 2.13
"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo."
"How sweet and fitting it is to die for your native land:
Death pursues the man who flees,
spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs
Of battle-shy youths."