Veterans Day

Wilfred OwenI honor the service that individuals make to the collective. However, when Veterans Day rolls around, I have a hard time thinking of service. Instead, I think about sacrifice—even more: useless sacrifice. Almost without exception (and even those exceptions are muddled), wars are nothing but turf battles where weak men die for the sake of powerful men’s interests. When I think of war, I don’t think of heroic men in a life-and-death struggle; I think of two ant colonies destroying themselves because it is in their DNA.

Thus, I think of Veterans Day as a somber occasion. It is a time to remember those victims who have been harmed by our pathological sociology. The normal kinds of Veterans Day celebrations of hubristic nationalism are part of the problem and only lead to more victims.

On this day it seems natural to salute all those who have been harmed by our war making. It doesn’t matter to me whether they did so voluntarily or not. The truth is that I don’t think anyone really does this voluntarily. (Of course, I don’t believe in free will either.)

In honor of all these people, I offer you a poem by Wilfred Owen—himself a victim of war: World War I. He was killed just one week before the end of that war. And as you see in the poem, he understood the nature of war. (For the record, “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori” means, “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” It is from one of Horace’s Odes, which are often lovely but from time to time nationalistic and horrible.)

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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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 flound’ring 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 jolt, 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.


Without life, there is no chance for justice.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

9 thoughts on “Veterans Day

  1. I appreciate your views and I agree in part. (I post a short "tweet" [I HATE that…."tweet"….] about it.) As I said in that "tweet" (ick!), as a veteran, I do take offense with a portion of your comments. My grandfather served in WWI, my father, uncle, and assorted relatives in WWII, Korea, Vietnam (and I REALLY take issue with the whole Vietnam "conflict"), and, of course, my own service. You are correct that they were "turf wars"…..the Germans were certainly after turf, as was Saddam Hussein (Kuwait). Of the surviving Jews that I have met, as well as what seems to be the majority of people of Kuwait….they were pleased to 1) survive, and 2) keep their homeland…..for the most part. The only "turf" of which I am aware that has been permanently "occupied" throughout the world is the land in which our dead have been buried trying to protect and free people who didn’t ask to be invaded. Don’t misunderstand, I hate war and wish there were no such thing. Imagine the peaceful good the "military machine" could do for humanity with all of the technology. The problem is, people have existed throughout history, and will continue to pop up in the future, who simply will not allow the rest of us to live peacefully, free to pursue our imaginiations and dreams. So, please be mindful when you call us "weak men…"

  2. (Veteran’s Day…Con’t from Twitter…)

    I’m not trying to argue anything. I don’t like to argue, either in debate or "heated discussion", but, yes, I think a military is necessary for a free society….at least as free as free can be without spiraling into a chaotic democracy…(mob rule). It is unfortunate that a force for such destruction is necessary but, as I said in one of the "tweets", there are people in the world who simply WILL NOT allow the rest of us to live in peace, therefore, we must have a deterrent, something to make them think twice. As I said somewhere down the road, it is a shame that we cannot turn the full force of the American military and its technology to bear on our own internal problems, to help build up society, to help people in time of need (Katrina, Sandy, Westboro Baptist Church…)that sort of thing. We shouldn’t be "nation building" or otherwise trying to tell others how to live and behave, at least until we have solved our own problems, ended the violence within our own society, ended hunger within our own borders, etc. When we perfect ourselves, THEN we can help others….if asked to do so.

    As for wars in our lifetime, and neglecting the myriad clandestine involvement around the globe, well, I think all doubt about Vietnam has pretty much been resolved: it was a real stinker; Grenada was essentially a joint exercise; I’m not sure that it even constituted as a "conflict"; Operation "Just Cause" falls into the same category as Grenada; Operation Desert Shield/Storm, well, I think we did a good thing for the people of Kuwait: of course, in some ways we very well may have shot ourselves in the foot in that it allowed al Qaeda to fester in a broader region; Afghanistan was simply to let off steam: after 9/11, we needed to kick someone’s, anyone’s, @$$. Period. Iraq, in my opinion, was retaliation for Saddam Hussein placing a bounty on Geo. H. W. Bush; his son understandably didn’t take kindly to that. The problem as I see it with these military actions in the Middle East is that we are fighting an ideology, a long ingrained belief system, and we’re fighting them with the Geneva Convention while they are fighting with live ordinance. (The purpose in war is to kill people, blow things up, and to completely demoralize them and kill their will to fight.) We’re not doing that. We’re fueling the fire. I realize that this isn’t going to sit well with you and most of your followers….wait, I don’t think I like that term, "followers". Perhaps I shall substitute "tweeters" for that. Anyway, IF…IF…IF we’re gonna’ get involved in killing people, do it "right". Take the gloves off and kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out. Otherwise, don’t start killing people.

    My personal opinion is this: people shouldn’t be fighting in the first place.

    I’d like to think that, as human beings, we CAN work together PEACEFULLY to resolve disputes/disagreements/etc. But I’m just naive that way. I think I’ve told you this somewhere down the line, human beings are the worst species to ever grace planet Earth. We are the only species in the history of existence that systematically maims, tortures, and kills its own simply for personal pleasure and profit…not survival, profit. As such, we suck. I don’t particularly care for us much. (don’t take that personally)

    Back to your original tweet and "weak men", I think I understand where you’re going with the statement but try to understand this: regardless of the official government rationale for military action, far more of us (military personnel) see and understand a greater, more noble purpose in most of our missions. We see what the press doesn’t show the public back home, what it doesn’t TELL the folks back home. We are most certainly not weak. We may bring "it" back home with us; PTSD. Many of us have been beaten, bruised, & scarred….but we’re not weak. Some of us are "broken", but we’re not weak. Steel and diamonds can be broken, but they’re not weak. We may be soft, mushy, and pliable…..but we’re not weak.

  3. @ThrashMikki – First, thanks for the excellent comment.

    I see now. I knew when I wrote "weak" that I probably should have clarified that. I didn’t mean it as it appears to come off. What I’m talking about are "powerful" men like Saddam Hussein who use that power to force hundreds of thousands of "weak" men to fight in wars they would not otherwise. The fact is that one of the great bits of leverage that "powerful" men have are the families of the "weak" men. And this is what makes the sacrifice of these men so profound. It is also what makes men like Saddam Hussein weak and pathetic in my view.

    I am very much against war, but I am not a pacifist. In fact, I think the best argument against libertarianism is the "barbarians at the gates." It’s all fine to think that we don’t need a government until someone with a lot of guns shows up and forces us to have a government–[i]his[/i] government.

    Having a strong military is primarily a good idea in that it prevents you from having to use it. Unfortunately, some cannot help but use it. I also think that having too powerful an army necessarily leads to conflict.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the Gulf War. But regardless, the Iraq War had no purpose. That doesn’t take away from the soldiers who lost their lives or were otherwise harmed. But it does make them victims and I think "powerful" men like Bush, Cheney, and the rest should have to answer for that.

  4. @Thrash – I think I’ve clarified the "weak" thing before you wrote this last comment so I’ll let it sit. But I’m interested in you thoughts on what I wrote.

    I don’t think that humans are so bad as you claim. I don’t think we do these horrible things more than say chimps. But there are more of us and we do a much better job of documenting our horrors. I would recommend watching the TED talk that I posted earlier today. Not only is talk a good example of humans at their best, the audience is diverse. I even saw some Arabs enjoying it.

    I still believe that war is part of diplomacy. We can "win" any war with a few tactical nukes. But that isn’t the kind of win we are looking for. My guess is that you would agree with me. In our muddled modern world, it is hard to know what to think. War isn’t just this battle between two armies. In fact, it isn’t even mostly that.

    My bigger concern is how we use the military to help corporate interests all over the world. This strikes me as something we will see ever more of and I don’t like it. It’s tending too much toward a William Gibson novel.

  5. Those who are fond of referring to the "military-industrial complex" ain’t seen nothin’ yet, I’m afraid. And I hate to think that my brothers (and sisters) are gong to become part of it. In the beginning, they will think that they are serving the greater good. Before you know it, the "greater good" isn’t for the common folk. I happened to catch a portion of an interesting interview this morning by historian Wm. Federer,
    ( that was essentially saying that the truly earnest push in the direction you are referring to is now in full-swing. I hate to think that my children are going to grow up in it.

    As for humans, we’ll have to agree to disagree: I don’t like us. My experiences have, for the most part, been negative. That’s not to say that we aren’t capable of great good or that there aren’t many examples of that good. I just think our evils out-number our good….it may not out-weigh it. I wish I could have more faith in humanity…..

  6. All I know is that while I’m asleep, I’m never afraid, and I have no hopes, no struggles, no glories — and bless the man who invented sleep, a cloak over all human thought, food that drives away hunger, water that banishes thirst, fire that heats up cold, chill that moderates passion, and, finally, universal currency with which all things can be bought, weight and balance that brings the shepherd and the king, the fool and the wise, to the same level. There’s only one bad thing about sleep, as far as I’ve ever heard, and that is that it resembles death, since there’s very little difference between a sleeping man and a corpse”
    ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quijote de La Mancha

    I understand you are a fan…..and you’ve read this a hundred times by now:)

  7. @Thrash – Yes, I am a fan. And I have found Cerventes’ glorification of his own war experiences fascinating. But then, I think war traditionally has a certain nobility. I’m afraid that what is best and worst in us is much the same or at least hopelessly muddled. Comrades can show the greatest human traits toward each other in the service of the worst human traits toward those other guys. Very interesting.

  8. Well, there’s not much thought in it: you save the guy who is helping keep you alive and you shoot the guy who is trying to shoot you. I don’t see any nobility it that particular aspect of war….or street fighting….or playground bullying.

    But yes, humans are a mixed bag of….. of what, exactly? Wasted cytoplasm?

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