Today being Memorial Day, it might be fitting to speak a bit about military service.
Of course, the martial character of human conflict emerges elsewhere besides the military, and perhaps it would be still more fitting to speak in such a broader generality. There exists no shortage of bold men who will not be hailed as heroes, despite courageous sacrifice, be their names known or not. Some, the news records as villains, and our task is in some measure to see history do them greater justice.
The United States is not the only country with a monument known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. No culture survives without reverence for its warriors. Some do a better job than others of recovering their dead, but whatever their military prowess, combat is unpredictable, and people go missing.
It is both fitting and important then, that there be some shrine to their sacrifice. In the United States, ours is at Arlington National Cemetery. It is guarded, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard.”
They perform a visually impressive routine when changing guard, and Sentinels, as they are known, have a creed which reads;
“My dedication to this sacred duty is total and whole-hearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection. Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability. It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud. Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.”
While there are over 4,000 unknown soldiers buried at Arlington, the monument contains the remains of but three. One crypt contains the remains of a soldier from World War I, another the remains two soldiers, one from the second World War, and one from the Korean war. An empty third crypt represents missing service members from Vietnam.
When power changes hands, perhaps it would be best to leave the Arlington Memorial to those who died in uniform overseas, but it might also be fitting to establish a new one for those who died, or otherwise had their lives destroyed, right here. The menace we face has surely left more than 4,000 corpses in its wake almost entirely unremarked upon. Many millions more yet walk, but are no less dead, disappeared, and forgotten.
I discovered not long ago an old friend of mine died. To the gentleman who emailed me about it, thank you.
It is not entirely clear to me what happened, but I knew the man to take a pain pill now and then. Seems he got a bad one. One of those fentanyl poisoning stories you hear about too frequently. He was by no means a soldier, though no more inclined to run from a fight than to start one. He just happened to catch some shrapnel from one of the lethal weapons being dumped on our streets by foreign adversaries.
The people who stand up to those foreign adversaries, they might be fairly described as combatants in a war. They are not hailed as heroes. They are not granted a place in a national cemetery. They are called the most hateful of things, and demonized in our press, and fired from their jobs, and denied the protections of our laws.
I don’t mean to lower in any way the experiences of the warfighter by making the comparison. They rightly have National holidays, and resources, allocated to them. They enjoy with few exceptions the reverence of the population, and I’m not viscerally opposed to punishing those exceptions. If anything, they deserve more than we give them, and it is quite a stain on our Nation, when we hear about veteran suicides and the despair that often accompanies attempts to get help from the VA. Our country should aim to place fewer burdens on our uniformed warriors by being more cautious in our foreign policy, and by making an organization like Tunnel To Towers utterly irrelevant by making sure they and their families are restored to all reasonable levels of comfort once they have done their jobs.
But it is one thing to risk one’s life in combat and know that all the energies of the Nation are with you. It is quite another to make precisely the same risk, without those benefits.
Some have been so overwhelmed by the despair of all this that, like too many uniformed veterans, they take their own lives. Others end up like my aforementioned friend when that despair sends them to the hellish depths of addiction. Though, perhaps I’m splitting hairs by discerning between suicide and accidental overdose. Drugs, I’ve remarked in the past, are a suicide intended to be of a temporary nature. One cannot cope with life, and checks out for awhile, inclined to someday return. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out that way.
Others who confront this menace have a difficult time coming across such comforts. Such things are very expensive in prison, and it is those prisoners to whom I now refer.
I have seen the inside of a cage or two over the course of my 43 years. My reasons for ending up there have varied in their merit. I can tell you unequivocally it is an entirely different experience to be incarcerated for doing good than it is for doing bad. I’ve been there in both instances, and one knows the difference. It’s a very mixed bag.
On the one hand, ending up behind bars for doing the right thing can weigh on a man by reminding him of the injustice in the world. Particularly if he sees his cause falter in his absence, this can leave him with the impression that the conflict is lost and that he is doomed to watch helplessly as all that is decent decays and is defiled.
On the other, there can be a sort of stoic redeeming quality to the experience. There is opportunity in suffering. It builds character. When you suffer for what you know to be true and right, you know internally that you are not a simple pleasure seeking dog, or a coward unwilling to incur risks. Most of us, I should point out, need not end up hospitalized or imprisoned to learn this about ourselves, but should you find yourself there, it goes a long way toward removing those self doubts we all harbor.
We’ve all seen people who don’t know what it’s like to suffer. They find themselves screaming like lunatics in the street, convinced that they are among the most oppressed people in our society. We tend to mock them, but there is some truth to this. They have been deprived, in a sense, of what it means to be human. To be alive, even, really. Met with no opportunity to struggle, they are weakened, and sensing this, they seek out struggle. They aim to tear down civilization and see us returned to a sort of Hobbesian state of nature, red in tooth and claw more than in ideology. Perhaps subconsciously, they seek to see themselves deprived of the comforts which have rendered them unfit for the Darwinian contest of life.
Were it not for the impact on our families, we might hope they got their wish.
I’d be amiss not to mention the fugitives, of course. There’s nothing easy about running. Less so by the day.
That tracking device you stare at all day when it’s not radiating your reproductive organs, it’s hard to get on today without one, you might have gathered. But it’s harder to get on with one if you want to hide. Cameras everywhere. Credit cards. License plate scanners. Speed radar. Radio activated highway tolls.
You ever seen those signs on the highway that tell you how long it will take to get to a given exit? You ever notice that sometimes it might be 60 miles to the destination, and it says you can reach it in under an hour, but the speed limit is 55? The government is not endorsing speeding. That’s happening because your toll device is being pinged along the highway and feeding data into an automated system to monitor traffic.
Biometrics are a lot more than fingerprints these days. Retina scans, facial recognition. DNA. Artificial intelligence. All ever more ubiquitous, networked, and accessible to the authorities.
If you’re a fugitive and you get mugged. Tough luck buddy. You get shot? Better not go to the hospital. Come to think of it, are you going to be comfortable going to a regular doctor if you get bronchitis and need some antibiotics? You’re at least going to think twice about it, I promise, and when the government completely takes over health care, don’t think for one second fugitive thought criminals will enjoy any measure of anonymity in that system.
A man who goes to prison, he usually gets out someday. He gets a release date. He knows when its over.
Not so for the fugitive. Maybe he’ll avoid the authorities until he dies of natural causes. Or maybe he’ll be sitting there with his grandkids someday when the law finally catches up to him.
More likely, he’ll have a very short run. There’s a substantial likelihood he’ll be killed in the process. He’ll have no way of knowing the outcome until he’s dead or in prison. The latter of which may at some juncture come as a relief after living that way for some period of time. At least then, he can see an out. A light at the end of the tunnel. But of course, he only begins to serve his sentence after he’s taken into custody, and the longer he has been on the run, the longer the overall ordeal ends up being.
When I lacked Internet access, if somebody opened the front door and said “Go for it” I’d have respectfully declined. No sense in envying a fugitive.
War is more than bullets and bombs. It’s more than the risk of death and injury. It is a state of total conflict that only temporarily calms for short periods in man’s long and bloody history.
We are presently involved, at this very moment, in an information war which, from a certain perspective, might make the clarity of being in a gun fight with a uniformed opponent seem preferable in a sense. There are no non-combatants in that struggle. Targeting civilians is the whole entire point. No need to kill the soldiers tomorrow if the kids sterilize themselves today.
But to venture down that path may be to stray too far from our holiday theme, so I’ll leave that for another day.
I don’t have a great deal of respect for America’s foreign policy wizards. I don’t think they tend to act in the National interest, not of this Nation, anyway. I read a fascinating book once, called the Israel Lobby, which says a lot about whose interests they are acting on, and it is not a flattering account.
Over the years I’ve been in radio, I’ve been asked many times if, knowing what one knows about this state of affairs, one ought to join the military. This was easier to answer when I was libertarian. I just said no. What sense is there in getting yourself killed for some dispute between central bankers halfway across the planet? Stay home and make yourself happy.
But I mentioned earlier that no culture survives without reverence for its warriors. And if there are no warriors to revere, I must imagine a society meets a similar outcome.
So while I’ll refrain for the moment from giving any advice, I’ll take this occasion to say thank you to all the warriors, living or dead, whether they wore a uniform, or a ski mask. Whether they collected a paycheck, or a sentence. Whether they’re buried at Arlington, or at Leavenworth, or whether if they’ve been carried off piecemeal by the critters.
And if you’re fighting today, stateside or overseas. Inside the walls or out. Online or in the street, for that matter.
God bless you comrade, and may we both live to get a bit of rest before death takes us.
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