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War, Memory and Gettysburg

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/08/war-memory-and-gettysburg


Ribbons, medals and parades, often offered posthumously, are cheap currency for the moneychangers who lend to both sides of war, further ensnaring both in debt traps. “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” [1 Timothy 6:10] I grew up watching the American War on Vietnam and became a pacifist in response. I don’t consider myself unpatriotic in the least, but often apatriotic, yes. Having no faith in a god either, I often felt like I didn’t belong. Fortunately, Emerson told me that such feelings were noble.


I turned out much the same as you concerning the Vietnam experience. Sadly I was caught up IN the war and was prompted to be overtly against it after coming home.
I put on my grubbers, my dog Argus and I hoped in my 1969 VW bus and camped out on power company land along the Menominee River. A time of a lot of soul searching in the 70’s.

The mental scenes of messed up bodies from both sides is not lost to me. But not much matches the horrors of our Civil War.


Sorry to hear of your experience, but for a couple of years I might have been there. I have a cousin who came back and wasn’t whole. I am sure Argus was a fine companion and appreciated your attentiveness.


If you are a puritan and feel that life is good and your are too happy read this too awful piece brought to us by our very own Chris Hedges


To those who shrink away at articles like this, I say go back to your pretend world of sunshine and lollipops. Some people just want to “wave the flag”, "stand for the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ ", and sing “God bless America” all day long while convincing themselves that wars are noble and very sanitary affairs. That there are ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Chris Hedges is like a dark yet clear-speaking prophet, who has pulled back the curtain on our artificially upbeat images of war in any age,and its true costs.
Thanks again, Chris


Vietnam was a nightmare like any war. I was there. My father was serving in the Navy in the South Pacific during WWII. He was on one of the escort aircraft carriers, the USS Whiteplane, when the opening shot in the Battle of Leyte Gulf was fired by the Japanese. At the end of the day tons of shipping and 10,000 sailors from both sides rested at the bottom of the ocean. My Grandfather was at the Second Battle of the Marne in France during WWI. He recounted how the rats feasted on the fallen corpses at the end of the day, and the belching of gases by the dead a day later. That is all he ever told me.

My family has served in every war fought by this country, even my Cherokee ancestors. War is not beautiful or glorious nor does it bequeath immortality. It stinks, and filled with horror, and the sounds of men lost in a hell not of their making. The only way to support our troops is to encourage them to get out of the military as quickly as possible. And to dissuade people from enlisting.

And a reading assignment for the summer: The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer. The story of one German infantry man’s eyeview of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. A most horrifying story. A true vision of hell.


War has been glorified for millennia, and the studied ignorance of its horror disencumbers it from its rightful place in the trash heap of history

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And then, there’s Yemen.
NO soldiers far from home—war is at home. I suppose some think that starving all the children makes sense, because who will grow up to survive and remember. I guess the war lovers forget that Yemen’s parents will remember. : (

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Thank you, Chris, for once again stripping the myths of glory from the murderous insanity of war, laying bare the realities of pain, suffering and destruction thereof.

There are some in our country who talk glibly and casually about another Civil War. Some speculate on the possibilities of a “Race War”. These things should never be allowed to happen. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth the price of this folly.


Yes, thank you, to all these great comments…especially redhorsebleu’s and his/her last two paragraphs…

Here is Australian Eric Bogle with a song he wrote in 1971…

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Now when I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said, “Son,
It’s time you stop ramblin’, there’s work to be done.”
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.

And the band played “Waltzing Matilda,”
As the ship pulled away from the quay,
And amidst all the cheers, the flag waving, and tears,
We sailed off for Gallipoli.

And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water;
And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk, he was waitin’, he primed himself well;
He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell –
And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell,
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.

But the band played “Waltzing Matilda,”
When we stopped to bury our slain,
Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.

And those that were left, well, we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire.
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher.
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead –
Never knew there was worse things than dying.

For I’ll go no more “Waltzing Matilda,”
All around the green bush far and free –
To hump tents and pegs, a man needs both legs,
No more “Waltzing Matilda” for me.

So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

But the band played “Waltzing Matilda,”
As they carried us down the gangway,
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
Then they turned all their faces away.

And so now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
Reviving old dreams of past glory,
And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
And I ask meself the same question.

But the band plays “Waltzing Matilda,”
And the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday, no one will march there at all.

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda.
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong,
Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?


Hedges always nails it! My sister has photographs of two our relatives in their civil war uniforms, and even though both survived the war they died young soon after they came home and my great,great, grandfather was with General Sherman in his march to Atlanta, Georgia.

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If war is so horrible why have wars been waged since the dawn of human kind? No matter how emotionally or physically destructive, no matter how gory, no matter the numbers of dead and maimed, I don’t see any end to war. Peace is a relative term, just an interlude between wars. Without war there would be no peace. Humans would spend their days eating and sleeping, procreating and building, reading and writing, making music, and all the other things our brains allow not knowing either war or peace; just living until nature takes us away. The worst, not the best, traits of human beings cause war. They have a powerful hold on humanity. They are not easily resisted. Humans have tried and tried, but so far have not been able to eliminate war from their behavior. It is still worth trying to even so.

Hi arthur_mcbride:
The saddest line in that song—" we started all over again."

"The Red Badge of Courage, tried to tell Americans about wars ----but I think the one piece of writing that really gets it home to teenagers who want to enlist-------there is one book, it’s an old book, by a man named Dalton Trumbo. “Johnny Got His Gun.” It’s the reality of war told better than any other book! It’s not about how great a nation is----but how fragile life can be.
I’ve never seen the Vietnam War Wall in person —but somehow, seeing all those names, and knowing that they all used to be alive--------that must be an unbelievable emotion ------- how war ends up killing even the living people who are left behind. : (

yes, Stardust…

Arthur McBride, “I once had a cousin named Arthur McBride, He and I took a walk down by the seaside…”
i am delighted that you also appreciate the great Eric Bogle but one minor detail: he is Scottish, though he emigrated when aged 18, as recounted in is song, “Leaving Nancy”. He went to Australia and is currently near Adelaide I believe. Have you heard his song to young Willy McBride, “No Man’s Land”?