The Long Shadows of July 4th

Sept. 11th

Not long ago, I wrote about the decimation of the US troops on D-Day and how that affected one small town not far from where we live. They lost so many boys (men, by then) that the powers that be decided to erect the national D-Day Memorial there. It’s in Bedford, VA, with its view of the mountains.

The last of the men of Bedford who came back from D-Day died a few years ago, but, ah, how our history has been entwined with death on distant shores ever since our founding!

As unprecedented as it was to lose so many men from one small town, it was not much different in kind from what we did to one another in our own Civil War. Perhaps what we did so efficiently in dealing out death in the 1860’s was simply the precursor to the profound generational black hole created by the absence of all those bright young men in England and France in World War I, the ones who never came back. The policy-makers and commanders of 1914 failed to look back to Gettysburg and the Bloody Angle to see what a hideous charnel house trench warfare would become, especially with machine guns and poison gas added to the mix.

I often think of all their unborn children, the would-have-been progeny of three wars who never breathed life because their would-be fathers were killed before the children could be born.

I wonder, would the world have been a sunnier place if those soldiers had somehow survived and had children? The regular joes, not called to war, would have married, found work and raised their families; their countries would not have been full of single women, and later, little old ladies – Miss Robinsons – who lived and died alone decades after their men who never came home.

And how about the lost literature, the music, and the many technological advances the gallant ones would have given us? To what extent is the coarsened culture we all live with due to those losses in America from 1861 to 1865, and the ones to follow in Europe from 1914 to 1918?
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By the 1930’s, there was no group of World War II poets. The ones from World War I had not reproduced themselves, had not been around to teach the younger ones.

We talk of those two wars as though they were separate events and could be treated individually. But when we do that, we fail to see how 1933 followed 1914, and how the ‘40s were simply a larger, meaner, more brutalized version of Europe’s bloody-mindedness a generation earlier, and America’s murderous resolution before that.

Had “the war of the brothers” in the US of the 1860’s been averted somehow, then perhaps in 1917 we could have been paying more attention to the events in Russia instead of being distracted by the up-close figure of muddy, bloody Death in the foreground of Europe.

The Civil War in America cheapened and coarsened life. “The war of the cousins” in 1914 set about to extinguish once again the best and the brightest – only this time on the European continent. Then World War II brought us all together to extinguish decency and hope on an even broader scale, bringing us finally to the War of the Unthinkable: mutual and instant annihilation for the next generation to chew on.

And now? Now we live with the random deaths by the dozens here and there — at least until some stateless group sets off a nuclear blast. It is as though that frozen fear of the Cold War has melted and fragmented into a thousand million possible nightmares. Those nightmares are orchestrated by a Culture of Death eager to take as many as possible with them.

But way back then, the first event may have brought the second one into being. Certainly that Civil War impoverished America beyond counting. Having ingeniously mechanized broad scale death and brutality almost a century earlier in the US and brought it to maturity in 1914 on the European continent, was WWII simply the grown-up monster begat by those two generational killing sprees?

I had planned to celebrate our Fourth of July with more optimism than this. However, the rumination you are reading kind of wrote itself, and I’m sure many of our readers will take exception to my meanderings. However, the events on the ground right now, both in Europe and in the US, could not have occurred without the killings fields of the previous one hundred and fifty years.

All of these miseries came to a culmination for the US on 9/11/2001. There is a shadow on our flag, a stain that shows every time I see the Stars and Stripes. It is that shadow which fell across the page as I began to write about July 4th.

I remember when this was my favorite holiday.

10 thoughts on “The Long Shadows of July 4th

  1. I went to Gettysburg for the first time last year and it was really humbling. I wanted to go for the 145th anniversary yesterday but alas it was not in the cards. I highly recommend that every American make a pilgrimage there at least once in their life.

  2. Dymphna –

    The red on the flag has a double meaning.

    Shed, and still coursing.

    1200 plus troops in Iraq re-upped today.

    On the battlefield.

    Let that break a beam of light in on your mood.

    (And Philip Wylie’s “An Essay on Morality” is a good read on a day like this.)

  3. D-

    Looks you are ready to rewrite the history books with so many these days. Sorry, I cannot and will not participate in such sad denigration of all that we are that is good and right.

  4. “THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”
    The American Crisis.

  5. I have had similar thoughts when viewing a traveling replica of the Viet Nam War Memorial, the walls of black panels with tne names of thousands of our dead. Many great minds went into that war and never came back.

    But what is the answer? We know that pacifism and appeasement only bring more war as tyrants are emboldened. It seems that war is often the least of bad alternatives, especially when our very survival is at stake.

    I have visited Gettysburge and stood at the wall at the Angle, so peaceful and quiet now, but where noise and death reigned 145 years ago yesterday. Men are caught up in the great moments of history and are carried like driftwood in the tide, often helpless to extricate themselves.

    What we can do is to honor the sacrifices of the men and women who died in our wars, and to take the long view as to preventing future wars, or if we are unable to prevent them, to ensure that they will be short and in our favor.

  6. Thank you for all your comments on this. They are thoughtful; I was concerned that my dysphoric meander would simply annoy.

    I started out to write a paean to July 4th but my rumination turned dark quickly. As I told someone in an email, on occasion the Muse takes you where you would not go.

    War has changed into something far worse than it was before. And when you think on how bloody conventional war was, that is saying something.

    We have lost 4,000 men in Iraq, but I still think our President made the right decision. I do question some of the military commanders’ mistakes, but that is another facet. Unfortunately, we do not have a “scientific” double-blind control — i.e., an alternate reality to see how things might have turned out had we not gone to Iraq. Methinks it would be a worse scenario.

    stogie– you’re right about Vietnam. I didn’t “go there” in my essay because I couldn’t. I can’t see pictures of the Wall without tears welling up. So many died because of upper echelon cowardice and lack of foresight.

    no2liberals –thanks for the quote from Thos Paine. He lived in dark times indeed. Thanks also for the YouTube vid on your website. It was so moving. I clicked on You Tube and found more, but you chose the best one. However, I watched some of the Marine videos. Those guys sure like to kid around, don’t they? I remember that quality from my few years as a USMC wife (“if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, they would’ve issued you one”). Funny thing, Franciscans are the same way, though not so…profane, let us say. The same sense of laughter in the face of tragedy. Do you notice how impressive Marine Corps rituals are? I know all branches of the service have such, but the USMC makes theirs seem hallowed somehow.

    I suggest that readers hit that link of no2liberals. It’s a good tribute.


    My essay was not a denigration. It was a euology for all the men and women we lost. War is necessary for our defence, but one cannot help but wonder at those decisions and if somehow they could have been, if not avoided, at least ameliorated. Especially the Civil War and WWI and the insidious Versailles Treaty.

    If we cannot question what happened, then we cannot learn from it, either. Had the military bureaucrats in Europe bothered to take the right lessons from their study of our Civil War, they might have hesitated. Instead, they plowed ahead, and like us they believed it would all be over in a few weeks…if you haven’t read it, I recommend Barbara Tuchman’s definitive work, “The Guns of August”.

    Profitsbeard —

    I’ll look for Wylie. Don’t you think we have found his replacement for this war in Michael Yon? His book is most informative…and he has the advantage of his own Special Forces’ training.

    He says something most interesting in his book: he will not get into any vehicle whose windows are dirty or whose floors are not clean. He says it’s a sign of sloppy inattention and such soldiers are a danger. I have thought about that bit of wisdom quite a lot. It has larger implications, I think…

  7. BTW, Spackle, I suggest a visit to Appomatox. We haven’t been in a while ourselves. Maybe when the weather cools.

    They’ve done a good job of preserving the houses.

  8. Dymphna,
    I was about two ticks on the clock from signing at the USMC recruiters office, but a drunk came in and started a fight with the impressive Gunny recruiter. Seems the drunk wanted back on active duty. The police were called, etc. I said I would come back the next day, but being eighteen, with many distractions, not the least being beer, I never went back. I enlisted in the USAF about a year later, following in my dad’s footsteps, as he had served in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
    I’ve had many marine friends over the years, and yes they do have a way of expressing themselves, unlike any other. Also the best looking Class A uniform in the world.
    Holidays such as today, serve many useful purposes, not the least being to remind us how high the cost of war is, so that we never forget. Sadly, there are too many who don’t take any of the messages from this holiday to heart, show weakness and lack of resolve to those who would harm us, and the cycle gets repeated. We must always be vigilant and strong, prepared to defend what we value most, so that our enemies always know the price of their adventure will be enormous.
    Thank you for your kind comment on the video I posted.

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