For November Eleventh
In each of these, there is about a 50-50 chance that you will find a Civil War Memorial with a list of the fallen, and bronze guardians of the Union standing watch in all directions. My father was a World War II vet, repairing B-29 engines on Saipan and I grew up reading everything I could about the enemies of his war: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, The Empire of Japan. He is gone now and the tatters in the flag of the Greatest Generation will be just scraps blown in the wind all too soon. My grandfather was a World War I vet, of the doomed generation of England who immolated themselves in Flanders fields. When I was in college, I devoured everything I could about his enemies--Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire--all the way from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom forward.
But on November 11th my mind is almost always brought back to those bronze Union soldiers standing on sentry around the eagle topped column, next to the county courthouse, in any and all Ohio counties.
My father's enemies are dust, living now only as images of evil, or of tragedy, in the 20th century artform of photographic film. My grandfather's enemies are no longer anything but names in sweetly foxed old books on steel shelves in silent libraries, and disjointed memories of only a handful of people aged one hundred and more. My enemy was the Soviet Union, whom the Greatest Generation defeated without the war that would have doomed us all. This was their last, and greatest, achievement.
And the enemy of some of my fellow men was nameless and Asian and anywhere and was never defeated. This is why the worst casualties of their two wars are those who are still walking around alive--they had survival, but no closure--and it haunts their very eyes to this day. It is not in my eyes. It is not in the eyes of George W. Bush. But it is in John Kerry's eyes.
It really is. Him, too. You could see it in the Presidential debates, if you knew what to look for.
The enemies of Lee, the enemies of Grant, the enemies of Longstreet, the enemies of Sherman, the enemies of Beauregard, the enemies of Sheridan, and the enemies of Stuart are living still.
They are us.
That war was never won or lost. Those enemies will never fade until this land is so transformed that nothing will be there that any of us would recognize. Those enemies will never wholly be "history" for many generations to come.
The battles in that war still go on. I just fought one this afternoon on another blog. No one died, no one was maimed, only an ego or two was bruised. But, in the largest possible sense, is was an engagement as important as any twenty minutes in Devil's Den or the Peach Orchard in early July of 1863. A battle that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.
Because the combatants are still us, the battles still rage, and the outcome of the war is still in doubt. In that war we have not only no closure, but no survival, either. No one gets out of it alive.
And no one is yet there to blow taps over us and fire off a leadless salute of blanks.
So, trumpeter, play taps for my Father, this sunset. And I will place this phrase of Dylan Thomas, from my memory, on his grave: After the first death, there is no other.
And play taps for my Grandfather. I will place this phrase of Willie Yeats, from my memory, on his grave: In balance with this life, this death.
No one will be there to play taps for me. And I will take with me to my own grave this phrase of Gordon Lightfoot: And many are the dead men, too silent to be real.
Too slient to be real.