Friday, November 11, 2005

The Eleventh Hour...

... of the eleventh day of the eleventh month... Ellie and I decided on a truce. That's right, Bush: we put an end to three years of "living in sin," as it used to be called in my parents' day, and, not incidentally, to the illegitimacy of our soon-to-be-born daughter. We presented ourselves before a downtown judge and spoke the words and signed the forms and... we were married! At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, together with our good neighbors who had accompanied us as witnesses, we raised a glass of champagne (which we could ill-afford at that time) at the downtown Biltmore. Now, thirty-three years later, you'd be proud of us, Bush: we look back at a long, I suppose somewhat conventional marriage, with some justified pride in having made it last through our share of hard times and upheavals--the lastest of which is currently, as you know, occurring! We've had our share of happiness, too, and ease. So we can look back on our years together with a good measure of joy.

Even so, Bush, we always remember that other significance of the eleventh hour, or the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. I was reminded of it last night in a segment of (I think) the BBC news, with the interview of an old, old, old old soldier reminiscing about the "war to end all wars." The camera took us back to a courtyard in France where deserters were shot. Seventeen year-olds, too scared or too shell-shocked to follow the order to leave the trench and charge directly into a hail of enemy fire from the opposite trench, and condemned to be shot by a firing squad of their of mates for cowardice. Our hero recalled how it was to receive orders for this duty the night before, how many got drunk while the condemned men waited in their bare cells with boards for a bed and a bucket in the corner for a toilet; and how, either too tired or too hung-over to shoot straight, or too sick at heart to do the job right, they often missed their mark and left him wounded rather than dead; and how an officer would then need to put a bullet through his head.

What barbarism, Bush. And how little we have learned since then. With World War II, and Korea, and Vietnam, and Iraq I, and now your Iraq II. With men getting killed for the sake of other men's greed and egos. And more and more now, in these days of sophisticated weaponry, with women and children getting klled. With non-combattants getting killed. With ordinary soldiers being condemned for crimes condoned by thier seniors who go unpunished. With men and women coming home without arms and legs, with brains shot through by the terror of their acts, and the acts of others.

In England, as you may have noticed on TV reports from the British Parliament yesterday, men and women wear a red poppy in remembrance of those tens of thousands who died in the poppy fields of Flanders. And I recall that Latin line that ends, so bitterly, the poem by Rupert Brooks, who died there in those fields, and which we were taught, Bush, in my school days: Dulce et decorum est, pro partria mori. It is sweet and fitting to die for your country. To which I now say, Bullshit, Bush. This is no sweet and fitting way to die. And still less today, nearly one hundred years later, when those young men and women are dying in Iraq. Was there really no other road to take?

No comments: