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Parasites. Politicians. Soldiers. Sacrifice

by Josh Walker Beavers about a year ago in family
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What are we even fighting for in this world?

My father was a soldier. Vietnam. He never talked about it much; most soldiers don’t, I’ve learned. Especially those who saw the worst of humanity and/or those who may have had to bloody their hands in the barbarity of that warfare.

He was a good man. But a troubled one. I loved him and lost him. About 15 years ago. He died under, I’ll just call it unusual circumstances. I don’t want to say anymore than that and the only reason I even mention it at all is because I want to let you know that, I think, war … well, war … I just can’t comprehend much of war because I’ve never experienced it. Never been in that world. Never willingly (or unwillingly for that matter) said I’ll take on this fight. Never said I’ll enter that world and face whatever the Devil can throw at me.

My pop, some call their father dad or daddy, I called mine pop, wouldn’t watch war movies. I tried to get him to watch Saving Private Ryan once. Told him it was a good film. “No such thing as a good war movie, bub,” he replied.

And that, as they say, was that.

On occasion he would imbibe (Bit of self-medication I believe) and sometimes he would talk. These weren’t the conversations of normality we would have about sports and such. These were on God and His favorite Fallen Angel, good and evil, society and sacrifice. And sometimes about men killing other men for no purpose other than their politicians told them to do so.

One of his favorite movies, and now one of mine as well, was Legends of the Fall. Three brothers go to war. Only two return. The relationship between the remaining sons and their father becomes complicated as they all lived through passing years in harsh Montana winters.

One of the survivors went on to become a politician, and his daddy (a former soldier who saw what the government did to the Native Americans) told him this about a political career path and the life of the slain brother Samuel:

“Samuel chose to be a soldier and soldiers die!” he says. “Sent to their slaughter by men in governments! Parasites like you!”

Parasites. Politicians. Soldiers. Sacrifice. Comfortable chairs and lobbyists. Frozen fields and flaming deserts.

It’s 2021. I hear the news and read the internet. We trade in one set of wars for maybe others. We seem to be heading into more and more heated conflicts. Middle East, China, even here at home. You know one of the differences between our two political parties? A line from The West Wing “Republicans want a huge military but don't want to send it anywhere. Democrats want a small military but want to send it everywhere.”

Doesn’t matter who is in power. Soldiers die. That remains.

My dad died on a hot July night. He died alone. He never met his second granddaughter and the last words I said to him weren’t that kind. If I could have one more thing to tell him, it wouldn’t be I love you. It would be that I understand as much as possible what may be in your head. And I’d share with him a poem I’ve discovered since his death.

Alfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” tells the story of a WWI soldier witnessing the deaths of his fellow soldiers and questioning what he calls “the old lie” - Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori, a latin phrase from the Roman poet Horace meaning “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

The final stanza:

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

War is necessary sometimes. But how many millions and millions of young men have died because of greed and the egos of lesser men - the parasites, the politicians? How many lives ruined in the intervening years? How many manipulated into fighting wars that only serve to make rich men richer?

Serving your country is noble. Dying for a greater cause is as well. I just don’t think anybody knows what the greater causes are anymore.



About the author

Josh Walker Beavers

I teach at a small map dot on a black top in Louisiana.

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