Memorial Day

From Ground Zero, where — though in hopefully decreasing numbers — hordes of motorcycle-loving yobs descend every year hijacking the reverence due people who have died because old men wanted wars.

Just asking of whatever power might exist in the universe. Give the world’s leaders the wisdom to act so that no one ever has to see their son or daughter come home in a box.

You don’t think it’s likely? Yeah. Me neither. But let’s dream.


I Hate Memorial Day

Every year I get a butt-load of e-mails telling me to catch these sale prices now.

Every year someone somewhere wishes me or the general population a “happy” Memorial Day.

Every year there is an obligatory news bite featuring “Taps” at Arlington National Cemetery, and every year several elected officials who have somehow gotten hold of my Net address admonish me to reflect. Reflect???

Every year my NRA-employed, Republican-voting nabe across the street hangs out a big mammyjammin’ flag.

I never hear anyone talk much about what they propose to do — what justice they will pursue, what inequity they will work to remedy, what diplomacy they will support — so that the world can stop having fucking wars.

Des Morgens zwischen drei’n und vieren,
da müssen wir Soldaten marschieren
das Gäßlein auf und ab,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
mein Schätzel sieht herab!

Ach Bruder, jetzt bin ich geschossen,
die Kugel hat mich schwere, schwer getroffen,
trag’ mich in mein Quartier,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
es ist nicht weit von hier!

Ach Bruder, ich kann dich nicht tragen,
die Feinde haben uns geschlagen!
Helf’ dir der liebe Gott!
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera!
Ich muß, ich muß marschieren bis in’ Tod!

Ach Brüder, ach Brüder,
ihr geht ja mir vorüber,
als wär’s mit mir vorbei!
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera!
Ihr tretet mir zu nah!

Ich muß wohl meine Trommel rühren,
ich muß meine Trommel wohl rühren,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley,
sonst werd’ ich mich verlieren,
trallali, trallaley, trallala.
Die Brüder, dick gesät,
sie liegen wie gemäht.

Er schlägt die Trommel auf und nieder,
er wecket seine stillen Brüder,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley,
sie schlagen und sie schlagen
ihren Feind, Feind, Feind,
trallali, trallaley, trallalerallala,
ein Schrecken schlägt den Feind!

Er schlägt die Trommel auf und nieder,
da sind sie vor dem Nachtquartier schon wieder,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley.
In’s Gäßlein hell hinaus, hell hinaus!
Sie zieh’n vor Schätzleins Haus.
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
sie ziehen vor Schätzeleins Haus, trallali.

Des Morgens stehen da die Gebeine
in Reih’ und Glied, sie steh’n wie Leichensteine
in Reih’, in Reih’ und Glied.
Die Trommel steht voran,
daß sie ihn sehen kann.
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
daß sie ihn sehen kann!


In the morning between three and four,
we soldiers must march
up and down the alley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
my sweetheart looks down!

Oh, brother, now I’ve been shot,
the bullet has struck me hard,
carry me to my billet,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
it isn’t far from here!

Oh, brother, I can’t carry you,
the enemy has beaten us,
may the dear God help you!
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
I must, I must march on until death!

Oh, brothers, oh, brothers,
you go on past me
as if I were done with!
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
you’re treading too near to me!

I must nevertheless beat my drum,
I must nevertheless beat my drum,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley,
otherwise I will lose myself,
trallali, trallaley, trallala.
My brothers, thickly covering the ground,
lie as if mown down.

Up and down he beats the drum,
he wakes his silent brothers,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley,
they battle and they strike their enemy,
enemy, enemy,
trallali, trallaley, trallalerallala,
a terror smites the enemy!

Up and down he beats the drum,
there they are again before their billets,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley.
Clearly out into the alley!
They draw before sweetheart’s house,
trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
they draw before sweetheart’s house, trallali.

In the morning there stand the skeletons
in rank and file, they stand like tombstones,
in rank, in rank and file.
The drum stands in front,
so that he can be seen.
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
so that he can be seen.

And that’s what I wish they would play on the radio every Memorial Day.


Dulce Et Decorum Est

Memorial Day is just not my favorite holiday. (I’m not sure there is one I really like, but that aside.) Sale circulars arrive by snail and e-mail, beer is bought in truckloads, cars take off for the beach, and people stage obnoxious parties, like the one that ended around 1 a.m. this Sunday with my calling the cops over the matter of two returning corybants down my street engaging in an outbreak of obscenity-laced partner violence on my neighbors’ lawn.

Then people make some very solemn speeches about how our military keep us free, and the phrase “ultimate sacrifice” is used a lot. People choke up, feel noble, and go home.

Wilfrid Owen, who was a British officer in the First World War and a poet, didn’t come home. He had this to say about it:

Dulce et Decorum est

     Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
     Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
     Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
     And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
     Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots,
     But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame, all blind;
     Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
     Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

     Gas!  GAS!  Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
     Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
     But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
     And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.—
     Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
     As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

     In all my dreams before my helpless sight
     He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

     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
     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.

Owen was not a conscientious objector nor a draft-dodger. He was invalided home in 1917, and returned to the front “in order to help these boys; directly, by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.” He died leading his men across the Sambre Canal a few days before the Armistice.

In the Great War it was gas and shell-shock. These days it’s IED’s and brain damage: there’s always a weapon that no one is prepared for and a generation that has to deal with it, and no one wants to hear about the aftereffects.

I really don’t think all the little flags help much with this, do you?


I work most “holiday weekends,” because it’s a good way to keep my head down, especially this one.

For anyone who’s forgotten or isn’t a US resident, Memorial Day was instituted to honor the dead of the American Civil War. Now, especially since the passage of the Long Weekends and Retail Sales Event Act, whereby all holidays are observed on the nearest adjacent Monday to facilitate commerce and fucking off, it seems to honor the first barbecue of the summer.

Here in DC we get the added thrill of seventy jillion motorcyclists saying they’re here because of the Vietnam war. They zip up and down the local roads all weekend, spewing fried hydrocarbons. I guess this makes somebody feel better. I just keep my head down till they go the hell home.

Behind me — buffered a little, mercifully, by the jigsaw corners of adjacent lots — there’s a household of probably Central Americans, judging by their taste (if you can call it that) in music (if you can call it that) who crank up their goddam bass boosters one Saturday every May, Memorial Day for preference, occasionally larding the boom-boom with the amplified voice of someone pretending to be an emcee. I guess they find this fun.

We’re in the process of creating a whole new generation of shattered war veterans over in the mid-East, most of whom are apt to like loud noise even less than I do, so I feel less apologetic than ever about loathing all this racket and shallow merriment. I knew a guy who flew Evac in Vietnam, who doesn’t talk about it, and a guy who was shot out of a Huey and left with a knee that looks like nothing on Earth and spends his days writing letters to complain about every helicopter flight he can hear from his townhouse, and now and then, because they fight under my flag, I read e-mailed combat diaries and blogs from guys who are stuck in Afghanistan or Baghdad. Maybe it’s just me, but after contemplating these matters, my first instinct isn’t to get down and boogie.

I guess I’m an old grouch. Just call me when it’s over.