Last week, some mediocre California mayoress announced that she wasn’t going to attend a Veterans Day event in her city of Richmond. Gayle McLaughlin, in fact, was down with the “Occupy” guys and gals instead. You can easily picture the response she got: the city of Richmond insulted, along with the memory of its brave men and women in uniform. Indeed, there might not even be a Richmond if not for those unforgettable volunteers. But if this were true, then the writing of history would always be simple. So would the composition of morality stories. Both Kipling and Owen came to the conclusion that too many lives had been “taken” rather than offered or accepted, and that too many bureaucrats had complacently accepted the sacrifice as if they themselves had earned it.
And this has made a lot of difference. It means, for example, that each case needs to be argued on its own merits. I am convinced that the contingents who went to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, though badly led on a scale almost equal to that of 1914 to 1918, are to be praised and supported. But I take no comfort from the idea that this should be an official position. I must say I think that La McLaughlin expressed herself with awful casualness (because November 11 is, after all, truly—still—a solemn day on the calendar). But it’s still more important on such a day to discuss dissent, and to reflect on whether it might have been your own enemy, or your deeply mistaken father, who brought you bound to the pit and alive to the burning.
Rudyard Kipling’s war poetry, the obligations of Veterans Day, and Gayle McLaughlin. – Slate Magazine. This is why Christopher Hitchens, for all his arrogance and error, is irreplaceable.