I’ll bet that when Saturday’s grand Veterans Day Parade in Auburn is over, many of us will quickly turn our minds to concerns other than the grizzled soldier, airman or seaman who marched past us.
Of course we will. We have busy, crowded lives.
Before we put the veterans back on the shelf until the next observance, however, I think it’s worthwhile to consider a few of the things they have done for us that we may have forgotten.
Consider first what it means for most of us as United States citizens to be free from the thug who demands our papers as we walk or drive down the street, and then hauls us off to a dank basement for questioning or a beating or worse.
American veterans, living and dead, helped preserve this for us, in the words of Winston Churchill, with their “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Millions in the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin were not so lucky. Among them was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In his monumental work, “The Gulag Archipelago,” he first revealed to the world the system of Soviet prison camps to which the regime sent millions of its own people for as much as looking cross-eyed at another or thinking anti-Stalin thoughts.
The great work details Solzhenitsyn’s own nefarious arrest after the war and his transportation to the camps in the frozen north where he spent 10 years at hard labor, outside, in meager clothing at temperatures that reached 50 degrees below zero, atoning for having criticized Stalin in a private letter.
Among the hallmarks of the West are freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. We are allowed to criticize our leaders without fear of being thrown into prison to rot there or to be killed. Even to this day, people in many parts of the world, including Russia and China, don’t enjoy these freedoms.
Before he died in 1918 in the final days of the First World War, a British soldier named Wilfred Owen wrote of the soldier in his poem, “Greater Love.” It seems to me a sobering reminder to those of us far removed from the battlefield what the warriors there endured. I quote from it here at length.
“Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!
Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce love they bear
Cramps them in death’s extreme decrepitude.
Your voice sings not so soft,—
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft,—
Your dear voice is not dear,
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear,
Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.
Heart, you were never hot
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.”
Robert Whale can be reached at email@example.com.