Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Patriotism Games

I was watching the Ken Burns Civil War documentary last night on my iPod. I've seen it before and I like it just fine, but the Civil War just doesn't draw me in like World War II does. What I like most about the Civil War documentary is the fiddle music and the narration -- especially the refined drawl of Shelby Foote -- he lulls me to sleep. And since my mind was reeling from two things: the Colts horrible loss to the Chargers, which I still haven't recovered enough to discuss, and a difficult day of work in which a manager kept interrupting me during my presentation. I needed a lullaby, and the documentary worked. Too well, in fact. I fell asleep with the headphones on. When I woke up, the narrator was reading a letter that a soldier had written to his wife. Here's an excerpt:

If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows - when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children - is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.


Do I love my country enough right now to die for it? It depends on the following:

Can we change the direction George W. Bush has been heading us? If not, then no, I don't want to die for my country. I'd rather die for Denmark.

Would I really be fighting for my country? Or at least a serious threat to our freedom or my country's close allies? I like that think that I would have fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War II, the Cold War, the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. I would have taken a pass on the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War ("Forget the Maine!"), World War I, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

Did a manager just keep interrupting me during a presentation the day after the Colts lost in the playoffs? Sure, while it's happening, I'd be happy die for my country. I'd be happy to die for potted meat products.

5 comments:

  1. The real question is:

    Do I love my country (and hate my readers) enough to blather on and on and on in this sappy, pseudo-poetic ("halt or / falter"?), self-important, vacuously patriotic way -- after already totally giving myself up for dead? No. Please, God, no.

    But, O Bob! Do I perchance flit about as a fly in the ointment of this letter that you in fact found deeply moving? If it be thus, then forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been!

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  2. Oh, now you've done it! Listen, just because you work at Stanford, which back in the 1980s was known as "BYU of the West Coast," that doesn't give you the right to judge the poetic quality of this man's love letter to his wife. You would probably take a red pen to a suicide note, leaving notes like "awk" and "cliché" in the margin. If you had a chance to edit Lincoln's speeches, you'd probably write things like "Wordy -- just say '87'." You sicken me, sirrah!

    You liberals are so predictable. Where's Lyle Lanley when you need him? Look, this Sullivan guy thought it was important to fight for his country. He knew he might die, leaving behind a wife and two young sons. But he was willing to do it. Even you pasty ivory tower goons have to admit there's something courageous and noble in that act. Was he a victim of propaganda? Maybe. Was his prose a little too lofty? Mayhaps. Yet your revulsion of sentimentality bespeaks a most foul and vile adherence to patriarchal convention. Begone, foul fowl!

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  3. BotchedExperimentJanuary 17, 2008

    I've recently sworn off potted meat products, which makes me a little sad, because I have many fond childhood memories surroudnign them. For some reason, my father and grandfather thought they were a special treat, especially appropriate for camping/fishing/picnics. Potted meat, sardines, cheese, and bread.

    Unfortunately, in my adulthood, I've had the misfortune to become highly educated, and thereby have learned many facts concerning potted meat, which have, collectively, turned me off of them.

    Two especially dissapointing facts have made the self-contained, non-refrigerated, spreadable meat products less pallatable to me:

    1) Everyone knows that the "left-overs" of the slaughtering process are used for hotdogs, e.g. lips and assholes. What is less known is that all the shit that isn't fit to put into hotdogs gets put into potted meat.

    2) Potted meat products can make the same boast as yogurt, "Live bacterial cultures in every serving!" It's not a question of "if" you are innoculating yourself with Salmonella, it's a question of whether you are innoculating yourself with enough Salmonella to wish that you were dying for your country.

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  4. No, it's you reactionaries who are all alike: always reacting and stuff.

    I don't have any beef (or any other potted meat products) with this poor Sullivan guy or with his love letter to his wife. In fact, I hope he did manage to suffer the glorious martyrdom for his country that he so clearly desired, and that he got his 40 virgins in heaven as a reward. (Oh, yeah, he didn't mention that aspect in the letter to the missus -- but you know he was thinking it.)

    No, my beef is with Ken Burns (and with certain Web loggers who ape him) for passing off this patriotic pablum (itself passing as a love letter) as some deep and thought-provoking profundity.

    (By the way, in response to your little ad-homonym [yuk-yuk] attack on my supposed dissing of lofty prose: this is no fourscore-and-seven, my friend. Please.)

    Love letters and suicide notes are best left to the beloved and the left-behind. I'm sure Sullivan's wife was as moved reading as Sullivan was writing, which is fine by me. But if this sort of thing is untouchable for the red-penned critic, it should be left untouched by the pop historian and armchair martyr too.

    Finally, you are wrong about us pasty ivory tower goons: we're way more like, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori? Dude, please.

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  5. Lyle LanleyJanuary 17, 2008

    I am here bob.

    I just have been a bit shaken as of late. I watched the Frontline episode of Dick Cheney the other night. the truth is disturbing.

    the real question is, would you be willing to die so that Dick Cheney and his fellow billionaires can continue with world domination at the expense of 99.6 percent of the world population?

    No?

    well, neither is anyone else really, but we can at least put the ribbons on all of our bank owned luxury vehicles and act like we would.

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