Monday, October 23, 2017

"The Wonderful Joy"




The old lie: Dulce et decorum est... Pro patria mori.
(It is good and honorable to die for one's country.)


We now know that John Kelly lied promiscuously about U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson.  But finding out that the Emperor, or in this case, the General, has no clothes or much integrity might not be very important. He is, after all, not Presidential Press Secretary but Chief of Staff, and he'll have little opportunity in the future to fabricate an event.

And it is not news that anyone with any integrity who comes into contact with Donald Trump comes out with very little. More important, however, is the point Steve M. noted that Masha Gessen made in The New Yorker as she wrote

when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.

... It is in totalitarian societies, which demand complete mobilization, that dying for one’s country becomes the ultimate badge of honor. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I learned the names of ordinary soldiers who threw their bodies onto enemy tanks, becoming literal cannon fodder. All of us children had to aspire to the feat of martyrdom....

Kelly married his celebration of martydom with the Administration's hostility toward the working press. Gessen continues with

... At the end of the briefing, [Kelly] said that he would take questions only from those members of the press who had a personal connection to a fallen soldier, followed by those who knew a Gold Star family.... he was now explicitly denying a majority of Americans—or the journalists representing them—the right to ask questions. This was a new twist on the Trump Administration’s technique of shunning and shaming unfriendly members of the news media, except this time, it was framed explicitly in terms of national loyalty. As if on cue, the first reporter allowed to speak inserted the phrase "Semper Fi"- a literal loyalty oath- into his question.

Before walking off the stage, Kelly told Americans who haven't served in the military that he pities them.  "We don't walk down upon those of you who haven't served," he said. "In fact, in a way we're a little bit sorry because you'll never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and women do- not for any other  reason than that they love this country."

It was all there, including the condescending "we're a little bit sorry" and the implication that those servicemen and women "love this country" while the others do not. Easily lost however- except by Gessen and a few others- was the glorification of fighting in a war, dramatically dramatized in the 1921 poem by Wilfred Owen:

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, 
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.










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