Saturday, November 14, 2009
Photo: My maternal grandfather, Arthur Holden Watson, in what was probably the uniform of the East Yorkshire Regiment, prior to going to France, 1917. Click on the link above to read more.
I essentially missed Remembrance Day this year, which upset me a good deal. Unity College, like a lot of educational and civic organizations these days, does not really recognize the day with any special programming. And I had, perhaps foolishly, managed to volunteer myself for extra duty -- writing a grant that from my viewpoint needed badly to be written, so what time I had to reflect was lost to fund raising.
No matter really -- the money I'm trying to raise will go towards educating Maine schoolkids about renewable energy, which will go some small way towards reducing the burden our services carry securing the pipelines of fossil energy from the middle east. Which, if you think about it, is just the kind of thing I should be trying to do as a renewable energy and sustainability academic, were I to wish to properly use and honour the example of the service of men like my grandfather (pictured above in 1917).
In my perhaps oversimplified, un-deconstructed, non-postmodern, obviously mistakenly deontological world theory, I tend to feel like I'm doing my duty more or less the way I should, given the complications. And there's the small matter of my own six and a half years in uniform.
I also tend to find the college's, and much of society's, lack of formal remembrance sad, but it's a mark of the essential disconnection that exists between the white collar world which makes up much of that society, especially that of college professors, and the military.
Considering that a large number of my colleagues were protesters during the Vietnam War, this is understandable. Many of the boomer generation of intellectuals haven't updated their ethics or moral compass on war since they were protesting. But the implicit, but unconscious, white-collar boomer's notion that we can disconnect ourselves from soldiery and service in wartime permanently is a failure of elementary reasoning.
Obviously there will always come a time where, no matter how liberal you are, you will need to be protected.
To understand this, you only need to understand your 20th century history, be able to admit to the fact that there are bad people, and bad governments in the world, and be able to separate the just wars from the unjust ones you protested. And there are plenty of candidates.
A Jew in 1930s Germany, a Londoner in late 1940, a West German liberal in 1949, a South Korean in 1950, a British civilian in a Birmingham pub in 1974, a Falkland Islander in 1982, a Rwandan in 1994, a Bosnian Muslim or Kosovan Alabanian, and on and on, all these justly needed our protection against the likes of Hitler, Stalin, the Provisional IRA, or the Argentinian Junta.
The world is not necessarily safe, yet, not even for nice, liberal, democratic, peace-loving, intellectually-minded white collar middle class feminist-environmentalist-progressive people who have no connection to, or experience of, military service. Paradoxically, it therefore takes the service of much more pragmatic, down-to-earth, often conservative, soldiers and sailors and airmen to keep our woolly-minded brethren safe in their beds. Whether they are grateful or not.
"Freedom from fear," said FDR, is a human necessity of the first order and one of four reasons we fought and fight. I suppose I should be glad that so many of us are free of fear that we don't even know enough about whether or not others are protecting us to be grateful for it.
I tend to think, too, that today's efforts are much more just than many of my colleagues seem to believe, that for instance a young woman in Afghanistan who wishes to go to school or work, or indeed wishes anything better than the domestic and sexual slavery that many of her menfolk and especially the Taliban and their ilk see as natural, deserves our protection just as much as any of these listed above.
Which means that our soldiers are over there doing a job of work that needs to be done.
(I need to say, too, though, that I have nothing but distaste and distrust for the likes of Cheney, Limbaugh, Beck and the rest of the drumbeat idiocy of the right, none of whom served by the way. It doesn't hurt to say it one more time: Dick Cheney was a four-time draft-dodger.)
Not a few young soldiers, sailors, and airmen I know are, or have been, my own students. They deserve our support, praise, and respect for what they have done and are doing. And they deserve a more considered and considerate Remembrance for their sacrifices.