Memorial Day

My fascination with airplanes is only half as complicated as my fascination with war.

Plenty of posts here have spoken to my aversion/attraction to airplanes. In short, I love planes, but I hate to fly. WFUV’s Vin Scelsa probably best summarized the whole thing when we spoke just after September 11th (and just prior to the release of “Crash Site”):

He said he had for many years suffered from recurring dreams, nightmares, about being in a plane crash. Sometimes he was in the plane crash; sometimes he was just observing the plane crash. And he finally got to the root of it… as a young boy he was the victim of divorce and his parents lived far away from each other so that every time that he had to go visit a parent he had to get on a plane.

I think he referred to it as “Freud 101,” which it probably is.

So, then, what’s with my interest in the military, and war? Obviously (and you’ve read plenty of monologues on the subject here as well), I loathe war. The days and week leading up to the Attack on Iraq made me nuts, primarily because it was so apparent that a) the association between the attacks of September 11th and Saddam Hussein were completely bogus b) there were no WMDs and c) these guys (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc) stood to gain (see also: Big Oil, Halliburton, etc) from this senseless act of aggression. Worse, in this borderless age of video conferencing and the Internet, there’s no excuse for not working things out. Still, the drumbeats were sounding. The hawks were circling. Ego was involved. Shock and awe. Blah blah blah.

(My reaction to The Gulf War was equally visceral, but muted. Then, like now, I wasn’t sure what I could do. In one of my stoner-on-the-couch philosophizing, I thought I’d climb the campus bell tower and hoist a gigantic peace sign. Instead, pulled another bong hit and turned up CNN.)

What is odd, then, is how I races onto my roof deck when I heard the F16’s racing up the Hudson. What is odd, then, how many books I have read, and how many films I have watched, about most major conflicts post-WWII: “Band of Brothers,” “Flyboys,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Dispatches,” “Jarhead,” “Raid on the Sun,” “Chasing Ghosts,” “Platoon,” “Blackhawk Down,” and on and on and on. Right now, I’m reading Rick Atkinson’s, “In The Company Of Soldiers,” a general’s view on the Attack on Iraq (in short: too quick, too poorly planned, not enough men).

What gives, then? How can I loathe war but so voraciously consume art on the subject?

For better or worse, it seems from my civilian eyes that war makes men, it forges brotherhood, it requires sacrifice, and a depth of personal investment — not so much for our beliefs, but for each other. There’s something about the furnace of despair, peril and urgency that makes us greater. Those who make it home, that is. Those who make it home with all their limbs, or all their wits.

As I said to my father, last night, I have no beef with the generals, or the boots on the ground. I appreciate their sacrifice. It’s the clowns in the business suits, the guys who deferred or narrowly escaped their service to country who smugly stand before the wives, sons and daughters of the lost and say, “Liberty is always the achievement of courage.”

I love this country for its potential. I love it for its scope, and breadth, and inclusiveness (recent movements for a “national language” and a “good fences make good neighbors” policy notwithstanding). But I am not proud on Memorial Day. We really should be able to work these things out. I’m grateful for the men and women who make my dissent possible. And I’m sad. And when the Fourth of July rolls around, I’m with Aimee Mann.

“What a waste of gunpowder and sky.”

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