Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Flanders Tears

It being Veterans Day I tried once again to read "In Flanders Fields". I failed-again. I have rarely been able to get through the thing without choking up, pathetic sentimental slob that I am. Now I yield to no one in my cynical outlook on life and have been accused from time to time of not showing enough emotion when it might be well called for. This area is a major chink in the dam of my surly grinchy politico-philosophical demeanor.

I suppose I am simply not "sophisticated" enough to be able to sneer in modern deconstructionist fashion at all things military. And this from a boomer who was of draft age in the thick of the conflict in Vietnam when aluminum coffins were unloading from transport planes in the States at the rate of some 300 per week. Although perhaps not comparable to the 1940s it was still a tectonically frightening time to be 18 or 19 years old. It was little comfort, even to a history buff such as myself, that a casualty rate of 1200 per month would have been considered very light indeed in, say, 1944. We boomers were, by far, the most spoiled generation of young people up to that time and to suggest that we should risk our over-educated pampered hides in some stinking jungle for a cause as philosophically shaky as stopping the advance of communism seemed wildly, spectacularly, wrong-headed.

I am convinced that despite the huge mass of protests that essentially defended the right of the North Vietnamese to subjugate the south, and millions of words of queasily reasoned verbiage in defense of this proposition, that our unwillingness to fight was based substantially on fear of our own deaths. In other words--cowardice. If our parents' cohort was the Greatest Generation (a characterization over which they would snicker in amusement) then the 60s cohort might easily be called the Chickenshit Generation.

The middle-class kids of the drug and sex-soaked "liberated" 60s made the flappers and swells of the free-wheeling 20s look like a convention of Amish clerics. Of course getting loaded and screwing everything in sight has been a goal of young men for countless generations but in the 60s the floodgates of this longed-for behavior were flung gleefully wide. Our parents, children of depression and world war, were intent on making sure their children had everthing they didn't. Be careful what you wish for.

This sweet and nurturing impulse, combined with technological advances in birth-control, engendered heretofore unseen sexual permissiveness that by the late 60s had rendered the frequent and casual rogering of a random hippie chick stranger far less consequential and potentially involving than holding the hand of the girl next door. As typical horny males we were highly approving of the advent of not only the "pill" but also the lowering of the drinking age in many regions and the nearly universal easy access to weed. Why on earth would we have wanted to abandon this unparalled hedonism to risk getting our asses shot off?

For women the pill, in a pre-HIV age, allowed them to explore their own long suppressed horniness with far fewer consequences. Combine that factor with abundant alchohol and drugs and soon millions of pairs of nubile thighs angled smartly open and 30 million dainty mouths gaped to cheerfully encourage and abet the emissons of millions of perpetual young erections. Unrestricted fornication became the casual result of the first few hours, or even minutes, of personal contact with the opposite sex in contrast to our grandparents' tortuous months or years long campaigns of seduction towards the same end. Women were instantly relieved of the fear of unwanted pregnancy and although they may have been no inherently more sexualized than their mothers they could now "enjoy" whatever level of copulatory exploration their personalities would countenance. It turned out to be a lot. A whole lot. So much that we live with the repercussions yet today but who could have known then what effects the wholesale sexualization of society would have? And frankly who would have cared even if they had known? Individual raging hormones take no notice of future social consequences.

Such irony. The baby boomers' very existence was owed in large part to the sexual liscense engendered by the frightening exigencies and heartbreaking separations of the 40s war years. Soldiers on leave or about to ship out, facing the high prospect of battlefield death or maiming, exploited equally intense female emotions to bed girlfriends and new wives with near maniacal zeal which scarcely abated after the war. Voila--the Baby Boomers.

If the age-old fear of unrestricted coupling was rendered moot by the emotional tumult of a whole world at war then the effect was exponentially higher for young people frightened by war and far less inhibited by the prospect of unwanted pregnancy. If the couplings of war were uninhibited by the near certainty of getting your squeeze knocked-up then the less than single digit odds of the 60s had only vanishingly small effect. Not that there weren't plenty of unplanned pregnancies but the pill ensured that hundreds of unrestricted couplings resulted in fewer pregnancies than even a single "bareback" tryst of only a decade earlier.

So what healthy young male in his right mind would voluntarily leave this Valhalla of easy drugs and easier pussy to tramp through foreign jungles in pursuit of an obsessed ruthless enemy? Of course few would actually admit to this at the time which made the "anti-war" movement so attractive. The movement, among other things, provided cover in the form of high intellectual dudgeon over our supposed mistreatment of the poor helpless North Vietnamese and the enforced slavery of the miltary draft which enabled this mistreatment.

Alternative press and radio, black armbands, the peace sign, mass marches, Kent State blah blah blah. All very high-minded don'tcha know. Naturally we preferred to think of it as principled objection by the "people" rather than having to abandon pop's money, eschew free-flowing poontang, and stop passing fifty cent doobies for the dangerous and dubious privilege of "defending democracy." A goodly number of people decided that this principle could be divorced from selfish hedonistic imperatives and should stand on its own. Hence the rise of the anti-war left that to this day is convinced that "War is not the Answer" and that "Violence never solves anything." As operationally risible and philosophically bankrupt as these puerile concepts are in the modern world they still have a solid hold on a goodly chunk of boomer weltanshaung and on those they have influenced. This has evolved into the facile and self-serving concept of "Dissent is the highest form of Patriotism." Yeah screw self-sacrifice and bugger love of country. Dissent is the real deal homie, sure to make you a fully nuanced self-actualized intellectually mature human bean unlike those slobbering knuckle-dragging brain-dead admirers of the military.

War is damned well sometimes the answer. Violence frequently solves problems immune to sweet reason. Just ask John Adams, or Frederick Douglas, or Anne Frank, or the citizens of Coventry, or the victims of Dachau if war is never the answer. Just sweetly and non-violently reason with the Confederate States of America, or Der Fuehrer, or Uncle Joe, or Pol Pot, or Saddam, or any Islamist fanatic. Let me know how that works out for you.

Which all in all is why I tear up at "Flanders Fields". Millions of young men, perhaps blindly, perhaps ignorantly, and undoubtedly without the nuanced contemplations of academe, have defended not merely democracy but our unique version of it which, intentionally or not, makes them true exemplars of the concept of civic duty. Which should be worth a tear or three and a healthy snort of derision for some twit swathed in pink waving a crudely lettered "No Blood For Oil" placard. May their hydrogen powered car explode due to a spark from a wind turbine.

Find a vet. Shake his hand. Imagine the poppies blooming in the shattered soil of the Ypres Salient "between the crosses row on row." Shed a tear.


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