Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day 2015

The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked [the author] I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment


Yesterday, I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

Now, it doesn’t matter which author or which novel or exactly where the conversation took place – though I’m certain a number of folks reading this can figure it out in short order.  The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military. 

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies. I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass in his name, while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of its author whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.


And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.


That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are.  

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war. But it must be done in a certain way. You see, it’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to? To write of those who find a home in the military? That is a sin. Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met yesterday … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military. And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day. 

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.

Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.

Perhaps we are. Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the bailout bill, the election, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards. Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform - all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of cheap beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram. They won't talk about honoring veterans, they are veterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Alaska. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, the mills and mines and rigs are still running. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by living without having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security, without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. 

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war. It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it. We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can, and should, strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more. Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. Me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be a better citizen.  

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them. For my comrades in arms, for those I served beside, I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.

Yesterday I met a man who despised me.

But you know what? That, that right there, is what we were doing in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

Yesterday I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.


  1. Well said, Sir. Thank you. (And yes, I think I know the novel from which you speak). This too is a needed statement. And it's appreciated.

  2. Thank you, Jim. I discovered Stonekettle a couple years ago, and your candid and heartfelt accounts of the military have taught me a great deal. I appreciate your broad perspective and wisdom.

  3. Some things, the more you understand, the more you loathe them.

    Yep. Amazing book.

  4. There are two ways that we should be honoring our veterans: 1) Do right by them personally with regard to their health and well-being - physical, mental, all of it; and 2) Do right by them collectively by working to ensure that others don't have to repeat their sacrifice.

  5. Well spoken, Chief. It reminds me of a quote by Odin (at least, Marvel's interpretation of the mythic figure), "A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it."

    I'll admit, I'm probably in the 7th category (those for whom Veteran's Day is like any other day), but this piece has given me a bit to ruminate on in this regard.

    On an unrelated note, I found a small typo: "...then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the bailout bill, the election, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic u*m*-American bastards."

  6. Well said. Max Hastings recently (LRB 10 Sept 2015) made a similar point in arguing that even the First World War, the paradigm of loony, useless, unjustifiable slaughter, nevertheless had to be fought, once it had started, and he quoted Charles Carrington in praise of the "millions who did not want the war, did not cause the war, did not shirk the war, and did not lose the war." They are the ones who, as in an image that you used, ran toward the burning building and not away.

  7. Excellent piece. I'm pretty sure I know the novel and I too have read and reread it. Note -- I think you meant 'hearsay' not 'heresy' in the 7th paragraph.

  8. Thank you, once again you have put the words together in just the right way.

  9. "I joined for myself, but I stayed for them."

    In 1981 I joined the Royal Air Force. I didn't do it out of some idea of 'Duty' or some other BS. I did it for ME. I WANTED to be a Royal Air Force Officer - it was ALL and EVERYTHING I had EVER wanted.

    And I did it. And I became GOOD at it.

    Later I went aircrew, and guess what? I did it FOR ME.

    Again I became GOOD at it.

    Then I got involved in stuff like Somalia. and Bosnia, and Kosovo...

    So any eejit as wants to call me a 'warmonger' or similar, well you know exactly which orifice in which you can insert your sexual organ.

    Then again...
    It's funny (funny peculiar, not funny hah-hah); I was at the National Arboretum a couple of years ago, I was fully prepared to see my Brother's name on the Memorial Wall - I'd come to terms with his death, it was over 30 years ago.

    What I wasn't prepared for was, when I saw the names etched there, just how many friends I'd lost over the years. I guess you don't 'forget', you put it to the back of your mind and carry on. Kind of putting them in Limbo...

    So yes, "I joined for myself, but I stayed for them."

  10. I've read the book discussed, and like you, many times over. I've offered it to young friends, male and female, not because it glorifies the "poor bloody infantry", but because it's one of the greatest coming of age books ever written. Anyone who says otherwise is simply missing the point of the story.

  11. Thank you for sharing of yourself, your personal story, and your honest, thoughtful words. It takes a unique courage to bare one's soul as you have done, and that alone, in my opinion, makes you a hero. Peace to you on this Veterans Day. ~Dave

  12. Thank you for this post. My friends on Facebook are posting honor our vets memes and American flags, thanking friends and family for their service and posting cherished pictures of their loved-ones who have served. All day I have been thinking about posting a comment for people to put their money were their mouths are by voting for politicians who vote to support veteran services. I didn't, not wanting to make anyone feel I was minimizing their feelings. Your post showed me quite clearly why this day can make so many of us, veterans or not, feel conflicted about the holiday.

  13. Jim,
    Thank you for a great piece of writing. As a Vietnam Veteran, I appreciate your viewpoint. You speak a powerful truth.

    Fran Frey

  14. Dennis Morrigan McDonoughNovember 11, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    Thank you, Mr. Wright. My father served 28 years and certainly never thought of himself as anyone special. He did what he did partly because someone had to do it and partly because it was a secure, if sometimes dangerous, life for him and a way to protect and raise his family. Take care.

  15. You hit the nail on the head, at least in my opinion. Thanks for your honesty, as this hit pretty close to home.

  16. Jim, I am curious to know the book and author of which you speak, if you don't mind indulging a neophyte...

    1. If you do a little legwork, you'll figure it out. Hint: the title is mentioned in the text.

    2. I was just about to ask the same question when I saw this. The three novels that popped into my head didn't fit the earlier clues American-written from six decades ago. I bought the book
      tonight along with another(title caught my eye) titled True Stories of Great Escapes.

  17. Yes. I will never understand your experience because it was yours, not mine. But it was ever so generous of you to share it, so thank you. I will endeavor to benefit from it and convey its spirit to others as opportunities arise.

  18. I'm not going to cheapen the sentiment by thanking you for your service, although I am cognizant of that service. I am going to question one statement you made though, one I've heard many times over the years from many people: that no one is more anti-war than a veteran. I'm sorry, but that has not been my experience. Perhaps the veteran -- indignant as hell over the nearly incoherent rage displayed by a young Iranian who appears on TV burning a US flag -- who suggests that we should "nuke and pave" the Middle East isn't advocating war so much as genocide. So maybe he could be called "anti-war", and still be calling out for the killing of millions. My experience of veterans isn't that they are thoughtful about their service, as you've demonstrated. Most are either apathetic about almost anything that doesn't directly affect them, or they are beligerent in the extreme.

    1. My experience with veterans is that they are humans and, just like any other group of humans, not so easily generalized. I've known vets who are pacifists, pro-war, and everywhere in between. If you've only met one type of veteran, I have to wonder where you're meeting them.

    2. In my experience, most people are a mixture of good and bad, good predominating a fair portion of the time. A few are truly and remarkably admirable, and a very few are truly evil. I don't think vets are any different.

    3. I am the son of an Army Colonel, a veteran of WW2 and Korea. I am a USN Attack Squadron Viet Nam veteran. I grew up in the Army. I have known countless servicemen, and veterans. My best guess is that what you have noticed is a reaction to the way you present yourself, and very unlikely because all veterans are the same. For instance, the dial on my beligerance unit is cranked up to 11 after reading your post. Nothing could be further from my experience. My Dad used to talk to me often when I was a child about the things we gave up as a family because of his career. He explained, as well as he could, in much the same way as this article does, that it is something that has to be done, that some are called to do, and it is a matter of pride and commitment to this country that we, as individuals and as a family, make this sacrifice. Thank you Jim, for expressing this so well. And for you, Robert, clean those lenses. You are not seeing things as clearly as you might.

  19. I became a United States Marine because my family has served since the call to arms went out in Lexington and Concorde. I sought greater self discipline and purpose when I joined. I experienced the good, the bad and some things very ugly. My service changed me. It opened me to the concept that the needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few. It taught me that cooperation and compromise are strengths rather than weaknesses. Since my discharge in good times and bad I have fully engaged life because so many never got that chance including my brother who was KIA in Vietnam 8 years before I enlisted. People can call me what they will, t matters not because my fellow veterans call me sister.

  20. I thank you. Not for your service, but for speaking the truth when it is needed. I think the latter may be the far more courageous and valorous calling of your life's works. But that's just my own opinion. Either way, you are appreciated.

  21. Outta the park yet again. Methinks it's time to pull "Starship Troopers" off the shelf and read it again tonight.

    I think it is acceptable to have a warrior hero in a novel who loves his status and makes his living and his life as a warrior – as long as the novel is set safely in a distant historical past, or in an alternative sci-fi/fantasy world. Think Miles Vorkosigan, maybe? or certainly Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred (the Saxon Stories series, and a helluva read if you haven’t yet tried them). Just not here and now, or in the recent past, when presumably humanity is more evolved and advanced (snort).

  22. From "The Pragmatics of Patriotism" by Robert Heinlein

    The time has come for me to stop. I said that "Patriotism" is a way of saying "Women and children first." And that no one can force a man to feel this way. Instead he must embrace it freely. I want to tell about one such man. He wore no uniform and no one knows his name, or where he came from; all we know is what he did.

    In my home town sixty years ago when I was a child, my mother and father used to take me and my brothers and sisters out to Swope Park on Sunday afternoons. It was a wonderful place for kids, with picnic grounds and lakes and a zoo. But a railroad line cut straight through it.

    One Sunday afternoon a young married couple were crossing these tracks. She apparently did not watch her step, for she managed to catch her foot in the frog of a switch to a siding and could not pull it free. Her husband stopped to help her.

    But try as they might they could not get her foot loose. While they were working at it, a tramp showed up, walking the ties. He joined the husband in trying to pull the young woman's foot loose. No luck --

    Out of sight around the curve a train whistled. Perhaps there would have been time to run and flag it down, perhaps not. In any case both men went right ahead trying to pull her free. . .and the train hit them.

    The wife was killed, the husband was mortally injured and died later, the tramp was killed -- and testimony showed that neither man made the slightest effort to save himself.

    The husband's behavior was heroic. . .but what we expect of a husband toward his wife: his right, and his proud privilege, to die for his woman. But what of this nameless stranger? Up to the very last second he could have jumped clear. He did not. He was still trying to save this woman he had never seen before in his life, right up to the very instant the train killed him. And that's all we'll ever know about him.

    THIS is how a man dies.

    This is how a MAN. . .lives!

    "They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; Age shall not wither them nor the years condemn; As the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them..."

    -Tomb of the Scottish Unknown Soldier, Edinburgh

    1. Thank you for this

    2. I would say it is how a compassionate person lives, how a brave person lives. It would have (or should have) been the same story if two women had been trying to free a man's foot. That we expect (not in the sense of demand, in the sense of it being part of our expectations) less courage and honour of women than we do of men, and call it chivalry, or respect, or indeed patriotism is belittling, not honouring and does no favours to anyone involved. There are good reasons why people who have the care of small children (or other dependants) should not put their lives unnecessarily at risk, but that can be men as well as women. It is a great story, about great courage and selflessness, but it has nothing to do with "being a man" and everything to do with being a good person.

    3. Thank you, Lena.

  23. Have you ever heard the song "The Sun is Also a Warrior"?
    I think you'd enjoy it:

  24. I walked out of my house today, with my dog, for a long walk in a peaceful autumn day and it occurred to me to wonder what must it be like to live somewhere where I couldn't do that. Where it would be too dangerous to do that. To live somewhere where I could be bombed or shot and I thought how incredibly damn lucky we are to live here. So respect is given to those who made it so.

  25. The funny thing is, while this author was writing this novel, he also worked on another, and that book couldn't have gotten much further away from the one Jim referenced. From this far different work came pop references most of us older folks know and used, and the idea for an invention that was in every other hippie bedroom in America, once upon a time. Terribly-writtten book, the second one, it doesn't bear re-reading, but Jim's referenced work does.

    A good writer can do wonders on either end of a political and social spectrum.

  26. Amen.

    I know exactly the book you're talking about (and the famous author's page :)

    (I have a friend-- retired Marine. I met him when I was in the Navy many moons ago and he's still one of my best friends. Thus we can say things to each other that do not necessarily fit our public persona.

    We had a discussion, some time ago, about "Thank you for your service." He hates it. He says it's like "Have a nice day" and that people who will spit in your eye in every other way say it, but that it has no meaning for them--like have a nice day. There are too many kids dying and to turn that into "have a nice day" ... er... sucks.

    I say that that is true for some people, but that some people mean it, and I remember the "welcome" Vietnam vets got on coming home, and I usually just say "Thank you" and let it go hoping that they are the ones who mean it. I see kids just back from Afghanistan and it means something to them. As well as many Vietnam vets who never got to hear it.

    So this morning I said "Have a peaceful Veteran's day. Thank you for your service."
    He said "Fuck you."
    It's no wonder I've loved him for close to 40 years.)

  27. Figured it out, thanks... "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is a favorite of mine...

    1. A favorite of mine as well, but Jim is thinking of an entirely different book. The water bed hint gives it away...Stranger in a Strange Land. A huge favorite among the hippies.

  28. Well said. Thank you for saying it.

  29. Badge of honor. You made me cry. "I'll wear it as a badge of honor." My father-in-law used to say that to me when I'd kiss him on the cheek and leave a big lipstick print. He and his brothers served in the 442nd Infantry. No one in the family was interned. They all grew up in Wyoming, a few hours drive from Heart Mountain. He took honor as seriously as you do. It was my honor to kiss him on the cheek, and my honor to marry his son. <3

  30. I read that book when I was a kid until the cover fell off, so I bought another copy. It's one of two non-professional books I take with me on deployment (the other is Kipling.

    It has the distinction of popping on and off the Chief of Staff of the Army's professional reading list, and it's one of the few books that just about everyone knows and can discuss in those late night barracks bull sessions. Not only does it do a good job of exploring the "Why serve?" question, it's also a great story.

    Unfortunately, my current ragged and dog-eared copy is packed in a truck with the rest of the library (and the rest of our worldly possessions) and is on its way to Georgia.
    Which means that I'm going to have to break down and download a copy to my Nook.

    Thanks, Jim.

  31. Jim, Thank you! Amazing book, and RH is one my favorite authors, who's writing contributed to making me who I am today (good or bad). I find your writings also make me think differently, and deeper about important things, just as his did... so again, Thank you!

  32. I think a lot of us who have served have been thinking along these lines, but not been able to express. Thank you Jim for putting in in writing.

  33. A little proofreading help: "willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country,". think 'trace' might not be the word you intended.
    Also saw what you did with 'heresy'. I was going to point that out when I saw that it changed. I am impressed.


    1. Actually, "In trace" is exactly the term I intended.

      I take it you've never handled draft animals?

      Trace: The straps or chains which take the pull of the draft animal from the yoke (ox collar, horse collar, etc) to the load. In other words: traces connect the animal to the wagon for motive power, reins connect the lead animal to the driver for control.

      "In trace" means in "harnessed" or "yoked to" or "in service to." Which is exactly what I intended.

    2. Is it wrong to love you for your vocabulary?

    3. I have to admit - I had to look that one up myself. One of the reasons I spend time here. Learning is still fun.

  34. My father would have made the Navy his home if there had been a spot for him to command a ship again. He wanted to go back, after serving in WWII as a teen and the GI bill sent him to college, so he enlisted for Korea. After, there were not enough places in a smaller force. I have the letters of response that came to him, as he searched for a ship. I think it was a lifelong disappointment that he couldn't stay in the Navy. He was a man of integrity and honor all his life. I have profound respect for the profession of soldier, and of the military even while understanding the limitations of any flawed individual and any horrific situation that comes into play. The ones I am most likely to despise are those in charge who create conflicts and send men and women into danger like pawns in a game of Risk. They are using the profession as a means to gain money and power and not treating the military with the same honor and integrity it asks of it's own. Discipline, honor, integrity - It should go both ways.

  35. I am so glad to have met you. You, sir, are one of the best people I know. And that is saying something.

  36. I can see I'm going to have to re-read that book. It's been too long. It's too bad more of our legislators don't have military experience with which to deal with life. (Not wishing for a war, by the way, but as a means of learning how to work for the common good.)

  37. Bravo Zulu, Jim. I know exactly what you mean by this, because it perfectly parallels my experience. I was Army enlisted, infantry and armor, for 24 years, and Heinlein's words got me through more than one rough spot. And you're right: we didn't stay in for the money, or for the cushy working conditions. No, we stayed for our comrades, and for the nation, and because we couldn't stand the idea of doing less than the ones who went before us.

    If the person who so dislikes you is sleeping soundly in his bed tonight, it's because a whole lot of young men and women around the world are ready to put their lives on the line to keep his sorry ass safe at home. I hope he appreciates it. But I doubt he ever will.

  38. Thank you Jim for again writing something thought provoking & truthful.
    My father served in Korea & my grandfather was on General Pattons staff during the planning of the invasion of Africa & was in charge of his funeral a few years later. He also sat on the jury at Dachau. A few years ago my family finished off a case of Benadictine that was "liberated" from the Nazi stash in a cave somewhere. In my life military was just something that you did, it wasn't discussed much.
    I have a problem with all the hoopla today because we should always be aware of the men & women that leave their life & families behind to serve. We should take care of them in the best way possible when they return. The politicians that don't take care of veterans should be voted out of office.
    I look forward everyday to whatever you post on Facebook/Twitter or on here. I love the way your brain works & the snark is delicious. You're a good man. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

  39. The movie adaptation was done by a man who does not like soldiers. Any soldiers.

    I'm sure that many people could understand why Paul Verhoeven acquired that attitude. However, I suspect that the guy who insulted you on Facebook did not have anything like the same childhood experience

  40. Couldn't agree more. I too remember. the shared danger, the joy of a job well done, the camaraderie, the practical jokes and the laughs ... and the tears.
    As a famous South Dakota war hero once said: " I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."
    Today was meant to be a holiday to celebrate peace ... too bad we've lost sight of that.

  41. Thanks for writing this, Jim. Today - having been granted a day off by my university employer - I walked downtown to take in our little town's 64th annual Veteran's Day parade. It was, wonderfully, lacking in chest-thumping and drum-beating (though there were plenty of flags being waved), and instead a heartfelt showing of respect and thanks to those we've sent to do our dirty work over the decades. You might enjoy the photos I took: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kightp/albums/72157660332673807 ...

    1. Thank you for taking and sharing these images. They're great!

  42. Not bad for a Navy puke. Grok

  43. Your words, as always, are spot on.

    I also had a smug moment as I knew the FB posting that you referred to - although I missed the words of your detractor as the words were gone when I went back.

    I have not read much Heinlein. It is time I remedy that omission. But I did watch the movie for a third time, and found the way-too-many similarities toward a certain group of individuals running for high office. NPH's performance chilled me to the bone at the end. Guantanamo clinic. The talking heads on point-counterpoint shows, like every FB rant I have read and been a part of for months.

    We learn nothing from history when we allow the losers to continue to rewrite it.

    1. Do not expect the book to be anything like the movie. Beyond the title, they share nearly nothing. (In comparison, the book would have to fall quite a distance to be able to look down on the movie.)

    2. Thank you Jack.

      I look forward to increasing my Heinlein knowledge. 😃

    3. Or, as Malcolm Reynolds said, " half of writing history is hiding the truth." Or as I heard someone else say, "history is too often what happened, but what was recorded. A lie set down on paper with wet ink becomes a truth when dry." Think The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.

  44. Nice write up. I chose, and would choose again, the same family. No time to worry about what others think, too much to do, and based on what I see on a daily basis most people aren't worth the intellectual or emotional effort.

  45. Well, now I feel foolish for thanking you yesterday...

    I just have to say that this was so eloquent. A really beautiful essay that was very touching and expressed a tone I don't often hear. So - thank you for the essay.

  46. Thank you, Mr. Wright.

    Powerful and wise.

    My four year stint in the Coast Guard was for me. A freshly graduated high school student with very little direction in life. My father served during Vietnam, and in the mid-80s I thought it was right and proper to serve in the military, in service to my country.
    When I hear "Thank you for your service" I want to laugh. I served during peace time. I spent a lot of my time getting drunk. When we got underway I hung out in the engine room and electrical shop for about 16 hours a day, bobbing around in the Bering Sea, and waiting to get to a port where I could drink. I had a shit-bird attitude, but I was good at my job. I mocked the LIFERs and looked forward to the day I would be honorably discharged (I wasn't going to screw that up). I keep in touch with a few of the guys I served with, and I admire and respect those that stuck it out until retirement.
    I graciously accept the "thank yous" instead of laughing. I know there are those that put themselves in harms way as well as those that sacrificed their lives for something they believed in.
    Thank you for your honest and heartfelt words.

  47. Jim, we are in an RV park in La Peñita de Jaltemba, Mexico. Probably 75% of the park residents are Canadian, and they take their "Remembrance Day" pretty seriously. One of the men in the park played the bagpipes over by the pool while they had a small ceremony and as we are just across the road from the pool, I just watched, until our next door neighbor was taken over toward the end of the ceremony. Dodd, who is in his 90s, went ashore on Juno Beach on D+1, and was wounded in combat. I went over and stood at attention and when the bagpiper marched off I shook Dodd's hand and saluted him. 19 years ago this month was my retirement ceremony after 30 years service, 4.5 years US Navy and 25.5 years US Coast Guard.

  48. I always cringe at the thanks for your service line. Some time ago I watched a TV "journalist" tell a soldier "thank you for serving in my stead". I had one of those WTF moments. Who says such a thing? No one is in the military so this shallow loathsome bastard doesn’t have to worry about his career arc to a cushy network news spot. We all serve or served for reasons to many to list but “in your stead” surely isn’t one of them.
    Nice piece Jim.

  49. Nicely said Jim. I spent Veterans Day in the Air & Space Museum out by Dulles airport. Inside is the Enola Gay. My father was a quartermaster supporting the 509th, part of the group that brought WWII to a close. People have asked me what he thought of the horrific events that he helped support and I can say that he was proud to have served. He was part of the "Greatest Generation".

    I spent six years in the National Guard. I too did it for me, not in some trumped up ideal of service to my country. I fulfilled an obligation. Having said that, I believe that we must fulfill those obligations in order to maintain a free society.

    BTW - you used fire fighters as an analogy. I also spent 32 years in the fire service.... Must have been crazy.

  50. A day late (and a dollar short), but if thanking you for your service is passe, thank you for this writing.

  51. Whenever this date rolls around I'm always thinking how The Great War: WW1 was called the War to end all wars and why this particular date is remembered the end of that terrible war. It is always what first comes to mind.
    The tragedy is that it wound up ushering in an age of wars, big ones, little ones, too many.
    I spent it walking about parts of DC, but nowhere near the National Mall though.
    Very sobering.
    M from MD

  52. You're a vile arrogant obnoxious bully that thrives on mean spirited hate.. nothing more, nothing less. How you ever gained an audience is one of the mysteries of the internet.

    1. How you got that from this post is beyond me, but you're entitled to your opinion.

      Same as the person who inspired this post, your contempt warms my flinty black heart. You're welcome. Now, fuck off.

    2. Anonymous coward can fuck off twice. Very inspiring Jim. I'll show the proper thanks for the work in the donation box. Cheers!

    3. WOW!

      I take it 'Anonymous' that you have never served in the Military. People like you are pathetic, you criticise people like us for joining up yet you would never have the bravery so to do. THAT is the perfect description of HYPOCRISY!

      You criticise with no knowledge.

      You do so with no background.

      It must be nice to sit there behind your computer screen, wanking yourself off in a self induced frenzy safe in the knowledge that you are anonymous. But that's the point isn't it? You ARE anonymous and about as important as fly in the air sideways.

      You, Sir/Madam are a PILLOCK.

    4. Indeed, in Morse (while the Milirary people here will understand) you are a DASH DOT DOT DASH.

    5. Dear Anonymous, No you would be thinking of Donald Trump. Continue to laud your hero elsewhere.

      Jim, I salute you for being you, and your ability to lead us down saner paths. Thanks for leading us around the piles of dog shit like this asshat.

    6. Dear Anonymous,

      Thanks for the laugh and showing us here what a piss-poor judge of character you are.

      Morgan M. Sheridan
      USAF E-4, 1974-79

  53. Just saw this. Thought of you. http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/11/10/dont-thank-me-anymore-just-care-veterans-who-return-and-work-end-all-war

  54. Well Said! I know the novel, and it has certainly been the subject of many such "discussions"... Time for another read.

    (USAF Comm/Computers for 13 yrs)

  55. This is troubling topic. My father did a stint in the Navy during the Korean conflict. I have never "served", not out of a lack of patriotism or courage or loyalty, but because of the moral ambiguity of it. I don't see that any of the recent conflicts have any justification or did anything to advance the interests of the nation as a whole. This person you met would be just a free to despise you if there had been no wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though I suspect he would then have no reason for doing so.

    Serving your country when called upon a thin reed to cling to. The nature of that service and its justification have to be scrutinized to determine its merit. The NAZI concentration camp guards were also just doing their job.

    I fear our soldiers are more victims than heroes, willing to sacrifice for the greater good but, instead, taken advantage of to advance the interests of a narrow set of greedy and/or delusional oligarchs.

  56. You, Sir, have a way with words that humbles me.

    I hang up my Sword next Friday after 22 years.

    I am debating what, if anything I will say as I stand in front of those who follow me. May I use some of your words?

    1. Certainly.

      Congratulations on your retirement. // Jim

  57. First, thanks for this post. I've certainly read the novel, and knew the author. At one point in the post, you contrast The Forever War and Starship Troopers. I find it quite telling that Robert approached Joe at the ceremony where Joe received his Nebula award for Forever War, and said the book "may be the best future war story I've ever read!"

    1. Both are excellents works, for different reasons - which is why both endure. Just as both The Green Berets and Full Metal Jacket are excellent works, for very different reasons.

      I never met RAH, though I suspect we would have gotten along.

      I had the privilege (and it was a privilege) of meeting Joe Haldeman and his wife at this year's Worldcon. Wonderful people, kind, gracious, funny, wickedly intelligent.

  58. The Brits don't go in for so much stuff about veterans ("vet" in British English is someone who looks after sick animals, people who served in the military are generally referred to as "ex-servicemen/women" or "former soldiers" or "retired Naval officers" or similar), partly because there is still some amount of traditional "British reserve" and that sort of thing "just isn't done". We don't offer freebies or discounts to current or former service personnel. We don't say "thank you for your service". We are generally less fussed about what people do with or to flags than Americans seem to be. We do stand in silence at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. We buy poppies (red in support of the Royal British Legion, which supports former service personnel), or in some cases white for the Peace Pledge Union, or both.
    I remember my late grandfather, who survived the Normandy landings only because one of his comrades was notably short, and was completely submerged when he got off the landing craft. My grandad ducked under to pull him up and when they surfaced the area had been strafed and they were surrounded by bodies. He was later invalided out with a broken back and a lump of shrapnel in his skull. They stopped his War Pension when they found out he had gone back to humping crates for Charrington Brewery, which in some ways was fair enough (he had recovered enough he could go back to his old job), and in other ways was monstrously unfair. It didn't greatly bother him, but it outraged my mother. He died in his early 80's after breaking his hip in a fall, complicated by diabetes and breathing problems. If he had not been so severely injured, he would probably have become a career soldier.

  59. Thanks Jim

    U.S. NAVY
    Vietnam 1965-1970

  60. Umm..name of the book? I honestly have no idea.

  61. Much appreciated! It has been a rarity for me to come across an inspiring writing of this nature on the 'toxic web wasteland'. I experienced a 'public stoning' on a blog this past Veteran's Day week, because I spoke about my pride for my grandfather who was stationed at Pearl Harbor that fateful day, December 7, 1941...as well as for my father and uncle, who were young boys but consequently became men before their time. My father and uncle both enlisted in later years.... with my father serving in Viet Nam...3 tours and my uncle spending the remainder of his 'tour' as a POW housed in the Hanoi Hilton. I've been often made to feel that I should apologize for their serving our Nation and it has left me perplexed by the need for those to spew such vitriolic and vile shit....and it saddens me to hear that you've experienced similar. It has never occurred to me to hold them in contempt for choosing not to enlist...that was their choice, but to be leveled by this vein of contempt toward their memory was shocking. I was met by those who did not have the ability to comprehend how I could feel compassion and shame for the experiences of a celebrity whose family were forced into internment camps during WWII, but at the same time feel pride for the men in my life who were faced with the obstacles of facing an enemy of his heritage. I do not believe that war is the best solution for mankind....there are always 'victims' on all sides.... and my heart continues to weep for the future of us all.

    btw, this book has long been on my bucket list...and I plan to strike it off shortly. Thanks, again, Jim, for getting it wright! ;)

  62. Rah, RAH, indeed!
    Larry Taylor
    Naval Air

  63. Jesus... Jesus... I just tossed my keyboard in the fireplace. Then:Sgt., IIFFV, two tours, Dad - severely-wpunded, highly-decorated 10th Mountain Trooper, Granddad gassed in France with the 69th... Today, I'm still the platoon leader, even though I ETS'ed in '71. Never gave up the honor. Disciplined my daughters and now they are strong, motivated and stand tall. Wife in chemo now and we're buddies in a battle that is won day by day. Sir, you have kicked my ass and I thank you. When I next sit at a keyboard, I have a new benchmark for candor. I salute you.


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