This Veterans’ Day, I’d like to thank some guys who don’t get explicitly thanked very often.
First, I’d like to thank all the men who showed up when they got a draft notice. Our shiny volunteer army inclines us to forget that, by far, the majority of the men who have fought for this country were conscripted into it (or enlisted after getting the notice). And were not happy about it. Some of them went on to extraordinary service and great deeds; we thank these men by name on days of remembrance.
I want to thank the others, too. The ones who showed up, did what was asked of them and went home again. And the ones who were really pissed off about it. Guys who didn’t want to be soldiers, and those who weren’t well suited for it. They all had somewhere else they’d rather be and something else they’d rather do. But they went, and we wouldn’t have survived without them.
I especially want to thank those who died a stupid death in the service. Training accidents. Friendly fire. Botched operations and bad command decisions and medical errors. And disease; in all the wars in human history, at least to the first World War, the biggest killer. Pack thousands of men together in close quarters and you’re asking for it: dysentery and ‘flu particularly. Not nice and not heroic ways to die.
It’s one thing to give your life dramatically charging up Omaha Beach on D-Day. It’s quite another to shit yourself to death in a POW camp. But the stupid deaths are many and unavoidable in war and I find myself thinking of them most in times of memorial: the young men who get chewed up in the terrible, wasteful grind of large armies on the move.
I think about these things because there is not a soldierly bone in my body. I’m pretty sure if I were tested, I would be found wanting. If I were called, I’d be miserable about it. I’d show up, but I’d probably fail. It makes me feel like I owe a personal debt of gratitude to all those who dragged themselves in reluctantly and made a pretty good job of it.
Thanks to all of them for preserving this nice country for me to play in, and protecting my sorry ass while I play in it.