Memorial Day Poetry and Anger Blogging

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Tommy

~ Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

Today is Memorial Day.

My dad was in the Navy during World War II, on a ship in the Pacific. He joined on June 13th, the day after he graduated from his little, country high school. To his dying day, he would wake up, shouting and thrashing, from dreams that he would never describe to us.

My dad survived the war and came home, something that his cousin, caught up in the Batan Death March, didn’t do. A grateful country did something for my dad that his family could never have done for him: it sent him to college. The first person in his family to ever go to college, my dad joined thousands of other veterans who got a shot at what had, up until that time, been reserved for the sons of privilege. In many ways, the bill that gave college educations to returning veterans helped to create and sustain the middle class that made America different from almost every other place/time in history before then.

And so, Memorial Day matters to me, and I put American flags out on my porch, and I spend time thinking about my dad and about his cousin, whom I never knew but whom my dad said liked to play tricks, and whistle, and loved jazz music and corn on the cob. What is remembered, lives. (I invoke them whenever I vote, as well. They shove into the voting booth along with all the Suffragettes. It can get so crowded in there and some of them push: “Let me pull the lever! Let me! I never got to do it and it’s my turn! Let me! Why are our choices always white men?”)

But Memorial Day makes me angry, too.

It’s too easy to slap a yellow ribbon magnet on your car (when was the last time you saw one of those?) and to blather about “respect the troops.” As Mr. Kipling said, “For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!/But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot.” Politicians love to go on about “honoring the troops,” but it’s “chuck him out, the brute,” once the veterans are no longer needed, once the guns no longer shoot.

And Republicans are the worst. Republican lawmakers have been consistently refusing to fund bills to help America’s vetrans. They refused to fund a veterans’ health bill. They lectured disabled veterans who didn’t get checks during the Republican-led government shut down that, although disabled, the vets should realize that “you have to make some sacrifices.”* They love to send our young men and women off to unnecessary wars and they love to give speeches, but heaven forfend we raise taxes on the 1% to provide education, medical care, jobs, housing, or counseling for our veterans.

“You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform** is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!”

* Trigger warning, the linked article contains unnecessary and unpleasant fat-shaming. The point could have been well-made w/o reference to the politician’s weight.

** Soldiers serving during the reign of Queen Victoria — the Widow of Windsor, who was widowed when her consort, Prince Albert, died — were said to wear the “Widow’s Uniform.”

Picture found here.

7 responses to “Memorial Day Poetry and Anger Blogging

  1. For the 1%, our soldiers are a means to an end. They are sent to fight wars of choice in pursuit of wealth. When these men and women come home, battered and beaten, they serve no useful purpose.

  2. I’ve said it a million times. The WWII vets were indeed the Greatest Generation. My dad would have spent his life in a factory making tires if not for the GI Bill. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when those soldier-men were in their prime, there was a sense of shared vision in America. The Civil Rights Movement, the Great Society, organized labor — all of these were run by people closer to WWII than we are today. Whenever I see a veteran of that war (or any other wearing insignia of any kind), I thank him/her and ask after his/her health. The WWII vets will all soon be gone from the apparent world, and how we will miss them!

    • So I suggest that we start sending the old men to battle.

      That was what my father always said. He enlisted in the Marines the day he graduated from high school, and was a horse Marine during the Second Nicaraguan Campaign. After a spell as a private policeman for American Steel and Wire during the Depression, he tried to re-enlist in the Marines after Pearl Harbor; he was too old by then, so he joined the Army instead. He was in no sense a nice man, or a pacifist, but he hated the old warmongers furiously. (And he never joined a veteran’s association of any sort, because he also hated talking about the wars he’d been in, and hated the guys who liked to sit around talking about them.)

  3. Robert Mathiesen

    Thank you, Hecate! My father was part of the team that designed and built the Norden Bombsight for the Navy, which saved countless lives through the taking of very many others, and eventually delivered the atomic bombs on target in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My wife’s father put his life on the line on the Pacific island of Anguar, and got a wound that took several years to mend under excellent medical care. All honor to them both!

  4. mistletoeandhitch

    I am the daughter, sister and aunt of many of our service people. Whenever the old, white men start to talk of war I check to see if they served in uniform. Surprise! The most battle ready rarely have put on the uniform. So I suggest that we start sending the old men to battle. After all, whatever country you’re from, it’s the old men rattling the sabers. So I think those starting the wars need to start fighting them, with a pass given to those that have already laced up their boots for their country. As our old, bald, rotund soldiers head off to fight their old, wrinkled, bi-focaled foes rest easy because I’m betting peace will break out before a misfired shot misses it’s target.

  5. Have I mentioned lately how much I love you, Hecate?

    “I never got to do it and it’s my turn! Let me! Why are our choices always white men?”)”

    That made me laugh and cry at the same time.

  6. But to get to the point of the post, the old men who love war think of soldiers as tools. Use them until the old men get the resources they want, then put them away in a drawer until they’re needed again. People aren’t tools and you can’t shut them up somewhere. It’s delusional.

    My father was a WW II vet, serving in many places as an airplane mechanic. Kept the planes flying so the bombs could continue to drop on various cities. Even though he never saw on-the-ground-fighting he barely spoke of the war. He knew what happened when those bombs fell. It took me a while to understand that.

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