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Memorial Day, May 29th, is his birthday. He died defending his country. A true war hero, a naval officer, he risked his life to save his men. Like so many we should remember on Memorial Day, he goes before us as an exemplar of courage, real patriotism, and a witness to war's brutality.
But remembering all the war dead is like drifting on a ghost ship in a still sea of burning water. Haunted by the eerie silence of their absent presence, if we listen closely enough, we can hear such victims calling to us: Remember me, Remember me, why did it have to be?
"All warfare is ghostly," writes Norman O. Brown, "every army an exercitus feralis (a funereal exercise), every soldier a living corpse."
The world is littered with the corpses of war's victims, those of the killers and the killed, soldiers of every nation -- but the vast majority are innocent civilians who never picked up a gun. The earth is so saturated with all their blood that one would expect the rivers to run red as a reminder. But that only happens in poems, as with Federico Garcia Lorca: "Beneath all the totals, a river of warm blood."
But what do poets know that the potentates, politicians, and mad generals don't? These killers are experts at shedding innocent blood to satisfy their blood lust and then erecting monuments to the killers. They are necrophiliacs, while all the poets do is to remind us that we will all die and that we should affirm life and love each other before we do -- that war is an evil lie, as Wilfred Owen told
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest