On dying for your country

The movie Patton (1970) begins with a monologue by General Patton which is composed of statements he made at various times in speeches and letters. The movie makers combined these statements into a single speech to introduce the character of the general to the movie audience. One of Patton’s statements included in the monologue is, “I want you to remember that no [soldier] ever won a war by dying for his country. They won by making the other poor dumb [soldier] die for his country.”

President Trump appears to agree with General Patton regarding which soldiers are most successful. In fact, I strongly suspect that the President once quoted that line from the movie in the presence of some person or persons who misunderstood the context of the quote and exaggerated its impact when they repeated the line to a reporter. People who know the President insist that he did not make such a statement under the circumstances that have been reported. Even if, at some time, President Trump did speak those words that came from General Patton, such a statement would not have been meant as an insult to American soldiers who fought for their country and lost their lives on the battlefield.

Ideally, the armed forces of the United States should be so powerful and so respected that they do not have to fight. No other country would dare challenge our nation militarily. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, we should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” For that purpose, the United States trains and equips the members of our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard so they can do their best, not only in wartime conditions but also in every other task that is required of them. Nevertheless, they risk their lives by doing their duty. We thank them, honor and respect them for their service to the country, and support them as well as we can both while they are in uniform and when they are veterans. We also honor those who lost their lives. We wish they had not died, but we honor and respect them and are grateful for their sacrifice.

President Trump frequently says things that jar the sensibilities of his audience. He did so long before entering politics; this tendency is part of the image he created and marketed, and his supporters expect him to continue speaking this way. When he quotes movies, his witnesses should at least have the presence of mind to know the origin and context of the quote. Failing that basic knowledge, they do not need to be telling reporters what the President said and what he meant when he said it. J.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, the fourth Monday of May, has become for Americans the social start to summer. Memorial Day weekend inspires thoughts of cook-outs, concerts, and other outings. Along the way, many Americans seem to have forgotten what it is we want to remember when we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day began to be observed shortly after the end of the Civil War, when battle survivors and families and friends of soldiers wanted to recall and honor those who had lost their lives on the battlefield during the four years of conflict between the states. Gradually, May 30 became the date when time was set aside to honor the memory of these soldiers. Ceremonies were held on battlefields and in cemeteries, and many people referred to the day as Decoration Day because of the custom of decorating the graves of soldiers who had died during the war.

After the United States fought a brief war with Spain and then became involved in two World Wars, the meaning of Memorial Day was expanded to cover all the wars and military actions in which American soldiers lost their lives. When I was in high school, May 30 was a holiday (the last weekday off before final exams and graduation), but the high school band did not get a vacation. We marched in a parade to the cemetery, where music was played and speeches were given and guns were fired to honor the soldiers buried there. Later, the government of the United States moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the fourth Monday in May, providing a three-day weekend which has, in some ways, become a distraction from the real meaning of the day.

War is a controversial subject, and many Americans are reluctant to observe all the wars in which American soldiers have fought. In general, though, our soldiers deserve our thanks. Pearl Harbor and 9-11 stand out in our national memory because the United States has been attacked so rarely by its enemies. This is due, in part, to the diligence of the men and women who have served in our armed forces, often risking their lives, and sometimes losing their lives, so we can be kept safe.

Other countries have also been defended by their soldiers who also risked their lives and lost their lives for the safety of their citizens. Those countries have their own ways of honoring their soldiers. For Americans, this weekend is a time to take a break from work or school and to enjoy outdoors activities, but it is also a time to fly the American flag, to remember the soldiers who have served our country, and to be grateful for their sacrifice. May we never forget!

J.