It's Veterans Day.
In The Great War and Modern Memory Paul Fussell, a combat veteran of WWII, reviewed literature and art created by the first world war and wrote of how the shock of millions being killed by high explosives and machine gun bullets affected how we think about the world even today.
In War he did the same for WWII. By then the lyricism of 'Flanders Fields' and the ironies found in comparing nature to the moon landscape of trench warfare were replaced in novels and poetry by descriptions of being a very small part of a gigantic machine that cared not for which way the poppies blew but concentrated on the efficiencies of killing and processing death on an industrial scale.
As in the poem below.
Our recent wars are more personal. Squads fighting against squads. The very specific violence of an IED. Small outposts in the middle of nowhere, as in Restrepo, with soldiers living medieval lives for months at a time.
There are thousands of young men and women walking amongst us who have gone through it all. One major difference between them and those who served in most of the last two century's wars: they are all volunteers. They may have read the poem below, stark and dispiriting, and went anyway.
Today we should remember and honor them all.
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell
From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
"A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upside-down in his little sphere, he looked like the fetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose." -- Jarrell's note.