May 28, 2007

Small Flags

The grave of James A. Wilmot, Pvt 49th Spruce Squadron, World War I. Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Queen Anne, Seattle

At the end of my street the cemetery is busy for a Monday. Of course, a cemetery under all circumstances is seldom thought of as a busy place. We haven't had busy cemeteries since 1945. Since then the long peace and its sleep was only briefly, for a few years every now and then, interrupted by a small war. The cemeteries fill up more slowly now than ever before. And our sleep, regardless of continuing alarms, deepens.

These days we resent, it seems, having them fill at all, clinging to our tiny lives with a passion that passes all understanding; clinging to our large liberty with the belief that all payments on such a loan will be interest-free and deferred for at least 100 years.

Still, the cemetery at the end of my street does tend to take on a calm, resigned bustle on Memorial Day, as the decreasing number of families who have lost members to war come to decorate the graves of those we now so delicately refer to as "The Fallen." They are not, of course, fallen in the sense that they will, suddenly and to our utter surprise, get up. That they will never do in this world. For they are not "The Fallen," they are the dead.

In the cemetery at the end of my street , of course, all the permanent residents are dead. But those who are among the war dead, or among those who served in a war, are easily found on this day by the small American flags their loved ones who still survive place and refresh. In this cemetery atop Queen Anne hill in Seattle, the small flags grow fewer and smaller with each passing year. It is not, of course, that the size of the sacrifice has been reduced. That remains the largest gift one free man may give to the country that sustained him. It is instead the regard of the country for whom the sacrifices were made that has gotten smaller, eroded by the self-love that the secular celebrate above all other values.

As you walk about the green lawn and weave among the markers, the slight breeze moves the small three-colored flags. Some are tattered and faded. Some are wound around the small gold sticks that hold them up. You straighten these out almost as an afterthought. Then the breeze unfurls them.

Here and there, people tend the grave of this or that loved one; weeding, washing, or otherwise making the gradually fading marks in the stone clear under the sky. Cars pull in and wind slow, careful on the curves, and park almost at random. An old woman emerges from one, a father and son from another, an entire family from yet another. They carry flowers in bunches or potted and, at times, gardening implements and a bucket for carrying away the weeds. It's a quiet morning. Nobody is in a hurry to arrive and once arrived to leave.

When I lived in Villers-Cotteret , between Compaigne and Soissons, along the Western Front in France for a year, the cemeteries were as quiet but on a scale difficult to imagine unless they were seen.

In the Battle of Soissons in July of 1918, 12,000 men (Americans and Germans) were killed in four days. Vast crops of white crosses sprouted from the fields their rows and columns fading into the distance as they marched back from the roadside like an army of the dead called to attention until the end of time. American cemeteries merged with French cemeteries that merged with German cemeteries; their only distinction being the flags that flew over what one took to be the center of the arrangement. I suppose one could find out the number of graves in these serried ranks. Somewhere they keep the count. Governments are especially good at counting. But it is enough to know they are beyond numbering by an individual; that the mind would cease before the final number was reached.

To have even a hundredth of those cemeteries in the United States now would be more than we, as a nation, could bear. It would not be so much the dead within it, but the truth that made it happen that would be unbearable. This is, of course, what we are as a nation fiddling about with on this Memorial Day. We count our war dead daily now, but we count mostly on the fingers of one hand, at times on two. Never in numbers now beyond our ability to imagine. This is not because we cannot die daily in large numbers in a war. September 11th proved to us that we still die in the thousands, but many among us cannot now hold that number as a reality, but only as a "tragic" exception that need not have happened and will -- most likely -- never happen again.

That, at least, is the mind set that I assume when I read how the "War on Terror" is but a bumper strip. In a way, that's preferable to the the mind set that now, in increasing numbers among us, prefers to take refuge in the unbalanced belief that 9/11 was actually something planned and executed by the American government. Why many of my fellow Americans prefer this "explanation" is something that I once felt was beyond comprehension. Now I see it is just another comfortable position taken up by those for whom the habits of automatic treason have become just another fashionable denigration of the country that has made their liberty to believe the worst of it not only possible but popular.

Like the graves in my local cemetery, these souls too bear within them a small flag, but that flag -- unlike their souls -- is white and, in its increasing rootedness in our body politic signals not sacrifice for the advancement of the American experiment, but the abject surrender of their lives to small spites and the tiny victories of lifestyle liberation.

In the cemetery at the end of my street, there are a few small flags. There are many more graves with no flag at all, but they are the ones that the small flags made possible. Should the terrible forests of white crosses ever bloom across our landscape -- as once they did during the Civil War -- it will not be because we had too few of those small, three-colored flags, but because we became a nation with far too many white ones.


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Posted by Vanderleun at May 28, 2007 5:35 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Amen, Gerard.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at May 28, 2007 7:56 PM

Have you seen the reports of vandals burning American flags decorating veterans' graves and replacing them with swastikas?

It happened in your neck of the woods.

If the perps were caught and given the beating they so richly deserve, in broad daylight, recorded in Hi-Def video, I wouldn't vote to convict the patriots administering the ass-whupping.

And I'm in law enforcement.

The venal stupidity, moral obtuseness, and just plain evil festering at the core of these people is staggering.

Posted by: Mike Lief at May 28, 2007 10:56 PM

Feburary last I visited a 'NAM war buddy [naval intel] who lives in Downeast Maine. We love each other all these years but his politics reflect the ME tagged auto shown. That amusing but pathetic photo recalled long heated arguments over the subjects noted there.

Mutual respect for our fighting skills, and age, convinced our wives that we would still be friends in the morning. And, of course, we are.

We swore an oath to the United States that we would never reveal or discuss, in public or private, the details of our service. We honor that pledge to this day.

We didn't think much of it at the time, but that oath of secrecy has been the bass line of our lives and friendship.

No matter our politics today, we still remain loyal Americans, ready, if called, to do our part to protect the American Dream.

Posted by: rexrs at May 29, 2007 7:46 AM

He really did have it right, didn't he.

Posted by: Eamon Stanley at May 29, 2007 9:35 AM

A thought HAS TO be small to be expressed on a bumper sticker.
That aside, what I told my sons was, in the words of George Patton, the idea is to NOT die for your country. Make the other dumb bastard die for his.
Sometimes, choice and willingness don't come into it, though.

Posted by: ed in texas at May 29, 2007 6:22 PM

Thanks to whoever sent you that great bumper sticker photo - so illustrative of the liberal mindset. Sadly I see many similar every day here in Seattle. I've often wondered why the occupants of those cars are almost exclusively middle-aged, bitter, grim looking women. Is it against the liberal code to have a positive cheerful attitude?

Posted by: askmom at May 30, 2007 7:52 AM

My father was stationed in France was I was a young boy (eight to eleven years old). I first saw the battlefields and cemetaries of Verdun and environs at that age and it made a lasting impression on me. As you noted, Gerard, we don't have analogues to those vast cemetaries, with Arlington being the possible exception. But Arlington contains selected dead from ALL our wars...not the dead from two or three or four BATTLES.

Posted by: Buck at May 30, 2007 8:28 AM

As a conservative who has fully examined the available evidence, it is my position that an independent investigation of the events of 9/11 has yet to take place and needs to take place. As Paul Craig Roberts, from the Reagan administration, has noted there is only one known fact with regard to the events of that day: the buildings, due to the laws of physics, could not have come down the way the official story has told us, they simply fell too fast. Certainly leftists have climbed aboard that ship, but it is the actual evidence of the days' events, as it has become more and more known, that is driving conservatives to the same conclusions. You seem to dismiss the idea before examining the relavent facts, as though our government has never perpetrated any misdeeds, like welfare (which has ruined countless lives), the war on poverty (also ruining countless lives), and so on. I wonder, if a democrat were in office when the attacks ocurred, if you could fathom the idea? Who, for example, doubted that Clinton's attack on the Sudanese medicine factory was simply to distract Americans from the Lewinsky affair? It is odd that "conservatives" have come to have so much "faith" in their goverment.

Posted by: Michael at May 30, 2007 12:02 PM

Great site, keep up the good work!

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Posted by: Steve at May 30, 2007 4:21 PM

Investigate Pearl Harbor! Investigate the sinking of the Maine! Investigate Lincoln! Investigate the falling walls of Jerico! Investigate the murder of Abel!

Posted by: Stephen B at May 30, 2007 6:51 PM


To believe that our nation's government is both so evil that it would murder thousands of our own citizens and so competent that it could do so with utter secrecy and maintain that secrecy for years is an indication that you have lost touch with reality. You say you're a conservative yet you utter the words of on who is suffering from BDS...

Do you really think that the CIA, FBI and/or DOD could and would run such a covert operation and that it would not be leaked to the press by now?

Yes, President Clinton did "wag the dog", striking at a Sudanese phamacuticals plant in an attempt to divert attention away from the Oval Office BJ story. If 9-11 WAS done by the Bush administration, what was the motive? How would going to war help.

Mr. Paul Craig Roberts serviced his country in an excellent manner as an economist who was instrumental in implementing President Reagan's economic plans. But he has no expertise in the science and engineering fields that are necessary to properly analyse the failure of the WTC buildings on that fatefull day.

So why don't you take your conspiracy theories and go team up with Chuck Harder to expose the evil plot to take over the world that's been cooked up by the Masons, the Bilderbergers, the Skull and Crossbones and all the other bogeymen that you see in the shadows, hiding behind the screens, pulling the strings of the puppets who think they're in charge...

Or better yet, sober up and get a life.

Posted by: Another Old Navy Chief at May 30, 2007 8:22 PM

Michael at 12:02, has your full examination of the available evidence perhaps managed to sidestep this?

or this?

Yes, parts of our government are capable at times of grievous misdeed and cover-up (as in Waco,) but in this instance I suggest you please examine further. As a conservative you, no doubt, still have an open mind.

Posted by: Rozar Smacco at May 31, 2007 6:05 AM

I definitely think we need an investigation: with all due respect it is to have Michael's head examined.

Posted by: Webutante at May 31, 2007 5:03 PM

askmom posted: Is it against the liberal code to have a positive cheerful attitude?

It's either that or all the grim-looking uptight people I see in Whole Foods are in dire need of high colonics.

Posted by: Yanni Znaio at June 1, 2007 6:37 AM

I never once said "who" did it, as when I say "government", I am NOT pointing my finger at any particular person or agency. I believe it was Eisenhower who warned of the immense danger of the military industrial complex, and he knew from whence he spoke. As to the ability to keep a secret, well, quite frankly, it is no longer a secret. 19 Arabs were also able to keep a secret for many years regarding the attacks of that day. In the world of baseball, one can look at the steroid scandal and see how that was kept secret for so many years, and still is, as, in that case, the ENTIRE organization was party to the deeds done. I have read the Popular Mechanics book, and David Ray Griffin's rebuttal. Griffin's is simply more convincing. If you have only read the Popular Mechanics book, then I assure you that you remain uninformed AND don't want to be informed, like liberals who don't wish to see Islamofascism for the evil it is. Further, a great many engineers, physicists, architects, pilots, etc. also believe that buildings cannot fall at free-fall speed, unless they have been blown up to do so with controlled demolition, and are saying so. Again, as to who might have done it, that is what a proper investigation would be for, to determine just that.

Posted by: Michael at June 2, 2007 7:02 AM

Michael, isn't it amazing that not one of the THOUSANDS who worked at or visited either of the towers or bldg. #7 has come forward to say they saw the explosives, the wires, the exposed beams, or the workers preparing the demolition putting these things into place? Have you seen the planning that goes into imploding a building? Are you familiar with how it's done? You may have read the Popular Mechanics 'book,' but you obviously failed to visit the other link.

Why would I read a retired professor of theology's book rebutting engineers and physicists?

Get a grip and solve the steroid conspiracy in baseball that no one knows about.

Posted by: Rozar Smacco at June 4, 2007 6:37 PM

It is also amazing as to the number of first responders who HEARD explosions!

The key fact that remains to be explained by "scientists" defending the official story (one wonders if these are the same scientists promoting human caused global warming), is how did the buildings fall so fast? Until that is properly explained, all peripheral evidence is of no account.

Posted by: michael at June 5, 2007 12:05 PM


Although you seem to think the towers fell too fast, I'm sure that to those trapped inside those few seconds felt like eternity.

Posted by: Another Old Navy Chief at June 7, 2007 12:14 PM

Ignoring the other arguments in the comments, I noticed the first sentence which stated that the grave was of a member of a Spruce Squadron. That is a part of American history that is all but forgotten. Not knowing when the fellow died, my first guess would be that he fell ill during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. That pandemic killed as many soldiers and sailors as combat with the enemy. The number of civilians who died is staggering.

Rest in peace, brave soldier, even though you did not see the trenches of France.

Posted by: Bob at June 7, 2007 6:14 PM
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