AS we age, if we are lucky, we get the chance to assess the balance of plus and minus in our lives. If we are lucky, we get to ask of ourselves, as the aged Private Ryan asks his wife at the end of Saving Private Ryan: have I lived a good life?
Turning on You tube did that for me today—and helped me sharpen the moral battle sword I think I am called on to carry now at 78 and for as long as I need to or live, which ever ends first.
After I had been up for about an hour, I thought: its the 4th, why not see if YouTube has long playing patriotic music. Yes: an 8 hour selection that I set to “loop”—keep on playing.
It has all the music I so have loved all my life: Sousa marches, the official songs of the branches of the military services, patriotic hymns and some non-US American marches which we play so often that they might as well have been ours: If I did not know better, I would be wondering what units Radetzky and Colonel Bogey served in.
So many thoughts and emotions about this country, MY COUNTRY, were triggered by all that oh so familiar music: chest inflating, march tempo foot stomping, gratitude, pride in what we have tried to do with the better angels of our nature. Yes there had been times when I thought that we had permitted our focus to blur, our honor to be stained by greed and small minded authority figures, the vision of what we could be lost in favor of pursuit of the lowest common denominators—position, power, status, prestige, win-lose competition, trying so hard to be #1 that we lose sight of the debris of destruction in our wake
But the ones that keep coming back, come from 1941-1945 mainly.
I was born 3 months before the Japanese Empire destroyed the muscle of our Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, all except for the aircraft carriers, that is. I had three uncles in the services: one designed with Gene Tunney the physical training for the Navy in World War Two, one who fended off Japanes machinegun bullets on Iwo Jima while using his bulldozer to prepare landing strips, one-who was asked to return to the services as an officer after a Depression years tour of duty as a non-com, was a 1st Lieutenant of Field Artillery, in the Huertgen Forest. He destroyed all the letters he had written to my aunt after being mustered out in Detroit, and refused to speak of that nightmare.
Two of them wrote me letters from their duty stations, which my Mom read to me just because they were there. I have all of them from one of them today still.
How proud and at the same time worried to death my parents were about the two in combat. I just natuallly absorbed all that emotion. But mostly I got my feelings about the US from my dad.
My Dad was mayor of my then hometown in Michigan from 40 through 48. He was an attorney with a background in high school teaching. He taught history, civics and coached the debate team — which kept winning debate contests under his guidance. He was proud as a strutting peacock and grateful— as I have ever seen anyone be— that he lived in the United States of America. He was a Republican of an ilk that the Republicans would not even recognize today: he thought FDR one of our great Presidents, he praised a country that built a strong and prosperous middle class, he was a staunch defender of the Bill of RIghts, of the absolute need for the protection of the writ of habeas corpus, of a military that never began the fight but usually won, a military that was 100% subservient to our civilian leaders, that was built never to turn on its own citizenry, that was not a permanent standing army, of Presidents who acted beyond party boundaries for the common good, of a strict construction of the Constitution, of the notion that we cannot legislate morality, and much, much more. He taught us that in conversation over dessert at the dinner table..
He did his duty when called also. He had tried to enlist, but was rejected. The examining doctors said that the Army needed professionals who could go right in as officers,and that he would go as a Major except that his pilonidal cyst would mean he could not ride in Jeeps and that the Army would have to pay for his surgery and recovery. No, the doctor said, you can serve better in civilian life. Rejected!
He was Air Raid Warden, and he led the drives for War Bond subscriptions. In the latter he was very successful: first city of our size then in the US to achieve 100% War Bond subscriptions. He was awarded a medal and I think it was given him by General MacArthur – but could be mistaken.
Mostly however, he expressed his pride, patriotism and gratitude musically: he would sing the services songs and march around the house, with me doing the same in tow in later 44 and before May 8 1945.
All of those memories are mine! More than that, however, the emotions and the sense of pride in what the US was striving to be were etched without any filters right onto my soul. Today I see how right they were; I see how much they are a part of that central core of me called the self image. Aged and having been tested by time and trial, they and their emotional power are emerging at the other end of my life, emerging with that childhood energy giving them new life.
Those thoughts all were waving like many flags in the blustery mental winds of an old man letting all the memories of 78 years gather, present themselves in review for inspection and assessment, by and for both my mind and that observer who inhabits my soul: which side of the scale, the + or the-, will fall under the greater weight. And as it has been doing for some months now, the weight is surprisingly greater on the positive, morally right side. It builds that all important grease for sliding through the rusty, rough passages, gratitude.
I was not feeling too well as the music began to flood me with all of the above, and so my marching to the music (with the proud accompaniment of my dad, I am sure) was rather less than the chest out, chin up strutting like I always felt like doing hearing the Allentown Band play Sousa at the 4th celebrations in Ocean Grove NJ.
And then The Battle Hymn of the Republic came on. MIne eyes have seen the coming of the Lord—moral rectitude and being willing to die for freedom. My eyes could not see because they were pouring out tears. I was crying silently but so hard that I was choking. Tears were coming from my soul.
I was so overwhelmed that it took a little for me to understand why I had spontaneously begun to cry so hard. For what? I have heard and sung that revered battle hymn hundreds of times.
I cried because there is a blockage now to those well justified feelings of pride in being a citizen of a country with enough belief in itself and in ideals to have been working towards a more perfect union of, by and for the people for 244 years. We have faltered, failed, been wrong, been unable to unite as fast as needed—always however it was inside the bounds of our Constitution, never ever posing a challenge to the country’s indispensable moral examples of Washington, Lincoln, FDR and others of our morally committed leaders.
Donald J Trump is the anathema of all that I held dear, He is the living embodiment of the Devil as depicted in the great classical work on evil, Goethes Faust: the spirit who constantly negates. Constantly.
His ignorant, unskilled, intemperate, selfish, threatening, superficial, wavering bully behavior casts a pall on everything I have held sacred. And the worst part is that a substantial minority of Americans does not, will not, cannot understand the traditions he is violating. They are willing Trump executioners for The Donald of anythng but what Devil Donald wants for himself.
Of course our history is still there. Maybe we can recover it from this collapse, but for me the corrosive poisonous fog has sbown me concretely to what we have let the growth of the negative on my scales define who we are. Grief is the roadblock to that unfettered joyful, energized marching around the house while singing with full gusto, Anchors Aweigh, the Caisson Song (WW2 version, please!), off we go, into the wild blue yonder….and yes an un-arranged version of the National Anthem.
And right below the grief, because I will not betray the vision of who we can be, is anger, raging, red-hot, boiling anger, anger like lava looking for that crack into which to explode and attack.
In the end, all Trump has done is to weld me to my inherited imperatives to help drive this nation in becoming a more perfect Union of, by and for the people.
So Donald, you want to divide us, eh? You want a fight, eh Donald? I have tried and tried to be civil, not to engage at the lowlife level where you live, and I will not stoop to that level. But fight I will. The lava is there, getting hotter, and ready to erupt all over you and your gang of slugs, slimy swine and serpents. All it needs is for you to continue to be the disgustingly disruptive empty suit you are.
I will march and sing, but no longer as just validation of what we were working to become. Now it all is a battle hymn for the present and the future for me.
Anchors, aweigh, roll the caissons, open the gates of heaven for us, and let us march today especially but every day, and sing to keep men free. America, America, God shed his grace on thee and crown the good by dumping Trump and with brotherhood for all of us, from sea to shining sea.