I remember: In the mid 1980's, on a darkened stage at the university, an old Trojan woman lay grieving alone, holding her shoulders off the floor, whispering "Who shall I blame, then?... The Greeks? Helen?... ... All of us... All of us..."
And then she was gone and only a little sacred fire burned there, alone, as all of us left.
Much later in this essay I will "connect the dots."
Last night I was moved by hearing the music while reading the search engine lyrics for Army Dreamer by Kate Bush, with comments by less than a dozen "reviewers." Perhaps if I was a woman I would have cried; one of the reviewers did cry; another reviewer was a father, with a son in Afghanistan, who said he found the background army sounds almost too much to bear. I have Kate's Album but since I only play it on road trips I had never before seen the lyrics writ plain. I hadn't realized, for example, that "tears on a tin box" was Mum huddling over an army issue casket.
I suppose I was affected by the context of my previous half hour on the computer before I reached Kate's song. I had begun, you see, by going straight to the youtube video of the old spiritual Samson and Delilah as interpreted by the British lead singer of Garbage, Shirley Manson. For a season two episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles the song ran for its entirety, four and half minutes, without any dialogue being audible. I admired such craftsmanship. I admired the symmetry, too, for the same technique had been used for season one: For a no-dialogue scene the song had been one about judgment day, sung by Johnny Cash, When the Man Comes Around. This while a robot is sending people to meet their maker.
Perhaps, last night, I was made vulnerable by a fan video, one where a music track of This Woman's Work is Never Done, really beautiful and transcendent, plays over clips of Sarah Conner, a single mother. I watched once more as Sarah is helpless, too far away to intervene, as a robot raises a pistol in one swift sure motion and shoots down a boy as he flees for his life and the boy falls hard.
During the season two Shirly Manson song Sarah gets her chance. This time, as the pistol hammer falls, she leaps in front of her son and she pulls her son down like a secret serviceman taking a bullet for the president. The apostle John noted, "Greater love hath no man..." (And Kate sings, But he never even made it to his twenties)
A reviewer noted that Kate packs her words with meaning, never choosing any phrase merely to made a rhyme. Yes.
The last time I attended a military funeral there were probably too many people in attendance to fit into the cathedral; we used the rodeo grounds. I knew the parents. They had a nice Russian wolfhound. They had a girl. And once they had a boy- their only begotten son.
Although I sat where the attendees, except for the couple with me, didn't know the young man personally, I could hear from all around me, at all times in the service, people needing their handkerchiefs. The service included projected slides, reminiscing, and a family friend, a folksinger, with a guitar. He sang of a father's shock and outrage, "My boy came home in a box!"
At this many of the mourners, many of them in uniform, hesitated, were puzzled at first, wondering how to react. To a young person of generation Y, I guess, there would be nothing amiss. After all, war is diverse: the soldiers write letters and they use futuristic satellite telephones; they come home walking and in a "box." That's life.
The reason my peers hesitated is our legacy of Vietnam. Even teenage recruits share a cultural memory of being called "baby killers" and of returning Nam veterans at the airport being spat upon. How sweet then that Kate Bush can be so kind. And so informed—she starts her song by trilling BFPO. I wonder how many civilians realize this means British Forces Posted Overseas?
Kate and I were both born in the 1950's, we both remember the home front during the Vietnam war. It was boomer Steve Jobst of Apple who said in a commencement address, after surviving cancer, that you can only connect the dots by looking backward. Now I understand Vietnam better than I did back then.
First dot: With our U.S. casualties in the tens of hundreds over there in Iraq we have as yet no protests or riots over here. No campus activity. Call me cynical, but surely this is because today there is no conscription, no lottery style draft. I remember how during the '60's some older person wrote a book about the draft, saying sympathetically that it is normal U.S. behavior to worry about saving your own skin. Maybe so. Hence today's quiet campus.
Second dot: People re-arrange their world-view to integrate their most pressing needs. For example, a drug user of my aquaintance who "needs his drugs" has no clue about the politico-civic issues around the 1930's prohibition of alcohol. To seek any such clues would destroy his excuse that "prohibition never works." And just as a drug user may feel disengaged from the life of democracy, so too may a drug dealer, just like a convict, need to claim that city hall and big business and the police are criminals too. And many prostitutes will claim that marriage is prostitution. (I used to have breakfast with a prostitute.)
There was a loving young housewife married to a soldier. This was in the '60's, during Vietnam. And one day some other young woman directed some shocking, very venomous, hatred at the poor wife. As it happens, the blame for war was nailed by Euripides over 2,000 years ago in ancient Greece: surely by modern times it must be clear that targeting a young housewife for blame is just plain wrong. The wife, after she recovered, had a theory. Her understanding of the verbal assault was this: The girl felt an overwhelming pressure to take action and then, in her hysteria, from her pressing need, arranged her world-view so she could feel justified in targeting the wife.
That's crazy, but it makes sense. Now I can understand other crazy things as being from hysteria, things like believing servicemen were baby killers. And perhaps—I could be wrong—I may finally grasp why "responsible" citizens still can't say, "innocent soldiers." Perhaps if they said so then they couldn't bear their own guilt.
Third dot: College students were exempt from conscription. The baby boomer students shared with each other tricks to use after graduation to further avoid the draft. To sustain their world-view of separation from the non-college boys... and to abandon those idealistic working class boys to a harsh fate- ...this must have surely affected the middle class. I can't even begin to imagine what twisted guilt they must have suppressed.
I may never fully understand such boomers because although I've become middle-class in my later adult life, I was raised working class and "on the wrong side of the tracks." My sort never wore teeth retainers or went to Disneyland.
Dots connected: If you are of generation Y, with an even handed view towards the armed forces, then please understand: your easy sanity is from being raised in these saner times. People my age, conditioned and re-arranged by the stress of Vietnam, may require a lot of effort to become as liberated as you.
The most liberated people in society have traditionally been the entertainers. Billy Shakespeare and his pals knew that being anti-Jew was wrong. (Oh, how they slyly "bashed" the bigots in The Merchant of Venice) Today stage artists know that bashing homosexuals is wrong...Yet, back in the '60's, actors and singers, like snarling distressed lemmings, would all rush to fiercely bash teenage soldiers, and their wives, and even sillier targets. ( Kate sings But he couldn't afford... ...But he never had a proper education...)
At last I understand why I could offer no answers, no alternate world-views, to such "long haired freaky people" at the time. Back then I was exempt from the hysteria. Not that I was cynical, but I could think for myself. Today I am still "gun shy:" I still expect every long haired pop star to be nuts.
Kate Bush, though, is exceptional. Having a mind of her own, she has a kind, healing, gentle sympathy for poor working class boys. I knew those boys, I know their dreams.
Kate knows, too.
Let me say, for the record, the fallen soldier, killed in action, was Corporal Nathan Hornburg.
Update of January 2014. I suppose when I wrote this I was grieving more for the surviving family than for the son, for at least the boy was beyond harm. I remember talking to the sister at length in the family store once—The girl is now a wife and mother, and this month her mother has passed away. I won't link to her, but here is a link to the family and son, written by a nice colleague of mine.
The newspapers once reported—to people's surprise—that the time between the end of the world war and the Tet Offensive was now equal to the time between Tet and now. Surprised, because we had closure for the one, during Tet, but not the other, even now. Still more time has passed, and if people my age seem more at peace with Vietnam it is not because we understand more but from being bowed by the years.