Thursday, May 05, 2005

Thin red line

Newburgh – They came from down the street and around the corner, from way upstate and from Idaho and Oregon.

They wore the high collars of the Marine dress blues, and the black leather biker jackets of the Rolling Thunder veterans' support group.

Many of the young men, high school friends of Marine Cpl. Joseph Tremblay, walked a little stiffly in their seldom-worn best shoes, seemed a little uncomfortable in their dress suits...

Tremblay, of New Windsor, was killed last Tuesday when the Humvee he was riding in was blown up by a mine near the town of Hit in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, 90 miles west of Baghdad.

He was the eighth local soldier to die in the Iraq war.

That's from John Doherty's lead story in this morning's Times Herald-Record.

Tremblay was 23.

He was gung ho. He was a marksman. He was intellectually curious. He was shy with strangers but had a razor wit when he was with friends. He was engaged to be married.

He took his fiancee to see The Control Room and Fahrenheit 9/11.

He was in Iraq because he had re-upped.

He'd finished a four year tour with the Marines but he hadn't seen any combat.

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

The 11 year old's sixth grade class is studying India in Social Studies. The other night he came home with an assignment, compare the caste system in India to our class system here. Kids had to fill in a chart that had the castes on the left and "our society" on the right. I remember a similar assignment from when I was in the 6th grade. When I looked over his homework, I wondered if India hadn't changed in the time since I'd had to figure out who were our Brahmins.

Of course the object isn't just to teach the kids about India. It's to make them think about life here. For the first time, for a lot of them, they have to face the fact that America in fact has classes, if not castes.

They had to consider what people "our society" truly respects and rewards and who we treat as deserving of less respect and how we show that lack of respect.

They had to come to conclusions about just what "our society" values.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

But the assignment asks the kids to consider what they value. Who they put into the upper classes, who they regard as the leaders of "our society," and who they don't, reveals to them---or it reveals to their parents---how they are coming to see the way the world works and their own place in it and their hopes and plans for their lives.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

Our 11 year old put lawyers, judges, senators, mayors, and doctors in the upper class. No celebrities. No businessmen. But no scientists or artists, either.

He had an interesting definition of the middle class. The middle classes are the people who make the country work, he said.

My son, George Bailey.

"Just remember this, Mr. Potter: that this rabble you're talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?"

He had a pretty good and extensive list that began with firefighters, cops, and teachers, and included engineers, plumbers, and farmers.

It also included soldiers.

I didn't have the heart to tell him.

It's a subject that's been beaten to death everywhere but in the national media, the halls of Congress, and the White House. We know what the ruling classes think of soldiers.

The stop loss orders, the benefit cuts, the bankruptcy laws that penalize every working stiff in the country but especially the families of the Marines and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that the families and friends of troops over there have to take up collections to buy them body armor, the cavalier attitude of the Secretary of Defense answering a soldier's question about when he and his buddies can expect to have some armor in their Humvees.

Michael Hussey, filling in for Roxanne, posted a list of the 38 Republican Senators who voted against buying a bunch of new, well-armored Humvees for the troops in Iraq.

One Democratic Senator voted against the money too. Daniel Inouye. Which I don't understand. Inouye lost his arm fighting in World War II. He should know better.

We know from the way they hide the coffins and sneak the wounded back into the country in the dead of night. We know from the way the President is only interested in men and women in uniform when he can put on a uniform himself and use them as background for campaign commercials.

The archbishop attended Corporal Tremblay's funeral mass. He's gone to the funerals of all the soldiers and Marines from the archdiocese who've died overseas.

The President hasn't even held a memorial service.

If you haven't read Tom Watson's series Why We Don't Mourn, now would be a good time to fix that. Here are the links to Part I, Part II, and Part III.

We learned from Jonah Goldberg's humiliating intellectual duel with Juan Cole---Goldberg showed up with his pea shooter, Cole blew him away with an AK-47 he fired over his shoulder, with his back turned, blindfolded---what the Right Wing intelligentsia--what passes for an intelligentsia---think of soldiers.


Hired goons paid to do the shit work of exporting Democracy who knew what they were getting into when they signed up, the ungrateful bums, and whose deaths are just the price of Freedom the Jonah Goldbergs of the world are bravely and tough-mindedly willing to pay.

Pocket change.

But come Memorial Day we'll make it up to them by giving them nice parades, and having the President pose with a few medal winners, and writing mawkish think pieces about their "sacrifices" and what cowards Liberals are because they aren't willing to send the grunts to their deaths. Perhaps we'll even quote at length from Kipling's Tommy.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

But it's not just the Right Wing brahmins in Washington.

There's been no rush of young Liberal intellectuals to sign up.

No rush anywhere of anyone.

All those yellow ribbon magnets on the backs of cars might as well be Vote Republican bumper stickers for all they really mean support for the troops.

My guess is that there are a lot of people here at home who thank God every night for the flypaper theory.

Better you and yours than me and mine, they say, thanking the troops in their nightly prayers.

Better my tax cut than your flak jacket.

Better all the options in my Hummer than armor in your Humvee.

Couple weeks ago Blue Girl posted about a soldier who is missing in action, Matt Maupin of Batavia, Ohio.

Matt is married and has a young child. His high school issued a statement that read, “He is a "great kid" and "an excellent student" who won the Scholar Athlete Award for maintaining a 3.5 GPA while playing football.” He loved Superman and Star Wars. Like a lot of kids, his grew up with a basketball hoop in the driveway and unlike most, had a '98 red Mustang that he cherished. He was also shy around girls. He is good looking and friends say he is “laid-back.”

Matt shocked his parents by coming home one day and announcing he had joined the Army Reserve. Studying nutritional science, he needed money to continue his college education. His father, an ex-Marine, was not happy about Matt’s decision. The war was still going on in Afghanistan and everyone knew Iraq was next.

Maupin's been missing for over a year. The Army considered changing his status, probably to presumed dead, but changed its mind. This way his family still receives his pay and he is eligble for promotions. In fact he was just promoted to sergeant.

Maupin's parents have a real yellow ribbon campaign going. They send care packages of candy, cookies, games, toothbrushes, underwear, and other little necessaries to the troops. You can donate. They have a wish list.

The item at the top of the Maupins' personal wish list you can't help them with.

Now each [care package they send to Iraq] contains a plastic bag with 10 small pin-on badges showing a photo of Maupin and a slip of paper that says: “These are pictures of our captured soldier Spc. Keith ‘Matt’ Maupin, please help us find him.”

According to the Foundation’s website, Matt’s parents are getting frustrated with the Army. “They call and tell us there’s no update,” Matt’s father, Keith says. “We’re not getting bummed out. We’re actually getting pissed.”

Every so often Matt’s mom Carolyn, gets the urge to find her son herself. “But then I realize that’s just the anger of a parent,” she says. “They tell me Iraq is as big as California. Where would I start looking?”

President Bush has called Maupin's parents four times.

All four times before the election last November.



Pocket change.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!


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