The most powerful video I’ve watched about Memorial Day is this short essay by Andy Rooney at “60 Minutes.” Each time I watch it, I get choked up a bit.
Andy makes many excellent points in this video. He says those who die in wars don’t “give” their lives for their country; rather, their lives are taken from them. He reminds us that war is the least noble of humanity’s actions, even with the displays of courage and bravery that take place during it. Finally, he wishes for a different Memorial Day, not one in which we remember the dead, but one where we celebrate the end of war and the safety and security of our children.
Andy Rooney knew war, and close friends of his died in World War II. For me, this video both captures the spirit of Memorial Day while pointing the way forward to a better day in America.
27 thoughts on “Andy Rooney on Memorial Day”
Marine General Smedley Butler (two Congressional Medals of Honor) had some thoughts on how to end wars, in his short book War Is A Racket.
(Butler is my Gravatar)
Yes, I agree. The richest and most privileged should go first. But they rarely do. The idea of noblesse oblige is long dead.
Mr Rooney was amazing…. how RIGHT he is! I always waited till the end to hear his”wisdom”. No more wise men nowadays… just pseudopundits!
This was a GREAT history lesson for me when I read it a few years ago!
Remarkable story. I’d never heard of this. Thanks for sharing!
Rooney: . . . their lives are taken from them
That reminds me of the wise words of Edward Abbey in A Voice Calling in the Wilderness:
Oh, isn’t this a democracy? Didn’t “the people” take these lives? . . .No. These stupid, deadly wars received no vote from the people. Abbey, the anarchist, again:
From The Triumph of Strife: an homage to Dante Alighieri and Percy Shelley
A Clockwork Phoenix Epiphany
A poet woke midway through his life’s course
Another dreamed beside a public way
But this epiphany comes as remorse
That our lost war should rise another day
A clockwork lemon, Phoenix irony,
With villages destroyed and left to lay
In their salvation’s ashes, newly free
To resurrect themselves in civil strife;
To stay and die or else to live and flee:
Westmoreland’s choice to those who “value life”
Less than we value ours while taking theirs
Computing, as we do, statistics rife
With body counts our panic-proffered wares
We sell again our sullied, soiled affairs
Our epic poets in their offspring tomes
Had muse interpreters to serve and guide
But we move like a legion of lost gnomes
As mad Macbeth sits nursing wounded pride
And Birnam’s trees converge on Dunsinane
The witches’ prophecies no longer hide
Their glaring flaws once seemingly inane;
Those honest trifles with which trust was won
Betray in deepest consequence germane.
We feel ourselves again by us undone,
By our own fearful blindness held in pawn.
Not long ago we watched this setting sun
Through windows over which some shade was drawn,
And in the twilight’s gloom we saw the dawn.
Yet long night’s tunnel lay ahead for years
With no light at the end as often spied
By those who spoke of hope but offered tears
To cover for the fact that they had lied
And squandered blood and billions on a bet
That they could “win” some thing unspecified
Their ever-promised victory: “Not yet!”
“These things take time,” they say, to stall for more;
Perhaps until some greater fool unmet
Arrives upon the tilted trading floor
And bids up prices further on a loan
So they can sidle sideways out the door
With cash in hand for selling off a moan
That leaves the kids indebted to a groan
We know this song; we’ve heard its tune before
The lying lyrics so familiar are
A rapping rhythm rotten to the core;
A withered wish upon a falling star;
A dim demented dirge of deathly porn;
A sordid saga for a glib guitar
That steals the future long before it’s born;
That grabs at now before some later comes;
That shakes its moneymaking pot unshorn
Of any pretext but to beat the drums;
Inciting riots in the angry mobs
Who steam and seethe in sorrow’s shameless slums;
A schizophrenic migraine scream that throbs
To swamp the sound of softly sighing sobs
So now we know the drill and feel the heat,
As spitted we revolve upon the grill
We hurry-up-and-wait like so much meat
Until were ordered once again to kill
Professionals, of course, we seldom gloat
We do it for the paycheck, not the thrill
We’re paid to down the plane and sink the boat
To amateurs at home we leave the fun
Of grabbing one another by the throat;
To squabble over loot that we have won
For them, not us, to tally up the “wins”
Accruing from the barrel of a gun,
While we must mourn our stretching line that thins:
A metric of our payment for their sins
“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk
Of cabbages and kings and sealing wax;”
Before the oysters have the time to balk
And lapse into a state of mind too lax:
Some time to think of that old hoary saw
A recipe encoded in a fax
That says they taste the best when served up raw,
“All hot and bleeding,” needing only bread
And vinegar and pepper in the craw,
To go with all the butter thickly spread
To see that nothing sticks while going down;
A deal digesting us, the duped and dead;
A joke to bring a toast to their renown;
The ones who bathe in booty seldom drown.
A motive manifest in us our fate:
A grim desire that never sleeps or rests,
Compels us like Cervantes to create
Ourselves old oysters on quixotic quests
Like Bedlam’s beggars: bald, beseeching, bold;
As ancient mariners to wedding guests,
Condemned to wander till the tale is told;
In our own land considered noisome pests;
Our Odyssey obscure we now unfold
Another encore that no one requests,
With strife again triumphant; peace reviled,
Replete with profane gestures, obscene jests,
The Walrus and the Carpenter, they smiled
To think of all the oysters they’d beguiled
For nothing did we shake our graying heads
Declining to enlist again for naught.
This time we did not leave our oyster beds,
Remembering the last windmills we fought
For faithless frauds whose feckless spending spree
Left them at home to count the coin they sought
By sending us abroad to earn the fee
For graveyard golfing greens that grimly grow
Above our friends for all eternity
Who paid to teach the only truth we know,
That we who lived have tried to pass along:
We reap the whirlwind when the storm we sow.
As earnest as the eerie, Eastern gong,
We sing our sad summation of a song . . .
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006
Moving right along …
From The Triumph of Strife: an homage to Dante Alighieri and Percy Shelley
Dragooned and Bullied Ex-Patriot
In early manhood’s time they came for us
Distressed that we might plot a course our own
And not one pledged to serve their animus
We had begun to reap what they had sown;
From seeds of dragons’ teeth sprang fighting men
On fields of battle far from homeland grown.
Yet grim news filtered back both now and then
Of great success that almost had expired
From using up its youth time and again
A great success, indeed, that then required
A fresh transfusion of the red supply
Of winning fights, old Pyrrhus never tired
Yet few could smell the stinking, reeking lie:
Our youth was spent for what the old would buy
And so to mask just what they had in store
For us who had no choice and lived in dread,
They tried to feed us patriotic lore
Designed to earn our trust but not our bread
But when that didn’t work as warfare bait
They switched to using threat of jail instead
They worked on us from early dawn till late:
The Press, the Church, the School, the Law combined
To wipe us blank of thought as any slate
The Great Success abroad seemed to have dined
On all the easy lives it could obtain;
And yet it hungered still for our young kind
Our leaders, though, felt not the slightest pain
To them we meant no loss but only gain
Some Fear Itself had seeped into our land:
Reactionary Panic, Mystic Dread,
And Abstract Anger gained the upper hand.
Then fearing “communists” beneath each bed
The Best and Brightest shipped us overseas
To shoot a bad idea in the head
Despite some vaguely heard pathetic pleas
From those whose brains had better things to think
The ones in charge cared only for their ease
They hesitated not, nor did they shrink,
As they from off our backs our freedoms flayed
They sent us to a swamp to swim or sink
Our youth again found its young self betrayed
To die from history our elders made
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006
A technical note on the above poems (or, more properly, poem segments):
When I first started composing poetic verse as a sort of Vietnam-veteran’s DIY psychotherapy — at my wife’s suggestion, if not insistence — I obtained several books on poetry and determined that I would write something of my own using as models some of the best examples from acknowledged masters. In one of my books: How to Read and Why, by Harold Bloom, I found this statement about Percy Shelley:
“On Shelley, I will confine myself to a few passages from his superb, unfinished death poem, The Triumph of Life, which seems to me as close as anyone has come to persuading us that this is how Dante would sound had the poet of The Divine Comedy composed in English. The Triumph of Life is an infernal vision, a fragment of about 550 lines in Dantesque terza rima, and in my judgment is the most despairing poem, of true eminence, in the language.”
Since it seemed clear to me that War — or strife — would always triumph in human affairs, I took Professor Bloom’s comment as a challenge and set out to compose 550 lines in my own ( hopefully passable) English, entitled, The Triumph of Strife. Shelley’s poem, like Dante Alighieri’s famous Inferno (the first third of The Divine Comedy) consists of interlocking, three-line stanzas that go on for long stretches, which I found a bit soporific, so I decided to structure my poem more like Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, which also employs three-line terza rima stanzas but groups them into fourteen-line sonnets, 3-3-3-3-2. The final 2-line couplets of each sonnet, I thought, provided an opportunity for temporary summations along the way which would aid the reader in getting through a long poem. I also composed the poem in segments of different length with individual titles for each segment. This allowed me to explore various, related topics within the overall theme of Strife’s inevitable triumph.
At any rate, when I reached 550 lines I still felt unfinished so I wondered if I could double what Shelley had produced. I did, reaching 1100 lines. Then, still unsatisfied, I wondered if I could double that to 2200 lines. I did. Still feeling a bit challenged, I thought of adding one more chunk of 550 lines to the poem, which would bring me up to 2750 lines, or five times what Shelley had produced. I got to 2743 lines when I finished my last segment, Déjà-vu, Redux, which left me feeling that I had already written everything on this topic that I had to say. Close enough, I thought. I hope that Dante and Shelley would approve of my efforts. I just wanted to give credit for inspiration where due.
You sometimes see or read the rare interview of the combat soldiers, during WW 2. They wanted the war to be over, they wanted to come home. There is even in some cases the expression the feeling of regret that they have killed another human being. These feelings make sense, before they were citizen soldiers they were taught violence is wrong.
Today, we no longer “win” wars and come home, our soldiers are warriors like some video game, they are sent out over and over again until their expiration date comes up. The expiration date can be death, physical or mental disablement.
Those on the home front, the rabid reactionaries, foam at the mouth, and rage on about patriotism when the NFL Players take a knee. They stand for the national anthem and then sit their fat asses down and have beer and think they have done their part for god and country.
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On Memorial Day we should honor the young men (mostly) who paid a blood debt to the nation. This concept is very old, used by pagans and Christians alike.
One example is Aztec sacrifice, just south of our current border. The people believed that they owed a blood-debt to the gods. They wanted to avert disaster by paying the endless debt. Blood was a common theme – the sacrifice that the gods required. So, animals would be sacrificed, as well as humans.
This same concept is found in the Christian religion, with Jesus making the ultimate sacrifice. The sacrifice concept was carried on with Passover. The Passover lamb was to be a male of the first year (first fruit) without blemish or spot, sacrificed according to God’s specific instructions. Obedience to the instructions of the Lord regarding the sacrificial blood of the Passover lamb brought deliverance from the wages of sin and death for those within the house (Exodus 12). The lamb died in their place that they might be saved. Sound familiar?
So it is with the young people whose death we should honor. They have (so the story goes) paid a blood debt to the nation, and thereby sanctified the nation, so that we might be saved. It’s quite common to say that they have gone on to a better place, so that’s solace for some (relatives, usually). The rest of us should hate the sacrificial concept, in my opinion, and I believe that Andy Rooney would agree.
The whole concept is obsolete and does not even have popular support any longer. I remember going to the graveyard as a boy and honoring recent civil war dead. Few make that trip any longer. Rather, it’s “happy memorial day” and let’s barbecue.
While we’re on it, let’s stop the phony “thank you for your service.” Listening to the Grand Ole Opry the other night one performer suggested that the military service of others ( a sacrifice) has allowed her to perform in Nashville. . .poppycock.
Rich Wan’s War, Poor Man’s Fight. The truly wealthy find war far too profitable for them to ever give it up. It simply pays too well and too easily. For their part, the poor will always fight the rich-man’s war for peanuts. Until the poor start waging war on the rich instead of for them – starting with a war-profits tax on their money — the endless wars will continue. I certainly do not see any end in sight for what few years remain of my life in this universe. And I certainly agree that we should stop babbling about “sacrifice” and “service” when we really have in mind an indifferent, dispirited servitude where the Pentagram has to pay the rich owners of professional sports teams to stage “war rallies” before every gladiatorial contest. In other words:
Thank You for Your Servility
The Sacred Symbol Soldier serves to shield
The fans from what transpires upon the field
Of battle, far away in distant lands,
While “patriots” swill beer up in the stands,
And cheer the gladiators down below
Who (for a dollar) put on quite a show
To market war as just another game
Makes money for the ones who have no shame.
To move the mob, they wave the bloody shirt
Concealing blood and bowels in the dirt.
Their crimes they seek to hide behind the troops:
Those tools of conquerors and statesmen’s dupes
The Taboo Troop shows up at sports events
To bask in brief applause; no malcontents:
Disgusted, wounded, angry, are allowed
To give the middle finger to the crowd
And so the wars, somewhere, go on and on
Sold by the slave; promoted by the pawn
Michael Murry,”The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2017
<b<Morituri Te Salutant. “We, who are about to die, salute you.”
And the rockets’ red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there
…coming to a theater near you!
The BEST prayer I have ever read, by none other than Mark Twain!….
Yes. Mark Twain’s prayer:
Smedley Butler again, from War Is A Racket:
And I thought, almost all religions say, “DO NOT KILL”!!
Christianity tells us to love thy neighbor. Christ told us to do good to those who persecute us. But the religion of war compels you to kill thy neighbor. And, in war, “good” is killing.
Not since Martin Luther King took a stand against the Vietnam war, for which he paid dearly, has a member of clergy been so anti-war.
Thank you for that, Reverend King. Would that others had your courage.
Thank you for Service is something I often hear, if people find out I am a Veteran. When I hear those Thank You words, my thoughts turn to a society and a cultural that has been figuratively fist bludgeoned into accepting the Warrior Cult. A good article on “Thank You for Your Service”
An excerpt below:
But on Memorial Day, we shouldn’t just honor our fallen brethren with a moment of silence. We should also question why they died. And no one is better positioned to lead this effort, I’ve come to realize, than veterans themselves.
If you say out loud what modern warfare is and what modern American soldiers do, it tends to silence a room. No one wants to hear that, essentially, we’re sending young people to faraway countries to kill other people that might, potentially, maybe, pose a threat to us.
But it’s necessary to say it anyway.
America trains it’s soldiers to be hyper-masculine animals ready to kill, then elevates them to the status of living angels. https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/05/28/my-answer-thank-you-your-service
This is why I reject the notion of “warriors” and “warfighters” as a good thing in the U.S. military, which is the rhetoric of the moment in America. It’s not only cheap: it’s destructive to democracy.
Speaking of taking lives, let us for one moment honor those current and former military members who took their own lives on Memorial Day.
Ex-warfighters (veterans) have a suicide rate double that of the civilian population, twenty per day, and active military one per day. Think of what that brings not only to the person but to friends and family. And all this human destruction for stupid wars whose only purpose is to enrich the military-industrial-congressional complex. Only in America, the greatest! . . .hah
@ Don Bacon
“Not since Martin Luther King took a stand against the Vietnam war, for which he paid dearly, has a member of clergy been so anti-war.
Can’t forget Father Berrigan….!! I believe, his contemporary!
I personally would not blame any religious leader. Majority imho are too busy helping their congregation members survive, poverty, hunger, homelessness, deportations, addiction, violence,,,, the list goes on and on…
Well I agree that the clergy is doing its part locally, and I’m a big supporter of a local effort in that regard. And Father Berrigan was important. But MLK made the key (and not obvious) connection between stupid wars and the plight of US citizens with needs.
I was a young army officer at the time, and hearing of that speech one of my Army friends, an African-American, switched from being a King supporter to a King hater. Imagine that! MLK had no business and no right to be anti-war. It was outside his bailiwick, was the thought my friend expressed. It shocked me, but then I was anti-war (having just returned from ‘Nam where I got educated) and he wasn’t.
Rev. King had anticipated that. . .from his speech…
Thanks for the link to Dr. King’s deservedly famous speech, Don. I’ve made a copy which I will save for future reference. I knew of selected quotations, of course, but had never read the entire oration. A true masterpiece.
Before making any reference to this particular speech, however, I would first like to give credit to the professional boxer Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) who refused induction into the U.S. Army, stating the simple and obvious truth: “I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me ‘nigger’.” I had never met a Vietnamese person, either, nor had I ever heard of that country bombing Pearl Harbor or in any other way harming my own nation. No U.S. Congress had declared war on Vietnam, or Cambodia, or Laos, yet the U.S. military devasted all three of those Southeast Asian nations, and my own government demanded of me that I go along to “help.” As I wrote in my poem above, “Dragooned and Bullied Ex-patriot,” every institution in American society seemed to have joined together against me, until I came to agree with what Civil War Veteran Ambrose Bierce called “patriotism,” namely: “Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name.” Six years in the U.S. Navy and eighteen months in Vietnam certainly cured me of that delusionary pile of credulous crap.
Anyway, I’d like to zero in on the first of Dr. King’s seven reasons for “bringing Vietnam into the field of [his] moral vision.” To wit:
“There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
This passage, in my estimation, relates especially to Orwell’s Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism (from 1984) and Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy, Inc., but it will take a bit more time than I have at the moment to explore these connections. So I’ll get back to this discussion with another post after attending to a few errands. I just wanted to first give Muhammad Ali credit for getting to the heart of the matter and saying in the fewest possible words what others, even the most eloquent, require pages to express.
Great point, Mike. Yes, our government is spending $700 billion this year just on “defense,” and this is not including Homeland Security, the VA, the Energy Dept (which handles nukes), and so on. When everything is added up, including interest on the national debt due to “defense” spending, the government spends nearly a trillion a year.
Yet when it comes to helping the poor, funding education, health care, infrastructure, protecting the environment, etc., the government cries there’s no money.
Warfare has become our welfare. There’s also, as you’ve pointed out, the deliberate intent to keep the poor impoverished; they are much more tractable that way. It’s also a way to guarantee recruitment of “volunteers” to the military, some of whom are looking for a job and health care more than anything else, and the socialism of the military is the closest they’ll come to a government system that cares for them (while putting them potentially in harm’s way, of course).
America has become a warped empire, throwing money at the military, wasting it overseas, while impoverishing people at home. And we call that “defense.” The winners? The rich and the military-industrial-Congressional complex.
To start with, I am a late comer to History of USA. I am trying to read and learn as much as I can ( and trying to keep up with the insanity around me ). I do not go to any place of worship so I DO NOT KNOW what the religious leaders are doing ( but I have heard, they are helping).
HOWEVER, I have seen poverty, homelessness, addiction, racism, lack of healthcare……AND, I strongly believe, billions of dollars spent on war machines and wars can EASILY alleviate what ails the society. SO, I ( as an individual ) went to to every single anti-war rally and demo in the past…… but WHERE is the anti-war movement in the general public or lead by our elected officials NOW? I am looking and and have not found one… major wars in Syria and Yemen ( horrors ) and places our govt does not tell us about…but there is no anti-war leadership in any segment of the society at national level. If there is one, please educate me. Thank you.
And YES, Dr King was a RADICAL…. and we need someone NOW like him.
[Rooney] wishes for a different Memorial Day, not one in which we remember the dead, but one where we celebrate the end of war and the safety and security of our children.
Yes, celebrating the end of war would be a great thing. But celebrating the failed beginning of a war would be better. Let’s congratulate the current government for not going into Syria with an offensive force, for example. Good work, Washington. Way to go!
Because once these wars get started they are extremely difficult to end. Even that great patriot Obama (I’m kidding) who repeatedly told us that he was against the stupid Iraq War, which many “experts” have told us is the greatest foreign policy blunder in US history (that’s saying a lot), even Obama the “Iraq opponent” felt constrained to vote for every single war budget that came his way as a senator. Why? The common reason for voting the money to continue the stupid war, was to support the troops.
So the war has no meaning except to provide employment for the troops? That’s even more stupid than WMD’s.
What happens is that when the government decides on a stupid war, as if there were no alternative, and after all the perps need the money, then it becomes un-American to be anti-war, in large part because it hurts troop morale. The warfighters should be supported, and their brave heroic efforts not undermined and jeopardized. Politics stops at the water’s edge. In the Vietnam days it was “love it or leave it.” We all need to put our shoulders to the wheel with out heads high and our ears to the ground., while pledging allegiance to the flag. Just do it.
I’m kidding. Returning to my first thought, let’s instead celebrate the non-wars, in memory of Andy Rooney, and also with thoughts of the all the good young people who won’t be “fallen” in stupid wars (there’s no other kind).
We shouldn’t let discussion of the US propensity for all war, all the time pass without mentioning Randolph Bourne’s War Is The Health of the State.
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