Monday, May 28, 2007

On Honor Guards This Memorial Day

It's just struck me, in looking at photographs of military honor guards, that these guys are just so... unnatural. There's President Bush laying a wreath, calling the freshest dead "a new generation of American heroes." There's an old, shaky WWII vet giving a shaky speech from a shaky piece of paper, a long life worn on his shrinking shoulders, the nostalgia and sadness of hindsight in his weary and uncertain voice. There's the eternal flame. There are the rigid rows of white gravestones. There are the fly overs, the parades with squinting parents and squirming kids. And then there are these guys, these adults who have chosen, in their teens and twenties and thirties, to turn themselves into these heavily starched and pressed, white gloved automatons, the sturdy, straight-razor clean-shaven and resolute brutes, hiding behind glamorous formalities, stiff as bricks.

We are, of course, drawn to their stiffness, even at times mesmerized by it. These officers, these "gentlemen" are photogenic. They add such structure and sheen to the front being put on the news. They put the more distracted and vastly less formal people around them in sharp relief, so there is a tension and a drama there we find rather captivating. But natural, no, very unnatural, just another way we can see, graphically, that the military, because of their abstract senses of heroism and honor and duty and discipline, want to be removed from us, us civilians.

The military world wants honor to be more about death than life, more about the armed forces than the arms of love. They want to be better, to serve a higher and more abstract calling than civility, so duped are they by God and bloody country and sticking with their buddies and their men, with all of their buffed and shined stiffness there to shed any doubt, any fear, any ambiguity to those rote and almost remote sense of duty and discipline and heroism and honor, which they want -- need -- to uphold, even to keep to themselves, as the price they get paid to go do the dirty work of being highly trained, highly skilled, highly honed and chiseled and championed professionals at containing and killing. The irony is that the honor guards represent the opposite of what the armed forces are all about.

"The Force," for short. The armed forces. Armed force.

I cannot say that these honor guards are guarding our honor, as civilians. Our honor seems to be up to each of us, and so they seem to be guarding their own brand of honor. And in times of an unjust war and such shame, they may be guarding that honor alone, believing in their minds and in their hearts that might really does make right.

Now tell me again about honor.


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