bureaucracybusters

ALL GLORY IS FLEETING–AND NOW GONE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 31, 2021 at 12:14 am

Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s 1998 World War II epic, opens with a scene of an American flag snapping in the wind.

Except that the vivid red, white and blue we’ve come to expect in Old Glory have been washed out, leaving only black-and-white stripes and black stars.

Robert Mapplethorpe and the tale of two American Flags | art | Phaidon

And then the movie opens—not during World War II but the present day.

Did Spielberg know that the United States—for all its military power—has become a pale shadow of its former glory?

May, 30, 1945, marked the first Memorial Day after World War II ended in Europe.

On that day, the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery became the site of just such a ceremony. The cemetery lies near the modern Italian town of Nettuno.

In 1945, it held about  20,000 graves. Most were soldiers who died in Sicily, at Salerno or Anzio.

One of the speakers at the ceremony was Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., the U.S. Fifth Army Commander.

Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

Unlike many other generals, Truscott had shared in the dangers of combat, often pouring over maps on the hood of his jeep with company commanders as bullets or shells zipped close by.

Among Truscott’s audience was Bill Mauldin, the famous cartoonist for the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Mauldin had created Willie and Joe, the unshaved, slovenly-looking “dogfaces” who came to symbolize the GI.

When it came his turn to speak, Truscott moved to the podium—and then did something truly unexpected.

Looking at the assembled visitors—which included several Congressmen—Truscott turned his back on the living to face the graves of his fellow soldiers.  

“It was the most moving gesture I ever saw,” wrote Mauldin. “It came from a hard-boiled old man who was incapable of planned dramatics.”

  Bill Mauldin and “Willie and Joe,” the characters he made famous

“He apologized to the dead men for their presence there. He said that everybody tells leaders that it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart that this is not altogether true.

“He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive him, but he realized that was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances….

“Truscott said he would not speak of the ‘glorious’ dead because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your late teens or early twenties.

“He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out. He said he thought it was the least he could do.”

Then Truscott walked away, without acknowledging his audience.

Fast forward 61 years—to March 24, 2004.

At a White House Correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush joked publicly about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.

One year earlier, he had invaded Iraq on the premise that its dictator, Saddam Hussein, possessed WMDs he intended to use against the United States.

To Bush, the non-existent WMDs were now simply the butt of a joke that night.

While an overhead projector displayed photos of a puzzled-looking Bush searching around the Oval Office, Bush recited a comedy routine.

“Those weapons of mass destruction have gotta be somewhere,” Bush laughed, while a photo showed him poking around the corners in the Oval Office.

George W. Bush - jokes about weapons of mass destruction .flv - YouTube

“Nope-–no weapons over there!  Maybe they’re under here,” he said, as a photo showed him looking under a desk.

In a scene that could have occurred under the Roman emperor Nero, an assembly of wealthy, pampered men and women—the elite of America’s media and political classes—-laughed heartily during Bush’s performance. 

Only later did the criticism come, from Democrats and Iraqi war veterans—especially those veterans who had lost comrades or suffered grievous wounds to protect America from non-existent WMDs.

Bush had dodged the Vietnam war by joining the 147th Fighter-Interceptor Group of the Texas Air National Guard on May 27, 1968. His military service ended on November 21, 1974—by which time the Vietnam war was safely over.

Bush Laughs at no WMD in Iraq  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCTfEf6Rrmw

Then fast forward another 11 years—to July 18. 2015.

On July 18, then-candidate Donald Trump disparaged Arizona Senator John McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain had served in the United States Navy as an aviator during the Vietnam war. He was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and spent five and a half years as a heroic POW. His wartime injuries left him permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head.

Nevertheless, Republican voters turned out heavily to elect Trump—a five-time Vietnam draft dodger—over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump continued to attack McCain even after the Senator died of brain cancer in 2018. But the overwhelming majority of Republicans continued to rabidly support the draft-dodger.

Of the 535 members elected or re-elected to the House and Senate in November, 2020, a total of 100 have served in the U.S. military.

Small wonder that, for many people, Old Glory has taken on a darker, washed-out appearance.

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