Readings for Veterans Day, 2015

Some readings for this day when we reckon — and face — the cost of our wars.

I.

How African Americans responded to the postwar resurgence of white supremacy reflected the depths to which the aspirations of the war and expectations for democracy shaped their racial and political consciousness. The war radicalized many African Americans and deepened a commitment to combat white racial violence. At the same time, the contributions of the soldiers, as well as peoples of African descent more broadly, to the war effort swelled racial pride. Marcus Garvey tapped into this social, political, and cultural milieu. A native of Jamaica, Garvey brought his new organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to New York and soon attracted thousands of followers. The UNIA, predicated upon the principles of Black Nationalism and African diasporic unity, quickly became the most dominant mass movement of the postwar era. A host of other radical organizations and newspapers complemented the UNIA and signaled the arrival of the “New Negro.”

From African Americans and World War I, an essay by Dr. Chad Williams.

II.

Charles Vernon Bush was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

He fought in Vietnam, and was awarded a Bronze Star.

A couple years before his death, Bush wrote a chapter for Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply About Diversity in the U.S. Armed Forces by Air University Press, February 2010:

Diversity efforts within the US government, particularly the Department of
Defense (DOD) and the intelligence community (IC), have proven to be
inadequate. Their failure is largely due to organizations approaching diversity
more as a personnel program than a critical mission element imperative to
national security. Leaders often discuss and study the importance of diversity,
but little evidence has emerged over recent years to indicate they fully embrace
it. Hence, military organizations (broadly defined to include the larger intelligence
communities outside of the armed services) fall woefully short in establishing
diversity within their senior executive and officer ranks. Moreover,
DOD and IC leaders continue to establish and communicate incongruent department
diversity mission statements, objectives, and goals that lack prescribed,
mandatory performance standards. Because there are no prescribed
performance standards, there exists no leadership accountability and thus no
leadership responsibility for monitoring diversity. Therefore, organizations deliver
poor and unacceptable outcomes on diversity objectives, which leaders
regrettably accept.

He had a Twitter account, @cvbgrf. It is not everybody who can just link to their Wikipedia biography from their Twitter profile.

III.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

— Wilfred Owen, killed on 4 November 1918, one week prior to the signing of the armistice.

IV

Female veterans battling PTSD from sexual trauma fight for redress

Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant

V

Soldat Du Droit. Picture by Gordon T. Lawson on Flickr, CC-BY
Soldat Du Droit. Picture by Gordon T. Lawson on Flickr, CC-BY

Remembrance Day – Veterans Day 2012

The holiday we celebrate as Veteran’s Day in the U.S. began as Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth countries. It is celebrated on November 11, or specifically on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in accordance with the armistice that ended the First World War in 1918.

Nearly a century ago.

It was the last war fought with mounted cavalry. And the first war fought with tanks. It’s also the first war that brought the concept of “shell-shock” into common parlance. Today we call it PTSD.

Lord Peter Wimsey, one of the most popular (and beloved) amateur detectives in mystery, suffered from shell-shock. Just think about that for a minute. The condition was so common that Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote the Wimsey stories during the 1920s through the 1940s, thought nothing of making her hero a victim of this debilitating condition. And she does debilitate Wimsey with it on several occasions in the series.

The Wimsey stories are still worth reading. They offer a marvelous perspective on upper-class life in the 1920s through the 1940s, and the entire series has finally been released as ebooks.

But if you are looking for a 21st century fictional perspective on World War I, particularly of the historical mystery persuasion, take a look at Charles Todd’s two series. Charles Todd is the pseudonym for the mother-and-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd.

They have two World War I series. The Bess Crawford series, starting with A Duty to the Dead, follows the life and occasional adventures of a combat nurse during the war. Some of the dead bodies that Bess discovers do not die from either natural causes or enemy bullets. But due to Bess’ position as the daughter of a long-serving regular-army colonel, the reader gets a picture of the British Army during the war, and also the Home Front when Bess goes on leave.

Their second, and longer-running series, featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, takes place after the war. But the war is still very much a factor, because Rutledge lives with it every day. He came back from the trenches with shell-shock, and his superiors are always waiting for it to reclaim him. The first book in the series is A Test of Wills.

And for one of the most fascinating perspectives on the First World War, take a look at Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. This is not fiction. This is a book about how history is remembered, and it’s a classic for a reason.