Monday, February 28, 2011

Last man standing, &tc.

A little silence perhaps this morning to remember Frank Buckles (above and left), a Missouri and Oklahoma boy who died at 110 on Sunday near Charles Town, West Virginia, the last man standing among U.S. veterans of World War I. More than 4.7 million U.S. troops served during our relatively brief but decisive 1917-1918 involvement in that war, including my great-uncle Jerry Miller, who died on Feb. 2, 1986, approaching his 94th birthday. Of this number, nearly 117,000 died.

Although our losses seem stunning now, an estimated 1.4 million French troops died and nearly 900,000 British.

Buckles was born on a farm near Bethany, Missouri, just down the road southwest of here, and easily could have been our neighbor had he not moved to Oklahoma as a teen-ager with his family. He lied about his age to enlist at 16 and perhaps because of extreme youth never was assigned to combat although he did see action as an ambulance driver in France.

Something of an adventurer as a young man, he happened to be in the Phillipines as a civilian when the Japanese invaded in 1941 and spent three and a half years in prison camps there before returning to the United States, marrying and settling down on a West Virginia farm.

An Australian man and a British woman are now believed to be the last surviving veterans among those who served on both sides of the Great War.

One curious thing about our World War I dead is the fact we have so few memorials to them, although there is no shortage of memorials to those who died in our other wars. There’s nothing in Washington, D.C., and if you walk around the Iowa Capitol grounds in Des Moines, you’ll find substantial memorials to the dead of the Revolutionary and Civil wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but nothing related to World War I.


It would be interesting to know what veterans of these earlier wars would make of our current cultural wars, which continue on various fronts.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker continues his crusade against Unions --- those wicked, wicked teachers and other overpaid public employees --- something that seems increasingly to look more like a personal issue rather than a substantive one.

The surprising thing to me at least is how many have forgotten that much of what those of us who work or have worked for others owe to unions --- decent wages, child labor laws, overtime, health insurance, occasional pension plans, 40-hour work weeks (more or less) and the like. And that unbridled capitalism, not strong labor, landed us in our current fix.

Even those like me who worked for a corporation renowned for union-busting benefitted from the fact even it had to behave in a civil manner much of the time to its employees in order to keep unions at bay. That of course changed when ill-advised investments sent the company into a downward spiral, leaving its workers entirely unprotected. Interesting, that.


On the marriage front, The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll suggests, not surprisingly, that Iowans split into approximate thirds on the question of same-sex marriage --- a third enthusiastically against it, a third enthusiastically for it and a third in the middle --- but trending from indifference toward acceptance.

A major factor in all of this probably is increased familiarity with LGBT people and the increasingly evident truth that the loudest anti-gay Christian combatants in recent skirmishes are hypocrites or liars or both.

The noise from the extreme right tends to obscure that fact that many Christians who are neither hypocrites or liars do oppose same-sex marriage but have no particular interest in demonizing LGBT people. Their voices, however, tend to be lost amid the shrieking.

In the end I wonder if the church won’t be the big loser in all of this. At a time when indifference to the institutional church seems to be growing, it’s probably hard to appreciate its worth when the loudest voices emanating from it create the impression that all those churchy folks do on Sunday mornings is listen to sermons on the evils of homosexuality and eye each other’s crotches speculatively.

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