The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I remember watching CNN during the memorial ceremony for the Oklahoma City bombing.
I recall Bernard Shaw stating: “We have about 30 seconds left to go in our minute of silence….”
Those were his exact words.
Sometimes emotions are best left to speak for themselves.
Walking down Lexington Avenue in those days after the Towers fell was a hugely emotional experience.
The Viet Nam War Memorial is successful for a very similar reason.
We should remember that the memorial and its architect were both widely criticized, for a variety of classist, racist, and war-mongering reasons.
Until such a time that actual veterans found it enormously cathartic to visit.
The discussion of the monument’s role in this catharsis quite misses the point.
The trauma of the Viet Nam War was never taken on by the population.
The veterans were treated and are still treated despicably.
Those who did feign welcome were very much the Despicables who had sent them into the abyss of war in the first place.
A Catch-22 of no small proportion.
I recall on April 1, 1973 marching in a parade in New York for their return.
This was not of my choice.
My father took me into the City to witness this afterthought of a welcome home, and had me march with a veterans’ group from our town.
Rogue groups of long-returned vets-now-protesters joined the parade.
This was not without struggle.
Yet they eventually took their place in parade line before us.
What I mean to say is that their presence was tolerated.
They were a rag-tag bunch to be sure.
In worn out jean-jackets, standard-issue fatigues, camouflage.
Their manner of expressing themselves was, comparatively speaking, exuberant.
Chants, fists, and fingers.
Politically, the parade was rather charged.
Neither the mayor nor the governor attended.
At the reviewing stand, groups of smartly uniformed men stood up in unison.
And then–with co-ordinated precision–they about-faced these men marching by.
Literally turning their backs on their comrades and compatriots.
I am haunted by this shocking maneuver.
Trauma, put to use as propaganda, ends up doing no one much good.
The actual ticker-tape parade marking their return “home” would occur some ten years later.
The rather misnomer of this parade was: “Home With Honor”.
“Commemorating” vets who were perceived as having neither.
These are the men who now panhandle in the subway.
These are the men who are now homeless on the street.
These are the men who receive no benefits from a thankless government.
At that time in my life I spent most days in “uniform”.
Whether in the red plaid of my Catholic school, or as on this day, in cub scout gear.
It is likely that this was the day I learned to be wary of such affectations of power.
Image: “Veterans for Peace” at an anti-war march. | Date: April, 2003 | Place: Washington, D.C.; 16th Street, NW | Camera: Kodak Retina 35mm/1950s | Caption: We were 10,000+ marching in Washington, D.C. on a Sunday. People on the sidelines jeered and spat at us.