Friday, April 10, 2009

RYAN A. CONKLIN THE KNOWN SOLDIER

We can’t pooh-pooh all of the youth-oriented ‘reality’ shows.

Recently, on MTV’s “Real World: Brooklyn”, while the cameras were running, one of the non-actor participants actually got a packet from the Army recalling him to active duty … in Iraq, no less, from which frying pan he had recently returned.

Those of Us who are not the parents of kids who get such a Notice have never seen this aspect of war: a decent, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid, working on getting his life on track in the now-treacherous waters of the American economy, with a workable plan and no little resolve, suddenly yanked back into the frakfest that is America’s Eastern Front.

Twenty-four years old, and you suddenly see the tears streaming down his face. He wants to do the right thing (and, as it turns out, he will) but the shock – burning off material that no civilian of this era can even imagine – jars him visibly and deeply.

And all on national TV, as they used to say.

It struck me that he is, for a generation that not only hasn’t seen many ‘war movies’, let alone ones that capture the wrench, the ache, and the wrack of soldiering, but has also been raised on the idea that ‘war’ is a spandex and pushbutton affair conducted on the Marriott-décor’ed bridge of a Next Generation Star Trek … for that generation he is now The Known Soldier.

Even more than Audie Murphy was to the WW2 and Korean war-era Americans, this young man (Ryan A. Conklin) is the ‘face’ of the troops now, and has actually shared (even if unintentionally) a depth of his experience that you don’t get from the recruiting posters and videos. It’s an added role, not completely unburdensome, that has descended upon him as surely as the uniform and all the gear. He is now finding out, as generations have before him, why the word History comes with that capital ‘H’.

In a startling coincidence (and actually, I’d call it a ‘grace’) he is from a small town in southern Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. Lincoln, I think, is not sleeping on his hillside now.

I’m going to take this where few have gone before.

All those boys and men who ‘saw the elephant’ there at Little Round Top or along the Emmitsburg Road, on Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge … I don’t hold that they’re ‘sleeping’ now either. Just as We have always heard of strange happenings, almost hauntings, on that battlefield (as on many others), so I say that the Japanese were onto something with their idea of the Yasukuni Shrine: the fallen troops don’t just ‘go away’, but remain close to those who must follow in the military way.

And now We know, as the Japanese once discovered, that troops in battle can use all the help they can get.

The Catholic Church has always held that there is a ‘Communion of Saints’, an actual unity between the ‘Church triumphant’ (those who have died and gone to heaven) and the ‘Church militant’ (those who are still struggling through this Vale of Tears). I think that this especially holds true for soldiers and all who go in harm’s way in the discharge of military duty.

It’s still seven weeks or so to Memorial Day, but so what? When troops are in harm’s way every day must be a Memorial Day. And not for mourning, but for praying. And not for mindlessly reciting rote words, but for calling upon all the Unseen to get the hell (you should pardon the expression) back here in a hurry and share such grace as is theirs to command with those who need it.

For that matter, the troops are well advised to do the same. If ‘old fashioned’ war was bad enough, Fourth Generation War (‘4GW’, if you like military lingo) is even worse. And I’d add: put not your trust in saber-rattling, rah-rah ‘sermons’ designed to push the troops into further exertions to whack the world with ‘God’s Will’ (as Red Army political officers urged their troops to do Stalin’s will). Rather, put trust in all those whose sacrifices have “thus far so nobly advanced” the American ideal*, who know what it means to bleed and die pro patria.

But for Us, here at home, it must never be forgotten: they are over there “obedient to Our word”.

And if We feel that it is not actually Our word, but rather the doings of a government that somehow, in Executive and Legislative, has slipped the reins … then We most certainly need to ‘man up’ and take the reins back. The Beltway works for Us, not the other way around, and let no pious and stentorian bray about ‘elites’ frighten Us from saying what We mean to say and letting it be heard.

No Gary Cooper, no Ben Cartwright, no John Wayne, and from the looks of it no Washington or Lincoln, are waiting in the wings (and it’s a good bet that the last two gentlemen couldn’t even get on the ticket in any modern-day election).

If there’s going to be a Marshal in Dodge, it’s going to have to be We, The People.

Which was the way the whole system was designed to work anyway.

And let Us pray – for Our lives, and theirs ‘over there’, and for the Republic.

NOTE

*Not that I’m saying that the current war is a genuine expression of any American ideal; nor that any previous wars were fully or even mostly the worthy vessels of American idealism (think of the Indian wars, the Hawaiian take-over, the Philippine war, and all those little ‘interventions’ that led Marine general Smedley Butler to reflect that he had been simply an armed goon for United Fruit and Standard Oil).

But the welfare, indeed the moral and spiritual survival of all of them ‘over there’, has to be of the utmost priority for Us here.

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