Friday, 7 June 2019
Dear Mr President,
There are occasions when I have to drop the ironic mask. The 75th anniversary of D-Day is one of them.
When my classmates and I were at West Point in the early 60's, many of the officers who were our professors and superiors were veterans of World War II and the Korean War. A few had already been to Viet Nam. My company tactical officer had been one of those rangers who scaled the cliff at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day.
It mattered that a chemistry professor had won a silver star. We learned from them things they did not exactly teach – it might be better to say that we imbibed things that they embodied.
We outwardly viewed those veterans with the cocky skepticism that kids just out of adolescence commonly assume toward authority figures in their 40s, but inwardly we held them in awe: they had done things we did not yet know we could do. It mattered that a chemistry professor had won a silver star. We learned from them things they did not exactly teach – it might be better to say that we imbibed things that they embodied.
I don’t mean just Duty, Honor, Country – the overarching but abstract ideals that we earnestly but vaguely imagined – but ideas that were mundane, practical, and obvious: that the army (and by extension, the country, civilization) had a structure – imperfect, but tested and workable; that the structure was maintained by rules, rising from SOPs to laws; that the rules were carried into action through orders given (sometimes mistakenly) and taken (often grudgingly) out of respect for the system; and finally that personal feelings had to be submerged in the common purpose – which mostly and imperfectly they were.
It was these simple ideas, more than the flag and patriotic music, that carried soldiers across the beach and up the cliff.
I know you don’t know what I’m talking about, Mr President – you for whom duty, honor, and country are saleable commodities; you who’ve never heard of Pointe du Hoc; you who opted out of the draft with a fake disability (as opposed to those who courageously opted out from principled opposition); you who called Viet Nam, where more than 50,000 American families lost their sons and daughters and more than half a million Vietnamese lost their lives, “a country nobody heard of”; you who imagine that soldiers are a bunch of armed thugs you can keep on your side by promising to pardon war criminals; you who praised as “well meaning” the sycophants who tried to hide a navy ship from your sensitive psyche.
So D-Day was not for you. Though you went to the ceremony, you had no place there. It was not a day for irony. And it was not a day for clowns or criminals.
Received by the White House at 5:41 AM EST, 7 June 2019.