On Veteran’s Day

We remember all those who have served. Men and Women who were willing to lay down their lives that the vast bulk of their countrymen would lie safely sleeping in their beds.

As writers, we often pay homage in little ways to those who serve by incorporating them into our tales. If the writer has not, themselves, served, this can be difficult. But here’s the thing: to get the straight scoop, all you have to do is ask a veteran. Not the callous, crass question of ‘how many did you kill?’ but a sincere ‘what’s it like?’ and then listen, really listen, instead of filtering through your preconceived notions.

I’m not going to make this a long post – it’s mostly about filling in while Sarah deals with some life-things. But I wanted to open the floor and ask the readers: what books get it right? What books get it wrong? And who do you want to say thank you to, today.

Tom Kratman, one of my favorite Baen authors, has been working on a series of columns based on one of the most famous science fiction books about veterans: Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. There is, I warn you, salty language if you read the entirety. Anyone who has spent time with veterans will expect something like that… and the level of his prose will also disabuse those who seem to think that all soldiers are stupid, and they only serve because they cannot do anything better. (PTah! A pox on those who would scorn the noble sacrifice.)

It would probably come as a big surprise in some circles but soldiers, at least American soldiers, read a great deal – much more, I think, than the civilian population at large. What do they read? They’ll read manuals, of course, if they must. Then, again, they’ll read matchbook covers in a pinch. I can recall, too, precisely seventy-seven of us, stuck for some weeks behind barbed wire at Cairo West Egyptian Air Force Base, in 1985, passing around and reading the one book we had among us – a Matt Bolan, the Executioner, piece, with all that implies – over and over and over again.

Yeah…“The horror…the horror.”

Besides reading the obvious things – Playboy and Penthouse, for example, for certain values of “reading” – they’ll read pretty much anything and everything: History, science, philosophy (yes, seriously), biography, fiction…and science fiction. Indeed, one science fiction novel, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, published in 1959, appears on the official reading lists of three of our military services: Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.2 What, not the Army? Fear not, nearly everyone in the Army seems to have read it. And I can only recall ever running into one soldier who didn’t approve of the political system therein wholeheartedly. Even his objections seemed more along the lines of, “Well, it wouldn’t last forever so why bother?” which isn’t a terribly strong objection, really.

The second column is here.

The Silent Fallen

The Silent Fallen

If you’re willing to risk dusty eyes, then you may want to read this poem written by a veteran in salute to his fallen brother’s-in-arms.

17 Comments

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17 responses to “On Veteran’s Day

  1. I offer these reflections on the meaning of this day, to this veteran at any rate.

    First, remembering a fallen comrade:

    http://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2010/11/armistice-remembrance-veterans-day.html

    Next, the meaning of heroism, as illustrated by heroes I’ve known – veterans of conflict, whether or not they wore a uniform:

    http://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2011/04/my-heroes.html

    Finally, my wife’s thoughts on making a marriage that’s a home and a shelter from remembered storms (for which God bless her):

    http://wingandawhim.blogspot.com/2011/11/seperate-peace.html

    Food for thought for me, today of all days.

  2. Chris Nelson

    It’s funny that you mentioned Heinlein. A fellow vet and myself were discussing this week that we are truly living in the “Crazy Years” of his Future History. While I didn’t care for his later work, I’m inspired by the message in Starship Troopers, that rights comes with responsibility, but you have to earn the right first. It also goes with the Spiderman creed. “With great power comes great responsibility.” You can see that explored in more than just RAHs work, it’s also evident in other writers of the genre, some of Modesitts more reflective works come to mind.

    Responsibility is a core value/virtue of a decent society, once it’s allowed to lapse, the society needs to recover it or die. And in these “Crazy Years” it’s evident that there’s not much civic responsibility from those in power. If you follow the news, there’s very little true leadership left and soldiers and citizens are considered disposable pawns or less. And I’m not sure we live in the United States anymore, Toto.

    So instead of getting mad at the current situation today, I’m going to pause and reflect on the service of my father, my uncles, my father-in-law, my cousins, my fellow shipmates and brothers. I can honor them today and resume being constructively angry tomorrow.

    As far as books, go, I’ve read a warehouse of history and biographies that cover the various time periods, services and wars. There’s many a reading list available, so pick one and work through it. The one book that sticks out to me was Hackworth’s “About Face”.

    As far as experience goes, I served in peacetime. My memories are of hard work, friends, boredom, bureaucracy and a few moments of excitement/terror in some crazy dangerous situations. My uncles and cousins that were involved in combat, do not and will not discuss it with anyone.

  3. Reality Observer

    I don’t know – we may have to reclass something as an urban myth.

    It was a few years ago, but “Starship Troopers” is apparently not on the USMC Commandant’s Professional Reading List any longer (any of them). It is still on the Navy list.

    Rather disappointing.

    So far as veterans go – yes, this is a day to particularly honor them (it is really a 365 / 366 day a year thing). Mine is, sadly, one of the three generations since the Revolutionary War without a veteran in it, so I tend to emphasize that to my kids (the son will eventually be a Marine veteran, some years from now).

  4. Since you mentioned how much American soldiers read, I’d like to recommend the book our church book club is going to discuss this Saturday: “When Books Went to War” by Molly Guptill Manning, about the efforts to get reading materials to American servicemen during World War II.

    http://www.amazon.com/When-Books-Went-War-Stories/dp/0544570405/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1447254364&sr=1-1&keywords=when+books+went+to+war

    Just like the view of the hick farmer misses how educated he is, people often underestimate how educated and well-read the American soldier is.

  5. We always had books with us. And there were ‘libraries’ in every barracks I ever stayed in. “Leave one, take one.” was what was usually posted on a tattered 3×5 card. Re reading lists- Ender’s Game is also on the recommended reading list among other SF novels. I can remember seeing everything from history, bios, SF, pretty much the full gamut available.

    • Chris Nelson

      I remember lending “A Pillar of Iron” by Caldwell to my CO after I got it from one of my enlist mates.

  6. My father and most of my uncles were WWII vets. My father and another uncle were Korean War vets. Any family get-together would eventually have the vets discussing humorous incidents, from one uncle’s first encounter with a Japanese soldier to another’s suddenly wondering what would happen if two artillery shells hit right overhead as he crawled up a hill.

    I did not know one landed on the beaches on D-Day. That came from my aunt, who me he still had nightmares. He was in a tank, and it would be years before I learned that only a few made it ashore. I did not know until after his death that he was awarded a medal for bravery (silver star, I think – not sure). That came from my aunt as well, who said he didn’t think he deserved it, that he just did what he thought anyone should have done. For the same reason I don’t know how another uncle won two bronze stars. He never talked about it.

    There were many things they didn’t talk about. Among fellow vets they didn’t have to. Among the rest they didn’t want to bring it up.
    Such as the uncle who had a friend killed by a sniper and who fell back on him in the foxhole, and he was unable to move without drawing fire. Or the uncle who claimed he cut his hand on a “meat cutter” that turned out to have been a booby trap. Or the uncle who saw a concentration camp and could not bring himself to discuss it, aside that he had seen one and his intense loathing for those who claim it never happened.

    I see the same thing with current vets. I don’t press them about their experiences, which is likely a thing only another vet can understand.That was the sense of the thing from at least the Civil War onward, and probably goes all the way back to when the first men picked up their spears and marched to defend their homes.

    What I can do is be grateful. Grateful to my father, who trained to lug around a Ma Deuce; to uncles who came close to never making it home; to my old barber who had been with the first occupation forces at Nagasaki; to a minister who had been a marine and was loading up for Olympic when Japan surrendered, to a brother-in-law and nephews; to the old doctor who immediately recognized trench mouth because he’d seen it in WWI; to ancestors who fought in the Civil War and were hit by Minie Ball and grape shot; to those who thought in the American Revolution; and to all veterans past and present . To all you have my deepest thanks.

  7. There is an old saying, which seems more and more true as I get older: people only value what they pay for. Usually this applies to thing(s) that cost money, but I often wonder if it’s even more true of rights? I look at our campuses, and how the students seem to care not one bit for the First Amendment, and I think, “If those twits had been forced to fight for that right, they would not be so quick to hurl it into the wastebasket.” It also often occurs to me, regarding our republican system of government. Everyone has his or her vote, but perhaps half of the population uses their votes in even national elections; much less small, local elections. Voter apathy is rampant, and has been for years — despite the national rancor over candidates like Bush, Kerry, Obama, Romney, and now Trump, Carson, Clinton (again!) and Sanders. You’d think all that national feeling would get out the vote? Nope. People are busy. Voting is just a nuisance chore for many. Perhaps if you actually had to pay a price — a personal price — for your vote, you would value it more? Likewise, if everyone seeking office also had to pay a personal price to be there . . . anyway, my best wishes to each and every veteran today. From a CW2 overseas in the service of his country.

    • Yeah, I’ve come around to the position that voting shouldn’t be a birthright; it should be an earned right, by way of service to your country. Is two years of national service, doing whatever that may be (and surely everyone competent enough to fill in a ballot is competent at =some= job that needs doing!) too much to ask? I no longer think so, especially in light of the narcissist generation’s antics.

      I think I’ll stop at the veterans cemetery later today, and thank someone who served his country.

    • Chris Nelson

      Brad,

      We just had an state and local election last week. Billions of dollars of state bonds/tax issues and millions of city bonds. Issues that will affect or benefit everyone in the city and state. (And we have a very liberal early and absentee voting policy.) Flyers from the state representative and city on the issues were sent to every address.

      It took my spouse and I about 45 minutes to read up on the issues, go to the polling place and vote on issues that will benefit us for years, if not decades. 3,600 voters showed up out of a population of over 100,000 in the city. One bond issue passed by 16 votes. (So much for the idiots that say their vote doesn’t count.)

    • Voters don’t care because they don’t see it making a difference. Given the way the Republicans cave to the Democrats, I’ve started to agree.

  8. My blog on “Tour of Duty” by Michael Z Williamson is my top-rated post. That’s because in it I describe the impact that the short story “Desert Blues” had on my son, SGT Eli Jordan Patterson, Alpha Battery, 1/214 FA Ga Army NG, stationed at Shindan Air Base in Afghanistan. After they had rocketed his base, blowing the crap out of him, he wrote this:
    “I call them “those guys”; after working with the locals you get to know them and it just doesn’t seem right to call them all Hajjis, RIFs, or any of the other delightfully euphemistic nicknames . And I’ve never been insensitive enough to call them ragheads or Arabs either. Funny how even in the middle of a fight one cleaves to the honor of refusing to be/sound racially biased.”
    So: grandfather in WWI, father & uncles in WWII, uncle Korea, cousin in Viet Nam, me during Viet Nam Era in Germany, and the thing I’m proudest of is having raised a son who could make that statement, under those circumstances.
    Read the whole story here:
    http://habakkuk21.blogspot.com/2015/04/tour-of-duty-by-michael-z-williamson.html

  9. Sons’ first time in Iraq, several months in, got an e-mail saying “I need books. Sci-fi, adventure, but SEND BOOKS.”

    I found could fit nineteen paperbacks into a large flat-rate box without it bulging too badly, so hit the used bookstores and filled one up. His mom & sister sent one, and the grandparents sent some. He told me later that he was reading one day and someone stuck their head into the container to ask a question and stopped: “Books? You got books? Can I read them?”

    “When I’m done with it.” Which wound up with a line: he’d finish one and pass it to that guy, who’d pass it to the next guy, on and on until they fell completely apart. I sent two or three boxes that tour, and they all went the same way.

    It’s annoyed hell out of me in the time since that some people are surprised that the troops like to read.

  10. Pingback: Veterans and Books | Be Swift, Be Precise

  11. Angus Trim

    I remember the spring of ’72 when a few of my ex-school mates were discussing the Democrat primaries. I’d gotten out of the army in January, and already had experienced the disregard a lot of my contemporaries had of those coming home from Vietnam, those that had recently gotten out, and those that were on active duty.

    I mentioned that I felt strongly that only veterans should vote, and should be able to practice politics, and that those that might disagree should read Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” as a beginning.

    I wasn’t very popular that night, nor did I win any converts.

    Thanks to all the rest of you veterans for your service.

  12. Joe in PNG

    There is a trend in history- any class in power not willing to personally use arms will eventually cede power to those who are. Rome was strong as long as her Citizens were willing to personally strap on armor and fight her battles- with the Senators leading as officers. Once the legions became full of barbarian mercenaries, you begin to get barbarian emperors.
    Prussia likewise- the Junkers maintained power until they made their devil’s deal with the National Socialist. One also thinks of the pampered French aristos or the Tsarist autocrats, safe but doomed to future revolution.

    The American Left is headed down this same doomed road.

  13. Laura M

    Thank you all for your service.