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Merle Anderson, Fargo, Published November 10 2012

Letter: Our scars symbols of service

When lecturing, I use images to make a point. I once showed a picture of famed ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. You probably know the image since it is from the Louis Vuitton “Journeys” ad campaign and is in all the magazines. In this picture, Baryshnikov was standing barefooted on a dais with the caption, “The journey of a star, captured in a flash.” The response I got varied from total indifference (they didn’t know Baryshnikov) to one young woman exclaiming, “Oh yuck, ugly man feet!” She didn’t know Baryshnikov, but she was right, his feet did look “gnarly.” I liked this picture because I thought his feet looked beautiful – I could see they had been shaped by his dedication to dance. To me, this illustrates that one may speak of “mere fact” but not of “mere truth,” since truth always has a sense of meaning that fact cannot approach without interpretation.

The history

In Ohio. where the National Rifle and Pistol Championships are held, there is a small Confederate cemetery on an all but forgotten island in Lake Erie. This island was a prisoner of war camp. All that remains are the American soldiers who fought for the losing side. As a matter of mere fact, each headstone bears a name and a Confederate flag. In the center of the cemetery is a Civil War soldier statue along with the flag of the United States. For some, those Confederate flags present a problem – an “ugly man feet” kind of problem.

These same people fail to realize that the history behind the U.S. flag makes this site sacred. All that the United States ever was and ever shall be is represented by that flag. Wherever it is flown, we stand under its protection, and this includes dead Rebel soldiers. They earned that protection for the part they played in our history. As a matter of mere fact, the United States awarded “Grey and Blue” campaign streamers to units that served bravely – but in a failed cause. In truth, this was an attempt to “bind the nation.”

Reminders

In truth, as we observe Veterans Day, there is much to think about. There are no more World War I veterans left to observe Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, so the original meaning of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is often overlooked. However, I think the fundamental aspects of our culture, such as consensual government and individualism, have led to our military preeminence.

It is easy to say that dedication to dance gives one “gnarly feet,” but it is less obvious that something else is at work in this country: a feedback system where the things we admire most, such as political freedom, capitalism, scientific inquiry, rationalism, and open debate form an especially lethal combination when applied to warfare. For this reason, like the ancient Greeks, we should look to our past, our forebears, our regiments and our flags and try to find meaning in the events of our experience. Our scars, relics and the symbols of our service – our “gnarly feet” – should serve to remind us.

Dangers

There are dangers to consider this holiday. I have heard people opine to the effect that a badly equipped and therefore ineffective army is somehow less immoral. I have also heard people speak about the idea that multilateral institutions will somehow get things done and make things right. However, when foreign policy fails, it is seldom the policymakers who pay the price. After all, Osama bin Laden did not attack on Sept. 11 because there was a shortage of American diplomats or others at the United Nations willing to talk with him.

The test

When Henry V spoke before the Battle of Agincourt, he said, “Then will he strip his sleeve, and show his scars, and say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ ” Henry V accepted responsibility for the well-being and stability of his nation, subordinating his personal feelings and desires to that end. In this country, we have no kings. Here, like the ancient Greeks, it is the individual who accepts responsibility for his “polis.” So, in mere fact, on this Veterans Day, the “Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal” and corresponding campaign streamer is authorized for operations that have occurred in 59 nations. In truth, there are plenty of Americans who can strip their sleeve and show their “gnarly feet” as evidence of passing the rigorous test of citizenship.