Veterans Day, 2014

Polish troops carrying ammo at Monte Cassino

Polish troops carrying ammo at Monte Cassino

Daniel N. White

I always liked the original name for this holiday, Armistice Day, and the idea behind it—celebrating the last war this country would ever fight, a lot better than its current iteration as Veterans Day, honoring all the veterans who “served” this country in peace or war.  The Great War (1914-18) certainly wasn’t our or anyone else’s last war, sadly.  The hope and optimism that it would be is now entirely gone and to our present ears seems quaint if not downright silly.  Even worse, the deep gut antipathy toward war that most had in the days after 11-11-18 is also gone.  Hollywood came along and its romantic, sanitized, and infantile notions of the hard cruel mess that wars always are have sunk deep into our subconscious and shaped our view of war much for the worse.

With America’s never ending vile and failed wars ongoing, the “served” in quotation marks is entirely appropriate, as the efforts and results of the US military in these wars is nothing for anyone decent to be proud of.  No good will come to us from our current wars, nor to the peoples in those lands we invaded.  The same was also true for our last big war, Vietnam, and the smaller ones too, like Panama and Grenada since, but the American people just aren’t grown up enough to see it.

What we have nowadays is Veterans Day as just yet another official opportunity by the ruling elites in this country to propagandize further for thoughtless military worship and obedience to (their) authority.  Our prints and airwaves stink with pronouncements of how we all need to thank our veterans today and how everything good we have in this country is due to them.  It is deliberate deep propaganda for militarism, and for our ongoing foreign wars, and lays the groundwork for more of them to come, and the indecency and obscenity of it galls.

As a kid in Europe in the 1960s, I was impressed at how well the Germans kept their mouths shut about what they had done in the big war twenty or so years earlier.  I thought it right and appropriate then and I think the same today.  There weren’t any military celebration days that I saw when I was there and I am sure that was the case for the rest of central Europe (the USSR excepted) where the real (and horrendous) part of WWII happened.  Not only were the ugly memories of the war still raw to them, but the central/east European countries lacked the politically clean hands to grab the righteous victor’s laurels the way the U.S. did.

I’ve maintained for a good while that we in this country would be wise to emulate them in this regard, but we aren’t going to.  We’ve internalized too much of our own propaganda about how right and good we are for that to happen.  We don’t have eyes enough to see how dirty our hands are.  Too much of Veterans Day is a deliberate distraction from that ugly fact.

Poland was a central European country that had clean hands politically in the war.  The Polish army soldiers who surrendered to the USSR (which had lent Hitler a hand with his invasion in 1939 with an invasion of their own) were after Barbarossa in 1941 allowed out of the USSR and formed the Free Polish Army in England and went off to fight the Nazis in Italy.  They were universally regarded as the best and bravest infantry in all the Allied armies.  They were tasked to take the key German defensive position south of Rome, Monte Cassino, in 1944, and they (and the French colonials) succeeded where the British, Indians, Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders had all failed.  That’s the historical backstory to the below poem, written by John Martin, a British cardiologist and poet.

The Second Polish Corps

from The Origins of Loneliness:  Poems and Short Stories in Five Moods

by John Martin

My patient lay in the hospital bed
Unshaven, smelling of urine,
And bitten by lice,
Of no fixed abode,
Living in the street,
And unemployed,
Without family or friends.

In his Slavic accent
He declared
‘I fought at Monte Cassino.’
And my junior doctors in their ignorance
Remained unmoved by man or by history.

And I turned to them
With my hand on the shoulder
Of my patient,
To address them on the greatness
Of the Second Polish Corps
And the infinite value
Of all human beings.

So on this Veterans Day of 2014, we should ignore the usual patriotic hokum about thanking American veterans for their “service,” and instead reflect on the infinite value, and vast potential for greatness, of all human beings.  And remember how infinitely little war contributes to any of that.

Daniel N. White has lived in Austin, Texas, for a lot longer than he originally planned to.  He reads a lot more than we are supposed to, particularly about topics that we really aren’t supposed to worry about.  He works blue-collar for a living–you can be honest doing that–but is somewhat fed up with it right now.  He will gladly respond to all comments that aren’t too insulting or dumb.  He can be reached at

3 thoughts on “Veterans Day, 2014

  1. Dan.. Could you elucidate on the role of the Polish troops at Monte Cassino. The American narrative is the key role the Japanese-American brigade played in that battle. From your narrative it appears to have been a multi-national effort and possibly every nation that participated had their own heroic story.

    Addendum: I did some research and here’s what I discovered:

    Polish forces did a good job but their main contribution was after Monte Cassino when their II Corps took Piedmont opening the door for the Canadians to go through to Rome with heavy equipment.

    I think your resume which overstates the importance of the Polish final push on Monte Cassino does not give deserved credit to the thousands of casualties suffered by the New Zealanders, Indians, Americans, etc. who tackled Cassino before them.

    The Poles were just the fourth part (in May, 1944) of a battle that started in January, 1944 and those Allies who preceded them to take the hill did not “fail”. The attempts were premature since the American Fifth Army was still stagnant on the beach head at Anzio, The Germans had several lines of defense and the Polish effort at Monte Cassino was just the culmination of a six month battle that hinged around the American army breaking out of the Anzio beachhead and penetrating some of those lines.

    By the time the fourth battle started in May, the American Fifth Army had broken out of the beachhead and diverted German resources. The allies suffered 55,000 casualties in the Cassino area and over 100,000 in the full campaign to Rome.

    Now, here’s the shocker that proves the main point of your excellent article. Twenty years after the battle the U.S.Official history was revised and showed there was NO significant German force on Monte Cassino and that the air bombing destruction of the monastery only enhanced the site for hiding and protecting a large German force afterwards.. Here is the detail.

    United States military history reviews
    The U.S. government’s official position on the bombing of Monte Cassino underwent remarkable changes over a quarter century. The certainty of “irrefutable evidence” of German use of the abbey was removed from the record in 1961 by the Office of the Chief of Military History. A congressional inquiry to the same office in the 20th anniversary year of the bombing produced the statement: “It appears that no German troops, except a small military police detachment, were actually inside the abbey” before the bombing. The final correction to the U.S. Army’s official record was made in 1969 and concluded that “the abbey was actually unoccupied by German troops.”[84]

    Postscript… It appears that the two US Air force generals Eaker and Dever called in massive B-17 and B-25 strikes more to prove the effectiveness of air warfare than the ground leaders had requested. The resulting total destruction allowed the Germans to build an effective to effectively defend the hill.
    Another sideline is that the Germans had decided to respect the sanctity of the monastery and in fact had on their own initiative helped supply over a 100 trucks to remove to another religious site the valuable art, manuscripts, and libraries of the abbey.

  2. And under Obama, who to best of my knowledge never even donned a ROTC uniform, the BS just keeps getting stacked higher. I only learned via NPR News this morning that a big concert is being staged on the National Mall in D.C. today to “honor our warriors.” Predictably the cast is heavy with “Country & Western” performers, but I was saddened to hear that a certain Mr. Springsteen is also participating. Bruce is known as “a liberal,” even “progressive” on social issues, and I suspect in his heart of hearts he thinks he’s doing a good thing by lending his prestige to this event. And will he perform “Born In The USA”? If he does, you can bet the crowd will receive it with the same misunderstanding so many greeted it with originally. It is, after all, a protest song about the MISTREATMENT of Vietnam veterans. Will ‘The Boss’ explain all this to the nation? I’d like to hear that, but I don’t think it will happen.

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