Not too long ago, I took a flight from Frankfurt to Chicago just before Christmas. Apparently, the U.S. still has left over military bases around Frankfurt, quite a few in fact, just to keep an eye on those dreadful Germans. I got a chance to talk to a couple of America’s finest on the plane over. They told me about the lack of prospects leaving High School, the boredom of their current post, their brother in Iraq. Some of it seemed a tad cliché. I felt like I knew the story. I come from an upper middle class neighborhood in a big city and then went off to the most expensive private university in the country. None of my friends enlisted. I don’t get a chance to converse with our troops often. I don’t know anyone who has been to Iraq. And talking to these kids, most younger than me, which is not the easiest thing to be, they just seemed stagnant. They told me about drinking binges, broken computers, movies downloaded. They showed me a picture of their girlfriends wearing uggs and college hoodies. I think our troops are the best and greatest, true heros. I just… They seem to lack a cause right now. There is nothing driving them. Some of the greatest poetry and literature has come out of wars, and those words can teach us. But without a sense of purpose, without a task in which to take pride, these soldiers had only a military ID to show. Other than that, they described to me boredom. World War I Poet Soldier Wilfred Owen said, “All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the truest poets must be truthful.” Perhaps it is the truth our soldiers lack, and it doesn’t come from them, it comes from up top.
Below is a letter written by Union soldier Sullivan Ballou on July the 14th, 1861. Give it a listen as it is just audio. I have never heard a better rendering of love-of-country and love-of-woman put so succinctly. He has truths to tell, a truth to his country, and a truth to his woman. He proclaims them both.