‘War is young men dying and old men talking. You know this. Ignore the politics.”
— Odysseus to Achilles in the film, “Troy.”
I can’t listen to “Taps” and not tear up. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it, I always cry a little. I’m not sure, sometimes, why I’m crying. Is it because the magnificent mournful melody so perfectly matches the feeling of saying farewell to a warrior? Or am I crying for all of the loved ones left behind — the millions and millions over the centuries? Sometimes, I think I’m crying for something else; maybe I’m crying for myself.
That may sound silly, or worse, completely selfish, and maybe it is. Yet I can’t help feeling that ultimately I’m crying because “Taps” reminds me that the world never seems to change for the better. No matter how many heroes — and they are heroes — pay the ultimate price, war always demands more from us. And it is always our young who it craves. Worst of all, we proudly offer them up.
Maybe I’m sad that someone, somewhere will always be able to make complete strangers kill each other for the same reasons, over and over. It is like an eternal World War I battle that rages over the same, small piece of ground in perpetuity. This ground is a devastated moral landscape that refuses to learn any lessons that might spare our youth.
Instead one generation, like some militant Sisyphus, pushes the rock of war up one side of the hill only to have it roll back on the next. No matter how just, proud-sounding or righteous the rock is, it remains a monument to all that is worst in us poor, belligerent humans.
That should make us all sad.
I spent 28 years in the military; my son has served honorably and is a disabled vet. I am proud of our time in the service. Someday “Taps” will be played for both of us — but it isn’t that which makes me sad. It is knowing that melancholy song will need to be played for endless future generations that will always make me cry. And for that I am not ashamed.
D. Roger Pederson, of Minneapolis, is a retired Air Force officer.