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Arlington Ladies: A Little More Personal Touch to the Military Funeral
November 10, 2010 11:55 AM   Subscribe

An Arlington Lady does not cry. An Arlington Lady is not a professional mourner. She is not a grief counselor, according to their strict Standard Operating Procedure. She is there simply so that somebody is. But before the Arlington Ladies, there was Gladys Rose Vandenberg, wife of Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg. Starting in 1948, she was a constant attendant, sometimes the only one to join the the chaplain and the honor guard. Her dedication spread to others and to other branches of the US armed forces, and continues to this day.

Gladys Vandenberg attended services for all Airmen at Arlington National Cemetary, then recruited some friends, which grew into the Arlington Committee within the Air Force Officers' Wives' Club, the first Arlington Ladies group. In 1973, Julia Abrams formed Arlington Ladies for the Army. Mrs. Abrams, the wife of Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams Jr., was concerned about Soldiers being buried at Arlington Cemetery without family or friends present, much like Mrs. Vandenberg before her. The Navy Arlington Ladies formed in 1985, celebrating their 25th anniversary in May of this year. The Marine Corps does not have volunteers in the Arlington Ladies group, but a representative of the commandant of the Marine Corps is present at each funeral of a marine (Google Books).
posted by filthy light thief (59 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've learned something today. This is a fine post.

Now, I must attend to something that's gotten into my eye.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:05 PM on November 10, 2010


This is a stellar post.
posted by anastasiav at 12:10 PM on November 10, 2010


Very appropriate for the day before Veteran's Day.

I went to Arlington for the first time a couple of years ago. Walking through the rows of headstones was, perhaps, the most humbling and inspiring moments of my life.
posted by HuronBob at 12:11 PM on November 10, 2010


I know this is said daily, but I must repeat. This is why I heart Metafilter.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:13 PM on November 10, 2010


Wow. This is an amazing post. Thank you FLT.
posted by strixus at 12:30 PM on November 10, 2010


This is a great post, and a moving idea (even if it does render a memorable episode of The West Wing slightly less perfect).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:33 PM on November 10, 2010


Of the many embedded links I followed, this one gave me long pause... what amazing people. But thanks for the whole post, flt.
posted by Mike D at 12:34 PM on November 10, 2010


I've long respected these ladies and gentlemen. Such a wonderful thing they do.
posted by palabradot at 12:46 PM on November 10, 2010


Those also serve who pick up the pieces.
posted by availablelight at 12:47 PM on November 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wow. Just. Wow. Amazing women, amazing post.
posted by sonika at 12:52 PM on November 10, 2010


It would be nice if these women were not necessary.
posted by schwa at 12:54 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Incredible post. Thank you.
posted by vorfeed at 1:00 PM on November 10, 2010


ricochet biscuit: This is a great post, and a moving idea (even if it does render a memorable episode of The West Wing slightly less perfect).

It looks like that episode was from 2001, and from quick my research, the Arlington Ladies have been covered in the news in the last few years more than in years past. As the last link above the break mentions, they're not a talkative or boastful bunch, so they might have escaped notice by the writers for the show.


schwa: It would be nice if these women were not necessary.

They don't only attend the funerals of soldiers who died in combat, but also services for veterans of past wars. And some of the above-linked accounts mention that families aren't always able to fly to Arlington to attend the services. Even if the armed services were all disbanded today, these women would be valued for years to come, for the veterans, and in some cases for their continued support to families. Again from that American Spectator link:
This may sound like hyperbole, but consider the following: McKinley has placed roses on a grave for years at the request of a Navy widow and last summer on what would have been the couple's 50th anniversary she sent along 50 roses because it's what she imagined the husband would have done.

"We write everyone a follow-up letter six to eight weeks later, as well" McKinley said. "In most families, there's a great support group that hovers for a month or so. Then, it's not that their family abandons them, it's just that they go back to their own lives. But the grieving is not over. We just want to remind them they are still in our hearts and we are still available if they need us."
Their service to the family can be an on-going one. To a degree, I wish there was someone for every funeral, but that's a derail for another time.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:02 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


To a degree, I wish there was someone for every funeral, but that's a derail for another time.

I was thinking the very same thing and trying to imagine what an Arlington Ladies/Gents organization for civilians would look like. Daunting to say the least.
posted by sonika at 1:03 PM on November 10, 2010


I just wanted to join the chorus and thank you for a fascinating post.
posted by cyphill at 1:27 PM on November 10, 2010


Yes, this is a wonderful post. Thanks.
posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on November 10, 2010


The best meaning of the word "lady" (or "gentleman") is exemplified here.
posted by bearwife at 1:56 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ahhh. Crying.

What a great post. Thank you.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:56 PM on November 10, 2010


I know if I click that West Wing link I'll be tearing up in the office even more than I am after reading that Army Times article. I've seen it a dozen times it doesn't seem to matter. Good thing it's dark in here because I'm going to click it anyway, just like I always do.
posted by Skorgu at 2:14 PM on November 10, 2010


It would be nice if these women were not necessary.

They're necessary for more than just those who die in combat. My uncle was a Army veteran from Vietnam, and when attending his funeral at Arlington a few years ago, I got to meet his very own Arlington Lady.

It's a beautiful service they are doing for their country, and for the men and women who have served it; I can't even begin to understand how they have the emotional competence to witness so many of these funerals and not be automatons. It's an amazing thing they do.

Thanks again for posting this.
posted by CharlieSue at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2010


re: The West Wing episode, the homeless veteran was a "Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps" - and the Marines do not have an Arlington Ladies group. So the Arlington scene in the episode is, in fact correct.

[/tww nerd]
posted by anastasiav at 2:46 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


This moved me so much. I wish I could volunteer, but I wouldn't be qualified even if I lived nearby.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:46 PM on November 10, 2010


a jewel.
posted by clavdivs at 2:47 PM on November 10, 2010


As an old peace loving Vet, I come to attention and salute.
posted by lobstah at 3:43 PM on November 10, 2010


Wow. Hard to believe no one would show up for a military funeral.

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried alone with her name
Nobody came
Father MacKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from her grave
No one was saved
All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:48 PM on November 10, 2010


re: The West Wing episode , the homeless veteran was a "Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps" - and the Marines do not have an Arlington Ladies group. So the Arlington scene in the episode is, in fact correct.

No. It is in fact incorrect. The third link in the FPP sayeth:

The Marine Corps does not have an Arlington Ladies group; instead, the Commandant of the Marine Corps sends a representative to Arlington for Marine funerals on his behalf.

In any event, this is the episode that started a schism in West Wing fans -- the second half of the line you quoted about the homless guy's rank and service has Toby say: "The guy got better treatment at Panmunjong." At the time, there were no end of viewers who heard that line as "I got better treatment at Panmunjong," and spent years thereafter rationalizing that bookish, fortysomething Toby was an octogenarian Korean war veteran POW.


[/bigger tww nerd]
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:18 PM on November 10, 2010


These lovely people are the antidote to those Westboro jerks.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:39 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


These lovely people are the antidote to those Westboro jerks.

Thankyou for that segue. I was itinially going to post a light hearted: GOD HATES FAGS and leave it at that.

But I decided against it coz too many people wouldn't get the joke or they would get too outraged to even try and look for a deeper meaning. And even if they did get the joke... maybe a bit too much of a thread shit, and me not wanting to deal with the grief of a possible Metatalk dressing down.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:48 PM on November 10, 2010


Wow, just wow.

I am surprised that the Marine Corps has chosen not to create or support this rather unique and compeltely voluntary personal touch to honor a veteran, relying instead on someone "being sent."
posted by polyhistoric at 5:10 PM on November 10, 2010


One more comment: You don't have to be a member of any group, or have any affiliation with the military to attend a veteran's funeral. I have been in attendance at several, and the experience was beyond moving.
posted by lobstah at 5:14 PM on November 10, 2010


I've started my comment here, thought better of it, deleted what I'd written and then tried again, because I too am moved. I'm moved to anger, and moved to a feeling of something like grief, and I feel this way because I don't understand and never will understand the American reverence for the military and the toxic sentimentality around military death. Around the rhetoric of "service" and "sacrifice" and the apparently sacred ritual of the military funeral which is beyond criticism and excused from rational consideration. There's nothing allowed to be said, nothing about the uselessness of these deaths, nothing about the (and I use the word carefully) patriarchal show of the funeral, with the firing guns and a woman, representing ideal dignified femininity, standing at the graveside. She's a stranger to the family, but she carries some kind of aura of caring and contact, as long as it's strictly limited-- no genuine gestures like a kiss on the forehead, no-- everything under tight control, instead. What use is it? A flag is given to the wife or mother, as if a scrap of coloured cloth can somehow compensate for a lost life, and because of the cult, the culture of militarism, these intangibles of "honour and nobility" are considered so beyond questioning, of such exalted value, that even my comment here will likely offend. (I'll make it small, if that will help.) But it seems to me that a reasonable response to rows of headstones marking painful and pointless deaths should not inspire anyone to courage, or an uprush of righteous sentiment. It should inspire horror; but instead so many are instead overwhelmed rather with the longing to kneel, to bow down in its face, to, essentially, worship. The Arlington Ladies do nothing genuinely tangible except embody a symbol; is that enough? I suppose if you wholeheartedly buy into the idea of the sacred military, perhaps. It wouldn't be enough for me, but then I'm not an American and wasn't taught to believe such things. Short version: Metafilter is for discussion, and I'm sorry if this is considered a shitty thing to add to the thread, but I had to say it. I have a twenty-three year old son, and if I was given a flag and the brief attention of the stranger to try and mitigate his loss for something so useless and meaningless and wrong as the war in Iraq, I'd be revulsed.
posted by jokeefe at 6:16 PM on November 10, 2010 [24 favorites]


jokeefe, I'm surprised by the Mefi love going on here. I've seen similar threads regarding, say, severely disabled veterans and their painful attempts to live life in a messed up body, and a lot of it's been "suck shit!" kind of stuff.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:57 PM on November 10, 2010


Thanks so much, jokeefe, for taking the risk to say that. I wish I could favorite your comment a lot more times. Along the lines of what you said, I have to wonder why there isn't more public mourning in the U.S. for those around the world who die because of U.S. military actions. It certainly seems like some lives are much more highly valued than others.
posted by overglow at 7:17 PM on November 10, 2010


Did you read this article, jokeefe? The vast majority of the soldiers honored (yes, honored) in the article didn't die in war, much less the war in Iraq. Burial at Arlington and the other National Cemeteries is for all soldiers and soldiers' immediate family members who meet the eligibility requirements, not just those who died in war; thus, this is about service, whether you're willing to acknowledge that fact or not.

Besides, you're acting as if military funerals aren't common around the world. America didn't invent this tradition, nor is it the only nation to carry it out; human beings have been giving their warriors burial honors for millennia. Feel free to look up what your own country does for deceased veterans, and see if it doesn't involve reverence, flags, and the firing of guns.
posted by vorfeed at 7:25 PM on November 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


vorfeed, I'm aware of that-- in Canada we have military funerals as well, and so on, but there's less of a nearly religious aura around them. There's less of the "noble warrior" discourse. Anyway, I don't want to derail the thread. Thanks for the support, overglow.
posted by jokeefe at 7:49 PM on November 10, 2010


And uncanny hengeman, sorry I missed that first time.
posted by jokeefe at 7:50 PM on November 10, 2010


Anyway, I don't want to derail the thread.
twice even. shame.
posted by clavdivs at 7:52 PM on November 10, 2010


It isn't a shame, and it isn't, to my mind, a derail to discuss conflicting feelings about the near-mandatory social requirement to be all "Thank you for your honorable service" to members of the military in an fpp about military veterans. Especially when the comments are done respectfully and aren't flame-bait.

The first military cemetery I remember seeing (I was about 10) was somewhere in northern France. We were taking the bus from Calais to Paris, and somewhere along the way, the bus stopped for a while, and across the road was a field of crosses. It was sort of surreal, that they could be that endless.

A few years later, my mom and I saw The Americanization of Emily at the revival theater nearby. I don't remember a lot of details about the film, but I remember feeling that it expressed the feelings I have about the cultural glorification of war and those who fight them. And I remember that one of the controversies surrounding the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (aka The Wall) was that it was terribly unconventional, for a war memorial - there was no statue of a soldier, or guns or flags or columns. It's a place for contemplation and memory, not glory, and that's what I love about it.

Anyway. I like this post, and I think it's a good post. It told me stories about something I didn't know anything about, and made me think.
posted by rtha at 8:09 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


jokeefe has every right, if your talking to me.
my comment was about myself. and now, shame on me.
posted by clavdivs at 8:37 PM on November 10, 2010


vorfeed, I'm aware of that-- in Canada we have military funerals as well, and so on, but there's less of a nearly religious aura around them. There's less of the "noble warrior" discourse.

That's your loss. As far as I'm concerned, anti-military rhetoric like yours is reaping exactly what it has sowed. If we still had a culture of universal service, chances are we wouldn't be in two pointless, unpopular wars right now; instead, our modern wars are fought by an underclass who, apparently, do not even deserve to have their funerals treated with respect. Small wonder that, despite what's left of the "noble warrior" discourse, most people seem pretty comfortable with a status quo which falls far short of that ideal... after all, these are people whose culture is "patriarchal", "useless", and "wrong", and who "should inspire horror" rather than courage, right?

Why, what do we have to do with them?
posted by vorfeed at 9:01 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


vorfeed, I totally believe in a culture of service, don't get me wrong. I surprised myself the other day when I found myself thinking that a two-year national service program for young people might not actually be such a bad idea (you know when you're getting old when...) but in my mind "service" means service to the community and the country. You know, building levees, working on community projects, building housing, that sort of thing. Floods, earthquakes, natural disaster relief. I don't see our modern wars as service, that's all; and anti-military rhetoric like mine is the last thing that is to blame for the US response to Iraq. I don't disrespect anyone's funeral, but funerals are for the living-- the dead don't care-- and as a social phenomena the rituals of death say a lot about what we value, so it's okay to talk about them. I grieve for the idealistic young who signed up to fight in Iraq and who died there; I grieve for those who felt it was the only opportunity they had and who signed up to have a career; I grieve for the families of the military dead and I grieve for the Iraqi dead, too.
posted by jokeefe at 9:27 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


my comment was about myself.

Apologies for misreading you, clavdivs. Your cryptic stylings are too cryptic for me, sometimes.

If we still had a culture of universal service, chances are we wouldn't be in two pointless, unpopular wars right now;

I dunno, vorfeed. Vietnam. Korea.
posted by rtha at 9:32 PM on November 10, 2010


bus trips...vauge memories...what you love
cryptic
posted by clavdivs at 9:52 PM on November 10, 2010


So that's what that woman was about. She said she represented the big Air Force general, or whatever they call him. I buried my uncle in Arlington, back in the 90's. Very strange to be the only family member attending. The family had a funeral in Florida, where he lived. I was within reach of Washington, so I went there. My uncle was a career officer/pilot, and died in his retirement.
posted by Goofyy at 6:34 AM on November 11, 2010


I've seen similar threads regarding, say, severely disabled veterans and their painful attempts to live life in a messed up body, and a lot of it's been "suck shit!" kind of stuff.

Links? Cause I don't remember that sort of stuff on Metafilter. But I don't read every thread, so... yeah. A link would be appreciated.

posted by inigo2 at 8:24 AM on November 11, 2010


I dunno, vorfeed. Vietnam. Korea.

Vietnam? I seem to recall reading about quite a few people clamoring for the US to get the hell out of Vietnam. In contrast, how many times did you hear about Afghanistan, say, during the midterm elections? In all the polling that was done, how often was Afghanistan listed as a priority by even a large number of respondents? Nobody really gives a shit.
posted by lullaby at 8:54 AM on November 11, 2010


Puhh. Thanks for a great post. Amazing FLT.
posted by jossan111 at 10:18 AM on November 11, 2010


jokeefe, thanks for your comment. I didn't make this post as a stance on military funerals, the US industrial-military complex and the hoo-rah attitude held by some in the US.

To me, never being trained let alone serving in any armed forces, whose closest relative to be involved was my grandfather in WWII, this is not about glorifying war. This is about someone voluntarily being present at the funeral for a person who served their country in some way, drafted or on their own will. It is the duty of the chaplain and honor guard, though maybe they choose this duty, I don't know. The Arlington Ladies are completely voluntary. This is about the final moments for a single person. Maybe there is some maternal role, having an older lady present at the burial for a man, but not all who served and died were men, and there is (or was) at least one Arlington Gentleman. And the way I read their role with any family present was not to grieve with them, but to be there for support, sometimes continuing to keep in touch for months afterwords. If you have a moment, read through some of the linked articles, and perhaps your view of the Arlington Ladies will change.

Again, I wish this type of voluntary service was provided with every funeral, but there is a stronger camaraderie for those in the various armed services, family members included.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:19 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't make this post as a stance on military funerals, the US industrial-military complex and the hoo-rah attitude held by some in the US. (thought continued) I made this to highlight a quiet group of people who volunteer their time to honor the dead, and support the families of the recently deceased.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2010


Well said thief, well said and thanks for the post.

As someone who waited many years to take a trip to see the various monuments in Washington D.C. I must say that I appreciate the aura of civility and somber respect that is pervasive in Arlington.

What these Ladies do, in an odd sort of way, mirrors that of the soldiers standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Is it pointless to have a group of soldiers dedicated to guarding the remains of some random dead person? Is it pointless to have an anonymous stranger attend, perhaps be the ONLY one to attend, a funeral? In many ways yes but in many ways it's also one of the most selfless acts of service and kindness to the memory of fallen friends, relatives, countrymen, and human beings that I can think of.

Death scares me and I'm not even a soldier fighting overseas. For those of us that are unsure of what awaits us on 'the other side' it's oddly comforting to think that, even for a fleeting moment in time, there's someone honoring the dead in a completely selfless manner. Even if it is at the funeral of a stranger or the tomb of someone they never met. For that, I'm glad and it's not pointless to me.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:34 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am Uncanny Hengeman of the clan Henge. I was born in 1518 in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel.

And I am immortal.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:37 PM on November 11, 2010


Death scares me and I'm not even a soldier fighting overseas. For those of us that are unsure of what awaits us on 'the other side' it's oddly comforting to think that, even for a fleeting moment in time, there's someone honoring the dead in a completely selfless manner. Even if it is at the funeral of a stranger or the tomb of someone they never met. For that, I'm glad and it's not pointless to me.

No, it's not pointless. But jokeefe makes a good point, and that is that, objectively, the US puts a lot of energy into fetishizing soldiers and war. There is no claim that this isn't a worthy gesture, but that there is the aura of religious sentiment about it. I find the backlash against what she said unsurprising, but it's obvious the arguments are driven by the same sort of sentimentality she was observing.

I would like to read about someone who is present at every death of a homeless person, those in society who are truly forgotten and cast aside, as a reminder of their humanity and our own. I would like to see the same sentiment applied to the funerals of social workers who have served their communities and countries, sometimes for decades. I would like to see similar gestures applied to educators, librarians and archivists, all people who serve their fellow humans. I don't want to see soldiers forgotten, but the fact that we emphasize their service to such an extent while simultaneously ignoring the very real sacrifices made by others does say something. Instead of honoring community service, we tend to vilify it. Just a few years ago, one of the biggest social organizations made of people who serve their communities was shut down over a nonsensical political scandal, and "community organizer" became a slur. Despite the fact that so many of the people who worked at ACORN served their communities and their country, their service was not only not honored but viewed as a threat. This is what needs to change.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:58 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would like to read about someone who is present at every death of a homeless person

No, funeral, not death. That would be creepy.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:00 PM on November 12, 2010


@krinklyfig

What you said is, internally/to me at least (and I'll admit I didn't convey it as eloquently as you and others have), pretty much an extension of what I was saying. Having a representative at a homeless person's funeral like you said is 100% in line with what I see as good/not pointless. To me the same thing could be said of the mentally handicapped, another shunned and cast off portion of our society.

But I don't think you should blame the military's successes in honoring their dead or vilify it simply because the honor is misplaced or absent in other arenas. Political/governmental affiliations aside, they take care of their own and the fact that other groups can't/don't get that same amount of respect is sad but in no way caused by the other (not that you necessarily said/hinted at that).

And for what it's worth, Arlington isn't 100% all about soliders and war-deaths. Though I'm sure that makes up a sizeable percentage of graves there the regulations I've read state that graves there are also available for previous higher ranking governmental officials and other people who have "served" our country, whether you like them or not on a political level.

Back on topic though I do remember the quote of one of the Arlington Ladies who said that she hoped her family would one day be comforted by another Lady when her turn to be buried next to her husband in Arlington came. That's beautiful to me. I'll agree that it's a bit sad that the average joe/grocery store bagger/homeless person doesn't get the same treatment but then again this is a country that is heavily class-centric so it seems like some of the posts in this thread are wailing at the wrong thing or something.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:21 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, krinklyfig. That's exactly it.
posted by jokeefe at 6:55 PM on November 12, 2010


But I don't think you should blame the military's successes in honoring their dead or vilify it simply because the honor is misplaced or absent in other arenas.

No, I'm not blaming the military. I'm saying our priorities are misplaced. Our institutions and rituals say a lot about us. It wouldn't do anyone any good to stop what these people are doing. It would be better for us if we could extend this sense of honor to other institutions and professions, and people in need.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:17 PM on November 12, 2010


I don't want to see soldiers forgotten, but the fact that we emphasize their service to such an extent while simultaneously ignoring the very real sacrifices made by others does say something.

Yes, it does: it says that showing special respect for people who fight goes back through hundreds of thousands of years of tradition, starting before humanity possessed writing or metal tools, whereas showing special respect for librarians and archivists doesn't.

Again, America did not invent funeral honors, and our military funerals are largely in line with those in the Commonwealth. This suggests that they do not, in fact, reflect a specially-American "misplaced priority". You want to see where America has gone off the rails with respect to the military, don't look at funerals or special respect given to military service -- look to the demographics of those who serve and GDP-adjusted military spending, both of which run increasingly counter to the American military tradition.

"Sentimentality" is not the problem, here, nor is the fact that most Americans have a greater regard for enlisting in the Army than working for ACORN.
posted by vorfeed at 8:38 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


showing special respect for people who fight goes back through hundreds of thousands of years of tradition, starting before humanity possessed writing or metal tools, whereas showing special respect for librarians and archivists doesn't.

This is a bit disingenuous, vorfeed. For one thing, librarians and archivists (or their historical equivalents) have received and continue to receive particular respect in all literate cultures; in non-literate cultures, special status accrues to those who maintain the oral traditions of their group or tribe. Further, inferring from neolithic or prehistoric grave sites (which is what you are talking about, I assume) as evidence that people who fight have always, throughout all human history, had greater respect, or special respect due to that fighting (and not say, coincidental royal status) infers a great deal, more than most archaeologists would be comfortable with, from the physical evidence we have. We just don't know what much of the remains from gravesites-- if they included spears, say, or other weaponry-- meant to the culture they came from. A tomb with spears and swords could be symbolically stocked with weapons which were never used in the deceased's lifetime, or perhaps only for hunting, for example. Lastly, even if what you say is true-- if all those who fight have always had exalted status in society, if every warrior was sent off to the next life in a blaze of glory, I still have to ask, so what? We don't have to continue traditions just because they are traditional. We don't today, generally, keep house slaves, or think that it's acceptable to bar women from voting or owning property, but both these things, among others, were the common state of affairs in almost all cultures for millennia.

Again, America did not invent funeral honors, and our military funerals are largely in line with those in the Commonwealth.

Yep, but I would suggest that the difference is in the reverence with which they are treated by the country's general population. It's considered an insult in America to criticize the soldiers, or to suggest that they are performing anything other than a noble duty; it's not the same, at least in my experience (and judging by respective media in both countries) in Canada or England. It helps, of course, that Canada refused to join in the invasion of Iraq; the dead arriving home from Afghanistan are widely seen as casualties of a bad decision, and there's sorrow for their loss, but I've never heard anyone assert that Canadian soldiers are "defending our freedoms", because that would be held to be an untruth (which is in fact exactly what that statement is). Perhaps we're more cynical? Or perhaps it's because we all read Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori in school?
posted by jokeefe at 9:29 PM on November 13, 2010


Lastly, even if what you say is true-- if all those who fight have always had exalted status in society, if every warrior was sent off to the next life in a blaze of glory, I still have to ask, so what? We don't have to continue traditions just because they are traditional.

My point was that suggesting that our funerary traditions "say something about America" (as opposed to the larger culture to which America belongs) ignores the fact that these traditions didn't come out of nowhere. Even if all cultures haven't given warriors special status -- and I agree that this is unlikely, as I don't believe there's such a thing as universal human culture -- the list clearly starts early enough and is extensive enough to suggest that America isn't much of an outlier in this respect.

Yep, but I would suggest that the difference is in the reverence with which they are treated by the country's general population.

I find it odd that you'd suggest that respect for ancient warriors might have stemmed from "coincidental royal status" or "weapons which were never used in the deceased's lifetime", and yet entirely discount the idea that American reverence for the military may also be connected to something else. We're a more reverent culture in general; maybe that is because you guys are more cynical, but it's the way things are just the same. So what? As I said above, sentimentality isn't the problem. Policy is, and American policy is, unfortunately, nigh-untouched by any actual respect for soldiers or the military.

As for how great your schools are: that line is a lot more effective if you don't mis-quote the name of the poem.
posted by vorfeed at 12:21 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


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