I listen to this song all the time. For one thing, it reminds me of when my wife and I were still in college. She’s of Irish descent and a student of Irish literature and history, and this version of “Green Fields of France” by the Fureys was on a cassette tape comprised of mostly banned Irish rebellion songs. I also just plain like the song, so it’s on my frequently-played list of iTunes music.
Written in 1976 by Scottish-born Australian Eric Bogle, “Green Fields of France” speaks directly to the fallen 19 year-old Willie McBride, lying among thousands of graves filled with WWI dead. The lyrics imagine Willie’s life and death, and it questions his sacrifice by stating the obvious that this “war to end wars” did nothing of the kind. Some deride the song as “anti-military,” and others praise it for the same reason; but I find the melody and the imagery moving in a way that reduces such black-and-white concepts to irrelevance.
Although the first official Memorial Day was in 1868, it wasn’t until after WWI, that both the Southern and Northern United States began to recognize a single day to honor those who died in service to the nation. It is a typical dichotomy of history that unifying events can also be tragically flawed. WWI offers the students in our military academies many lessons in how not to fight a war and how to better read a geopolitical landscape before entering one, but it also serves as the turning point when we as one nation honor the individual sacrifices of men and women in uniform as well as their families.
Traditionally, there are military families and non-military families; and while I come from the latter, I am about to be among the former. My eldest son intends to become a Naval officer; and I think he’ll be a damn good one because he knows his history and has no qualms about facing the darker truths and follies of war while still believing that the U.S. military must play a vital role in fostering global stability in the 21st century.
After nearly 100 years since WWI, I like to believe that we’re on the verge of another social unification, one that rejects many politicians’ self-serving attempts to divide Americans into “strong” vs. “weak” on defense, one that fosters a stronger connection and better dialogue between the military and civilians. The support we’ve received for gone Elvis has come from both ends of the political spectrum, from veterans, and from people who have no relationship to the military whatsoever. If we can all agree to take care of our vets and to honor their sacrifices, perhaps we can agree to be likewise unified in consideration of those sacrifices before they are made.
Happy Memorial Day