Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr., at Ricochet, has a little story that seems especially relevant these days. Alas! it’s the kind of thing that people on the Left will never understand.
In 1944, a 20-year-old U.S. Marine corporal named Marvin Strombo got separated from his unit on the island of Saipan. Making his way back toward the rally point, he stumbled across the supine body of a young Japanese soldier. The man had apparently been killed by the concussion from a mortar explosion: his body was completely intact, bearing no apparent wounds. The sword at his side marked him as an officer. And poking out from underneath his jacket Strombo could see a folded Japanese flag.
Strombo hesitated but then reached out and removed the flag. It was covered with Japanese calligraphy: good-luck messages and signatures from the young officerâ€™s friends and family. Flags such as this were popular souvenirs among Allied troops, so Strombo knew that if he hadnâ€™t taken it someone else would have. But Strombo made a silent vow: â€œI knew it meant a lot to him â€¦ I made myself promise him that one day, I would give back the flag after the war was over.â€ …
a few days ago, 93-year-old Marvin Strombo made the long journey to Higashishirakawa, where he met with the surviving family and friends of the young enemy soldier whose final resting place he had seen. He was able to bring them the closure of knowing where, when, and how Yasue died; and he was able to return to them the flag they had sent with Yasue when heâ€™d gone off to war. â€œI had such a moment with your brother. I promised him one day I would return the flag to his family,â€ Strombo told them. â€œIt took a long time, but I was able to bring the flag back to you, where it belongs.â€
The Japanese were our enemies in World War II. And make no mistake: they were on the wrong side. Even the Japanese themselves know that today. Sadao Yasue was fighting for the wrong cause, defending a militaristic regime that was bent on conquest and domination of its neighbors, at the expense of its own populace. He was part of a military that, elsewhere in the same war, committed atrocities that are too horrible to contemplate.
But he was also a human being, a young man with a family and friends who loved him. People he left behind, people who had nothing to do with the war, except insofar as they suffered its miseries and the pain of his loss. Returning the flag to these people and honoring the sacrifice he made in no way undermines the outcome of the war, nor does it represent an endorsement of the evil for which he fought. It is nothing more and nothing less than an expression of human decency, a way of reaching out and acknowledging the pain of war.
In front of the courthouse at the center of my small North Carolina town is a statue of a Confederate soldier. Not a hero, not a leader, just a generic representation of the thousands of young men who went off to war and left grieving families behind. It is not an endorsement of slavery or a message of racism; it is nothing more and nothing less than a somber acknowledgement and reminder of the pain that war brought.
The next time I drive through town, I wonder if it will still be there.
Clive Aslet, in the Telegraph, reports that today Queen Elizabeth II will be presiding over ceremonies linking today’s Britain with the chivalrous traditions of the Middle Ages.
Foreign tourists in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey today, may be in luck. Theyâ€™ll glimpse Her Majesty the Queen participating in a ceremony that only enters her diary once every eight years: the Installation of the Order of the Bath.
Like the Woolsack, hunting with hounds and the last of the hereditary peers, itâ€™s a piece of traditional pageantry that escaped the reforming zeal of New Labour â€“ perhaps because it is so arcane that they failed to notice it. Certainly most Britons, were they to see the parade of Knights Grand Cross or Knights Commander (Dames too, now), in their gorgeous crimson satin mantles, freighted with stars and tassels, would be as flummoxed as visitors from overseas.
Whatâ€™s going on? Can there be any earthly point in such flummery, as the nation â€“ otherwise dressing down on Fridays â€“ struggles with the challenges of modern life?
Scrape beneath the surface and the ritual turns out to be more interesting than one might suspect. As a body of knights, one couldnâ€™t expect them to do much practical defending of the faith. It is one of the few occasions in the year when Her Majesty can be sure of being in the company of distinguished people who make her seem, in comparison with their years, positively youthful.
But the ceremony is also an instance of the British ability to preserve and reinvent tradition. You would have to be a firebrand Roundhead to object to something so abstruse, so harmlessly picturesque as the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. And yet it also serves, however obliquely, as a reminder of the chivalric values that â€“ whether or not doors are still held open for ladies â€“ underpin our sense of public virtue. Does honour mean anything, in these fallen days of cash for questions and parliamentary expenses scandals? It does here.
Republicans might object that todayâ€™s ceremony, held in Henry VIIâ€™s chapel at Westminster Abbey, where the Sovereign and the most senior Knights and Dames Grand Cross will occupy stalls in the choir, is an anachronism. Of course it is. That is â€“ and always has been â€“ the point about chivalry. Even in the Middle Ages, it was a romantic throwback to a supposed golden age. Washing ceremonies â€“ yes, the Order of the Bath really is to do with bathing, not a place in Somerset â€“ appear at William Iâ€™s coronation, but the touchstone of chivalry was located in an era that far predated him.
The recent wreck of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, in which male passengers demonstrated that the age of chivalry was well and truly dead by trampling women in a rush for the lifeboats, quote:
An Australian mother and her young daughter… described being pushed aside by hysterical men as they tried to board lifeboats. …
Another woman passenger agreed, â€œThere were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats.â€ Yet another, a grandmother, complained, â€œI was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls.â€
Mark Steyn resisted the temptation of Abe Greenwald’s prediction (offered via Twitter):
Is there any chance that Mark Steyn won’t use the Italian captain fleeing the sinking ship as the lead metaphor in a column on EU collapse?
And instead, drew larger meaning and comparisons.
Abe Greenwald isn’t thinking big enough. The Costa Concordia isn’t merely a metaphor for EU collapse but â€“ here it comes down the slipway â€“ the fragility of civilization. Like every ship, the Concordia had its emergency procedures â€“ the lifeboat drills that all crew and passengers are obliged to go through before sailing. As with the security theater at airports, the rituals give the illusion of security â€“ and then, as the ship tips and the lights fail and the icy black water rushes in, we discover we’re on our own: from dancing and dining, showgirls and saunas, to the inky depths in a matter of moments.
To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you’ve cover to ‘and, an’ leave an’ likin’ to shout;
But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An’ they done it, the Jollies — ‘Er Majesty’s Jollies — soldier an’ sailor too!
Their work was done when it ‘adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an’ you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin’ in ‘eaps an’ bein’ mopped by the screw,
So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, soldier an’ sailor too!
We’re most of us liars, we’re ‘arf of us thieves, an’ the rest are as rank as can be,
But once in a while we can finish in style (which I ‘ope it won’t ‘appen to me).
HMS Birkenhead Memorial erected at Danger Point in 1936.