I am a total coward. A total, total coward.
And, sorry, folks, I would shop you all if somebody threatened to cut my hair, let alone my throat. There. Now you know.
So, on Veterans Day, I want to say thank you to the men and women who are braver than I could ever be; who, every day, put their lives on the line to make the world a safer place for the rest of us; who are not only trained to be brave, but had the guts to sign up to protect us in the first place. Thank you, thank you, for your service.
If I had to pick on one thing that has changed me since moving to the US, it is my stance on war. I had a brief stint being pro-capital punishment, too, but I’m still against it, for reasons I won’t go into now; but it is a very complex issue that requires serious discussion and debate - rightly so.
Anyway, back to war. Always a pacifist, who thought that everything could be solved over a cup of tea and a chat, I’ve gone a bit “Nuke the bastards”. Well, not quite. But reality, alas, is very different from our vision of how we would like the world to be, and we need people - more than ever - to stand up to the lunatics that this bizarre world continues to produce.
Yesterday celebrated the 240th anniversary of the founding of the US Marines, and anyone who has been following my social networking pages will see that I have been making my acquaintance with the young men and women who have been in town. And I mean acquaintance in the loosest sense of the word; I’m old enough to be their grandmother, for goodness’ sake. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to talk with many of them, and I am in awe of their intelligence, insight, loyalty and commitment to their country.
As Mark Twain said: “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
Okay, I looked that last bit up. Somebody threatened to cut my hair if I didn’t say it. You see? Cowardice.
But seriously. I have been fascinated this week to talk with young people in the US who say they would be proud to die for their country. While most have admitted that there is a large element of brainwashing that accompanies their training, they know that without it, they would not be able to do their jobs.
I’m not about to enlist, by the way. I looked that up, too. At 57, I am way over the 29 year old threshold for the Marines, and I’d be signing up only to meet the boys, anyway; well, and to get the rather nice hat (loyalty to fashion, always. Fire a gunshot in my direction and I’d be “It was him, over there.” And I’d hand over my compass, just to be sure they got it right).
It’s been something of a war-filled week, for obvious reasons. I attended an event where the main topic of conversation was the part the Vichy government in Paris played during the Second World War while joining hands with the Nazis to shop the Jews. It’s a fascinating period of French history and possibly the darkest blot on that country’s landscape, and it still ignites incredible passion.
I lived in Paris for seven years and there is still an element of Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention the war” about the place (if you haven’t seen The Germans, the sixth episode of the great Fawlty Towers, I urge you to do so).
At the event I attended, there were so many hands in the air competing to speak, I thought I was at a Nuremberg rally. Alas, they never got the chance because the first person up to the microphone had a speech impediment. Now, I don’t wish to poke fun at anyone with any kind of disability, but if your particular stutter is your problem with the letter F, I think it’s inadvisable to speak publicly when the subject is France (I’ve just remembered, I once had a stalker with a stammer. I recall getting home and rewinding my filled up answer-machine and thinking “Brilliant, 300 people have phoned me." But it was only ever him).
The week of war has made me think a lot about my dad, who was in the Air Force. He wanted to make a career out of flying, but his health wasn’t good enough (a side benefit was that he was great at ironing, and did the lot his entire life in our house). I tried, briefly, to follow in his footsteps and joined a kind of Air Corps for kids. I gave up after week one in which we learned how to sew bars of soap into sponges. I thought I’d be up there bombing Germany, to be honest.
As in all aspects of life, there are good and bad, and possibly nowhere more so than in the areas of armed service and law enforcement. But this is a day to remember the good guys and gals who make the world a safer place. I might not be American by birth, but I am proud of a country that produces so many fine young people who step up to the mark.
But please don’t forget. I really will shop you.
I probably already have.