Towards the end of the Vietnam war, and for at least another decade after it ended, there was a trope/cliché which always could be depended on in movies and television; the whacked out, dysfunctional and traumatized veteran; sometimes a victim, often the guilty party, but always and reliably whacked-out. Even news media got into the act, now and again, interviewing theatrically dysfunctional, traumatized veterans, who – on cue – related how they had supped full on the horrors of the war in southeast Asia. This was so pervasive that for-real veterans for years were advised to leave periods of military service off resumes when job-hunting, and to never, never, ever advertise any connection to military service, be it with a ring, a gimme ballcap, a tee shirt, or an OD green field jacket … unless, of course, they were in the war protest movement.
Last week, in a discussion thread on a story about plans to revamp Hollywood Boulevard and make it attractive to tourists, against an apparently overwhelming tide of homelessness, addiction and petty crime, someone posted a link to this Billy Joel song. For some curious reason it struck me, since I have been saying goodbye to Hollywood – the physical place, and the entertainment concept – over the last couple of decades.
Out of the blue in the week before Christmas, my daughter asked me if I had any idea of how the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, early in December, 1941, generally affected the Christmas mood that year. Of course, she knows that I wouldn’t have any personal memories of that period (as I wasn’t even born until 15 years after that event) but I grew up pretty well marinated in memories and memoirs of World War 2 – even more so when I sat down to write a novel set in that time period. Yes, the Christmas of 1941 was a nerve-wracking time for more than just Americans, even if a war in Europe had been going on for more than two years. In the Far East, countries and colonies were falling like ninepins to imperial Japanese invasion and occupation all through the first months of 1942. I have gathered so from memoirs; and also from my own memories of the lead-up to Christmas, 1990 and the buildup when operations began before the first Gulf War (the last year that we were in Spain) and how mothers and fathers put on a brave face for small children. They did their best then, as we did that year, to have an absolutely normal, reassuring Christmas, with presents and Santa, carols and a nice meal. In 1941 and for three subsequent years, parents had to explain the sudden absence of older brothers and cousins, younger uncles and fathers, and the necessity of blackouts. Probably later, they had to put a brave face on depressing headlines in the newspaper that yet another island, town or province had been attacked, and might soon surrender – just as I and other parents stationed at European bases had to explain Desert Shield; new concertina around the base perimeter, a flightline full to bursting with parked transport aircraft, the long hours that military parents and spouse volunteers were all working.
(A repeat post from 2018. I don’t know if I posted it anywhere but the original milblog.)
You just know, as surely as the sun rises in the east, that when Thanksgiving Day rolls around (and Columbus Day as well) the usual malignant scolds will be hard at work, planting turds in the harvest-festival punchbowl. They have become pinch-faced, joyless neo-Puritans, ruthlessly seeking out any hint of happy celebration and thankfulness for bounty of harvest and generous fortune, jumping on any display of human fellow-feeling – even just having a pleasant time doing things that make the heart glad – insisting that such occasions and people are to be condemned as earnestly as Savonarola ever did, piling up works of art to be burnt in the public square. As HL Menken observed, “It’s the haunting fear of such people, that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” It is their grim, chosen, killjoy duty to stamp out such emotions and celebrations, wherever they may be found. So sayeth the current crop of student activists: “Thanksgiving is a celebration of the ongoing genocide against native peoples and cultures across the globe!”
Which is a breathlessly sweeping condemnation. Let’s just pound it in relentlessly, with trip-hammer insistence: We actual or spiritual descendants of Pilgrims are Bad, Bad People, Who Stole Everything From the Indians, and Celebrating Thanksgiving is As Bad as the Holocaust, Almost!
The 20th century practice of allowing elementary school children to dress up as Indians or Pilgrims these days, reenacting a peaceful feast and celebration of a bountiful harvest together seems in the eyes of the censorious to be about on par with dressing up as SS officers and concentration camp inmates. Never mind that dumping on the poor Pilgrims for three hundred years and a bit of warfare with various Indians rather misses the point of – you know, celebrating a bountiful harvest – as well as grandly oversimplifying history. Never mind the fact that Indians in North America warred on each other with keen enjoyment and no little inventive brutality for centuries. Never mind that according to some accounts, the Wampanoag village and fields adjacent to the Plymouth colony were abandoned, as an epidemic of some kind had depopulated the place two or three years previously. And never mind …
Oh, never mind. Isn’t it more nuanced – or is nuance out of style among the ill-educated inhabitants of the educational-industrial complex – to consider that on that long ago Thanksgiving, two very different peoples, whose descendants would be at each other’s throats for three hundred years, were yet able to join together for a great feast, to be courteous and friendly with each other, for at least a little while?
Can we not settle at table with friends and relations, and simply enjoy a good meal, and appreciate those blessings which we have received, deserved or no? At the very least, can we just smile gently at the censorious scolds and ask them to pass the cranberry relish?
Have a happy Thanksgiving Day. Tell the scolds to get bent. Be happy and have another slice of pumpkin pie – that will annoy them more than anything.
This motorcycle and 98 other vintage machines are at a small museum in Johnson City. Their facebook page is here. ( The museum is housed in an old garage which used to be a Ford dealership. At a market event in Johnson City some years ago, we talked to a gentleman whose father or grandfather had owned it then. LBJ used to come in and have them put his car on the lift with him in it so that he could hide from his Secret Service duty agents, and have a quiet drink and a smoke.)