In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day, I’ve had two quotes rattling around in my head. The first is from comedian Louis CK in Live at the Beacon, the bit called “Soldier on a Plane”, when he talks about seeing, well, a soldier on a plane:
“This guy is giving his life for the country, he thinks, and so he has to sit– But that’s good enough. That’s good enough, the fact that he thinks it. He’s fucking told by everybody in his life system that that’s a great thing to do and he’s doing it. And it’s scary but he’s doing it. And he’s sitting in this shitty seat and I should trade with him.”
The second is from the Buffy Sainte Marie song “Universal Soldier“:
“And he’s fighting for democracy he’s fighting for the reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall
But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Le Val
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as the weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on”
In CK’s perspective, the soldiers who fight for the country should be celebrated regardless of whether you share the same point of view as them or not, because they believe they’re doing the right thing and are willing to lose their lives for it. In Sainte Marie’s version there’s a call for a little more personal responsibility. Leaders and countries may declare war, but ultimately it’s every soldier’s personal decision to go along with it. No soldiers, no war.
I’m sure both CK and Sainte Marie have more nuanced viewpoints than are represented by quotes from a comedy routine and a folk song that, combined, clock in at under six minutes. And I’m sure the men and women in uniform struggle with these questions more than I ever have. But they’re both things I’m thinking about today. The people who lay down their lives doing what they believe, and the question of what would happen if more people chose to just not fight when they were told to.
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