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LUCK OF THE DRAW
May 30, 2011
 
Because I spend so much time imagining,  radio is a more congenial medium for me than television.  Radio demands that we do the imaginative work which television does for us.  Radio is to television as a cake from scratch is to one from a mix.  

On the Memorial Day weekend, the radio's invitation to imagine is especially holy.  Saturday night it was a song about a young soldier's longing for his home and his family and his sweetheart.  It was sung by a wonderful tenor, but a young woman could have sung it just as well.  

Was the song I heard on the radio the best war poem ever?  Hardly -- not in a language in which Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon have already written.  But I am easily pierced; I was in tears by the time the young man finished singing.

I was alone in the house.  I emailed a friend.  Why must they be so young?  Why cannot we send people who've already had a chance to drink deeply of life?   They have barely tasted of it.  And why do we keep doing it?  Tell me if you know.  .  

He didn't know, either.

The United States has lost 1475 soldiers in Afghanistan so far, 1222 combat deaths and 253 from other causes.  11,541 men and women have been wounded in action.  We've been there for almost a decade.  

In Iraq, we have lost 4408 soldiers, 3480 of whom died in action.  Wounded in action: 31,931 men and women.  We've been in Iraq for eight years.

Suicides of active military have grown exponentially in number.  They peaked in 2009, when active duty deaths by suicide exceeded combat deaths in Afghanistan.  Last year, there was a slight decrease. But even one is too many. They are as surely casualties of war as anyone a bullet or a bomb ever found.  

Of enemy and civilian casualties in these wars, we have only the  crudest estimates.  Documented civilian casualties in Iraq range between 101,000 and 110,000; it could be much higher.  The insurgent death toll is at last 19,000; it is even harder to arrive at a reliable count for  them than for civilians.  In Afghanistan, civilian casualties so far total at least 19,000.  And nobody is harder to count than the Taliban dead; I have seen figures ranging from 19,000 to half again that number.  The truth is anybody's guess.

It was certainly not a matter of my deserving, that roll of the dice that landed me safe and clean in my quiet house, my children and grandchildren safe and clean in theirs, not crouching, terrified, in the basement while bombs rained down death on everything we held dear.  It was not my deserving that gifted me with years, the chance to love and be loved, the chance to grow old, a chance not given to the 21-year-old corporal whose grieving parents cannot bring themselves to change anything in his abandoned bedroom.

No. Luck of the draw is all it was.  To stop and pray a blessing on them all is the least that we can do.  

+

Day After Tomorrow


I got your letter today
and I miss you all so much here
I can't wait to see you all
and I'm counting the days here

I still believe that there's gold
at the end of the world
And I'll come home to Illinois
on the day after tomorrow

It is so hard and it's cold here
and I'm tired of taking orders
And I miss old Rockford town
up by the Wisconsin border

What I miss, you won't believe
shoveling snow and raking leaves
And my plane will touch down
on the day after tomorrow

I close my eyes every night
and I dream that I can hold you

They fill us full of lies, everyone buys
'bout what it means to be a soldier
I still don't know how I'm supposed to feel
'bout all the blood that's been spilled
Will God  on his throne
get me back home
on the day after tomorrow

You can't deny, the other side
Don't want to die anymore then we do
What I'm trying to say is don't they pray
to the same God that we do?

And tell me how does God choose
whose prayers does he refuse?
Who turns the wheel
Who throws the dice
on the day after tomorrow

I'm not fighting for justice
I am not fighting for freedom
I am fighting for my life
and another day in the world here

I just do what I've been told
We're just the gravel on the road
And only the lucky ones come home
on the day after tomorrow

And the summer, it too will fade
and with it brings the winter's frost, dear
And I know we too are made
of all the things that we have lost here.

I'll be 21 today
I been saving all my pay
And my plane will touch down
on the day after tomorrow
And my plane it will touch down
on the day after tomorrow.
                --Tom Waits and Kathleen Waits-Brennan
                   2004

I can find no recording of tenor Paul Appleby singing this song, but one may appear at http://wolftrapinsider.blogspot.com/2011/05/wolf-trap-opera-visits-lake-wobegon.HTML.  You can find the composer singing it in his gravelly voce on YouTube.
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