This thing has been festering in me for years, and now I've got to get it out. My countrymen in far away places are dying. That saddens me, but I am no so naive as to suppose that we can get rid of the Taliban by offering them Oreos. But people ought to die for something worth dying for, shouldn't they?
Which brings me to the subject of this monolog. Dying and making it worthwhile.
Some years back, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir made a recording of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," that was a hit, as such things go. The music will give you goosebumps, sure thing, but at the same time, I'm bothered by it. For one thing, they didn't include all the verses. There's one that goes,
"I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded him an altar in the evening dews and damps
I can read his righteous sentence in the dim and flaring lamps"
And another that goes
I have read a fiery message writ in burnished rows of steel..."
These verses are not there. The meat of the message, "This is real honest-to-God war," is left out.
But that's not what really gets me. In the Julia Ward Howe poem, one of the last lines goes,
"As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free." The Tabernacle Choir version reads, "As He died to men holy, let us live to make men free." As if living were some sort of sacrifice in time of war? As if freedom for all can be won without blood?
Not only does this destroy the parallelism and strength of the lines, it mocks the fact that thousands of men did in fact die to make men free. Do we toss off their sacrifice? The way the Choir sang the song was a complete evisceration of what Howe was trying to say. She was saying, "Let us be prepared to die so that people might live free." The Choir negated that poweful image when they wimped the song down the way they did. Maybe we should send a copy, with Oreos, to the Taliban.