I don’t know why the young must die.

I fought in a war, but I don’t understand war.

I don’t understood why the memory of one war isn’t enough to horrify us when we hear the rumor of a second.

I spent a week, ten days maybe, on a little island in the Outer Hebrides, Iona. June of 1978. One afternoon, as I passed their war memorial, I counted the dead from World War I. As I recall, there were about thirty. It occurred to me that, since this fishing village numbered some 100 folks, these were the names of all the young men.

All of them. With the exception of the guys that came home without a leg, an arm, half-crazy. I remember reading a letter from one British woman to another. 1920 or so. She said, “We will have to have a new standard for male beauty.” Meaning, don’t complain that your man is blind — you’re lucky to have a man at all.

Iona has a, literally, royal graveyard. MacBeth is buried there, as are several dozen kings, dukes and duchesses and such. Of those graves I only remember three, each marked with a simple slab that reads, “A German sailor known only to God.” Submariners who washed ashore during the Second World War.

Hence my sense of identity with the guys who came home from WW I. All those fellows who watched as kids marched off to the next world war. Siegfried Sassoon. Robert Graves, who lost his son in WWII. Erich Maria Remarque, whose books the Nazis burned, whose sister the Nazis guillotined. Like the guys who fought The War To End All Wars, when I came home from Vietnam, I took solace in the thought that my nation will not make this mistake again.

Filed under: John Samuel Tieman, Prose