Young Dead Men
4 min read

Young Dead Men

On meaning, mourning, and Memorial Day.
Young Dead Men

In the spring the green onions came and filled the yard with an earthy odor as they were rooted up and I thought of dirt and soil and dying men and then spring again.

There is something biblical to the act of gardening which predisposes my mind to metaphors of battle and death and renewal. Something about rooting up and planting anew. Something about tossing up rotten branches into the fire.

War always seemed to me to be an inverse or, perhaps perverse, act of gardening. The tilling over of ripe souls while the blight is left at home to grow and grow. The rotten remains there and ages on the vine uneaten as the best of us are plucked and pruned and cast into fire.

A garden of souls tended to by battle is a miserable thing. Young dead men devoured by flame or swallowed by cold earth. Perhaps the earth is made warm with sanguinary aspiration, but only fleetingly, and then it cools again.

There is nothing of the vineyard in such a garden. Nothing of the end product of excellence and achievement and sustained labor. There is no wine nor salad here, nor jarred preserves. Just waste.

Waste is, of course, natural and accompanies any endeavor. What turns the inverse to the perverse in the orchard of war is not the existence of waste itself, but that it is the best fruit that is wasted.

We raised the fatted calf and slaughtered it only to discover that all the celebrants were vegetarian. But now I'm mixing metaphors.

There is so much dirt under all our fingernails that I wonder if we know whose garden we are tending. I wonder if it is possible we just kept rooting up and rooting up until we passed, hunched over and without looking, into the wrong lot. That we were so focused on the rooting and the weeding that we failed to sow for next spring and therefore it will be spring that reaps us.

What goes wrong in the heart of a nation that renders it no longer capable of the depth of meaning required for mourning and causes it to celebrate tragedy instead?

What ignorance leads a people to root up their healthiest crop and to cover their lands in salt instead of seed?

What cause is there for Memorial Days marked by celebratory parades and wanton drunkenness rather than vows of poverty and dirge hymns?

Surely this phenomenon, or the mechanism responsible for it, is our own question. It is our own question, not as gestalt, but as undead. It is neither enemy nor foe but persistent and unliving doom.

There is nothing inherently wrong or faultworthy with celebrating the martyrdom of a soldier who strove greatly and died greatly. There is never fault in the celebration of excellence which is, in point of fact, the only thing worthy of celebration.

The fault rests in the acceptance of, or failure to recognize, the profound mediocrity of the unlife which knowingly squandered so great a soul for so small a gain.

The fault rests with the gardener who plucked the healthy fruit from the vine before it could ripen fully, and who continued to do so again and again and again until he believed the healthy to be unhealthy and vice versa or, much worse, lost the ability to distinguish one from the other altogether, until the garden itself was death.

More precisely, the fault rests firstly with those fooled us to believing that the ripe was rotten and the rotten ripe in order to ensure that we toiled forever, veiling from us the fact that all our work and all their wars were conducted in the pursuit of their own continuation at the price our demise.

The fault rests secondly with us for continuing to plow and hoe the dead soil long after realizing that our methods could not produce a living, a life, capable of truth.

There is some great failure at work here.

There is some great failure going back to Plato, who condemned the ages to the falsehood that the pursuit of truth ought to be tempered with the pursuit of the political.

This was a great lie and in hindsight demonstrated Plato to be ever the inferior to Aristotle, who wrote properly that "Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends."

Happiness, as Aristotle said, depends on our leisure and freedom. Our greatest cause, our excellence, therefore depends on rest, which is the ultimate aim of our work just as peace is the ultimate aim of war.

Thus those undead gardeners have condemned us to a hell of sorts by preventing us from attaining our own flourishing. They did this by blinding our eyes to the worthy fruit and the unworthy weed, ensuring that we forever toil and forever war and never know rest nor peace nor happiness.

This is the explanation for the weight of Memorial Day and its terribleness in the American soul. It contrasts the victorious, who are dead, with the vicious, who are neither alive nor dead.

It reminds us of the price of mere politics, which has always been and can only ever be sustained through the destruction of the living soul as so much mulch for a garden of young dead men.


Suggested Reading

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Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Joe Sachs. ISBN: 1585100358.

Aristotle. Politics. Translated by Joe Sachs. ISBN: 1585103764.

Scott Bruce. Editor. The Penguin Book of the Undead. ISBN: 0143107682.

Plato. The Republic. Translated by Alan Bloom. ISBN: 0465094082.

Carl Schmitt. The Concept of the Political. Translated by George Schwab. ISBN: 0226738922.