In his 1938 novel, Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo communicates the horrible realities of war through the mind of a young soldier who wakes up in a hospital, his body literally obliterated by an artillery shell. In “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” Eric Bogle sings of a young Australian who returns legless from Gallipoli, as a searing criticism of those who glorify war. In his State of the Union address, President Obama used Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg for the longest – and almost the only – bipartisan applause line of the evening. My heart goes out to SFC Remsburg, an Army Ranger who was blown to pieces by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and who continues his long, courageous and painful struggle to recover. We should all stand for him. But we should also ask, what exactly is it we were applauding? Remsburg was wounded during his 10th mission to Iraq and Afghanistan, which tells you all you need to know about our nation’s shared sacrifice in the war on terror. (Not to be outdone, Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s response melded “the boundless opportunity that lies ahead” with the recent death of Sgt. Joseph Hess of Spokane.)
Trumbo’s hero wanted to tour America in a glass box to make people see what really happens in war. It is not enough that we give SFC Remsburg a two-minute standing ovation and then go home to bed, reinvigorated in our patriotism. We should walk in his shoes.