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Memorial Day Musings

   Living as long as I have in Japan, I can no longer remember when certain holidays, such as Presidents’ Day or Columbus Day, are held. It usually isn’t until Tuesday or Wednesday morning when I can’t download my favorite podcasts that I realize that Monday had been a public holiday.

   The same is even true with Memorial Day and Labor Day which should be easy enough to remember. The former is, of course, the last Monday of May, while the latter is the first Monday of September. Four years ago, however, when I was vacationing in Hawaii, it puzzled me to find so few people on the beach, when only a day earlier the beach had been packed. Then it dawned on me: the Labor Day weekend had come to an end and all the kiddies were back in school.

   This year I came across the above cartoon on a friend’s Facebook wall and was reminded that the Memorial Day weekend was just around the corner. Not that it will mean much to most American expats living in Japan: there'll be no happy Monday for us.


   Anyway, I was struck by a number of things when I looked at that cartoon.

    First of all, it reminded me of something Kurt Vonnegut wrote in, I believe, his novel Hocus Pocus (1990), something to the effect that the more the U.S. started outfitting its soldiers to look like the Reichswehr with coal scuttle helmets and all, the better we got at winning wars.

   In Vonnegut's next and final novel, Timequake (1997), Kilgore Trout had this to say about the way American soldiers were dressed:

   “I wouldn't have missed the Great Depression or my part in World War Two for anything. Trout asserted at the clambake that our war would live forever in show biz, as other wars would not, because of the uniforms of the Nazis.

    “He commented unfavorably on the camouflage suits our own generals wear nowadays on TV, when they describe our blasting the bejesus out of some Third World country because of petroleum. ‘I can't imagine,’ he said, ‘any part of the world where such garish pajamas would make a soldier less rather than more visible. ‘We are evidently preparing,’ he said, ‘to fight World War Three in the midst of an enormous Spanish omelet.’” 

   The second thing that caught my attention was how much the weapons of warfare have changed.

   Today, the US Army uses among other rifles the M16, a semi-automatic that fires three-round burst of 5.56x45mm NATO cartridges. During WWII, however, your average grunt was accoutered with an M1 Garand or M1 carbine. Both were semi-automatics. The M1 Garand had an 8-round “en bloc” clip that let out a metallic “klang” as it was ejected. The carbine originally had a 15 round detachable box magazine. Both were big improvements over the bolt action Springfield. The rifle, which was equipped with a 5-round clip, remained a standard issue infantry rifle during the Second World War due to the shortage of M1s. While the M1903 Springfield could fire at a rate of only 10-15 rounds per minute, you could get as many as 50 rounds off a minute with a Garand. By comparison, today’s M16 can shoot at a rate of up to 950 rounds per minute.

   The point that I would like to make here is that the United States was able to defeat Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the Japanese Imperial Army armed with rifles that today’s gun nuts would not be comfortable with when and if they ever have to revolt against their own government, as 44% of Republicans now believe.

   And finally, why the hell is Ronnie's coup de grâce Grenada not included in the line-up???

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