There’s a White crowned sparrow who has nested in the vegetable garden. She’s picked a spot in the oregano of all places, a nifty well-made nest with four tiny eggs. Of course, every time I walk into the garden she has to leave the nest. She flies to the top of a fence pole and chirps until I’m done with what I’m doing. Then she will make her way back to the oregano taking a cautious and circuitous route. One has to admire her courage. Some of her babies might make it; others won’t. For a tiny bird life must be a continuous episode of TSHTF.
Surprisingly, the sparrow reminds me of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day just sort of pisses me off as I think about the people I personally knew who bought it in the “service of our country.” Clearly, WWII was the last “good war” if there is such a thing. That’s the last one that anyone can give a good explanation for why we fought. That big machine we created in WWII didn’t want to wind down. It had momentum and kept on rolling through Korea, Vietnam, lots of podunk skirmishes (Grenada), Iraq (twice), Afghanistan.
As an AF intelligence officer I was once invited to speak to the Officer’s Wives’ Club at a big Tactical Air Command base. Most of these young ladies were the wives of fighter pilots already deployed. They wanted some understanding of why. I told them about the “domino theory.” Remember the domino theory? A very useful theory that is in continued use with a number of variations. We had to stop the commies over there before they came over here. Subsequently we lost the commies as an enemy but then found a better one—the terrorists. The terrorists have been extremely useful in helping business and government build up a huge and expensive counter-terror apparatus and keeping our gargantuan military in growth mode.
The White crowned sparrow has a few enemies; her own vision of terror. I’m certain the crows and jays will be watching, trying to get those eggs. She has few defenses besides stealth and watchfulness. No huge defense organization for her.
I stepped off a C-130 at Cam Ranh Bay in October of 1965. There were eight body bags lined up on the tarmac. Eight dead Army guys waiting for transport home. Died in the service of their country. Eight stories. Eight families multiplying the grief. Was glad I didn’t have to brief those families on “the domino theory.”
A month later on an approach to NKP in Thailand I could see smoke billowing up from the end of the runway. I was the only passenger. We had an hour layover before continuing to Ubon. I got off and had a bowl of ice cream at the club (the Air Force enjoys recreating America wherever it goes). When I got back on the C-123 there
was a body strapped to a stretcher which was strapped into a rack across from me. The pilot from the crash that made the smoke. No body bag. Just a tarp cover over the body. The C-123 tends to vibrate a lot. The dead pilot’s left arm kept shaking out from under the tarp and hanging into the aisle between he and I. I didn’t want to look at the arm so I tucked it back under the tarp. But it vibrated out again. It vibrated and I tucked. Vibrate and tuck. A macabre flight to Ubon. The dead man had a new gold band on his ring finger. I was happy that I didn’t have to explain the domino theory to his widow.
There is an understandable need to memorialize those who have died and try to rationalize their deaths as something worthwhile and heroic. Most of them were heroic to be certain but in most every case since 1945 I think they would have been better off to have stayed at home, planted a garden and observed the sparrows.
That little White crowned sparrow is probably smarter than I think she is. She senses that the garden is a safe place, a refuge with just enough human traffic to discourage her enemies. But even the government can’t leave the sparrow alone. DARPA, the research arm of the Defense Department is studying the mechanism which allows the White crowned sparrow to stay awake for two weeks during its migration. They think it might be useful to help keep fighter pilots awake during their bombing missions.
I wish they’d leave the sparrow alone.