There are several new soldiers marching in this parade. They are marching in lockstep down the road past friends and family. You can almost feel the patriotic vibes in the air. Everyone is proud to be an American, to support the home team, to send our boys off right and proper. All around you can hear the cheers of the crowd, hear the bands playing patriotic songs, and smell the smells that usually accommodate outdoor festivities. Everyone can hear the ripple of the flags that tower over the soldiers reaching, it seems, over the very buildings that surround them. No one thinks the Kaiser can stop our doughboys but by all appearances nearly everyone is confident and optimistic.
A young woman is walking along with her arm around her soldier. He has his arm at her waist though I’m sure he doesn’t want any of the officers to notice. He knows he’s going to miss her and she him. Both are thinking this war will be over soon enough; at least they hope.
Running beside the woman is a young boy. He’s moving along with the crowd wearing a bright red ball cap and he looks so excited to be at the big parade. Ahead of that boy runs another. He’s running with steamers in his hand and is likely running from the boy in the red cap. The boy with the streamers runs like a rabbit and the boy in the red cap is nothing but a tortuous that can catch him no more than the Kaiser can catch their fathers and older brothers.
Streamers dance wildly in the wind from the bayonets at the end of the soldier’s shouldered rifles. They blow like the leaves of a tree in the midst of a windstorm. Confetti joins the streamers and together they float on the wind like clouds.
Only this windstorm is of the utmost importance. This wind is the wind of change. The world is in peril and everything these people have perceived about the old world is to be turned upside down. Some of the older people in the crowd can remember the Civil War and even the more recent war with Spain. It hasn’t been all that long since Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Riders on San Juan Hill. This is to be a different kind of war; one that will bring the death of the old world and usher in a new era. No more will kings and queens rule Europe. The decline of monarchial power in Europe, that started with the Magna Carta and tasted blood with the French Revolution, is about to reach its cataclysmic crescendo.
And the cataclysm is about to begin for this group of young Americans. Look past the initial joy and notice that all of the soldier’s faces are skulls. Among the crowd is an older woman grieving and crying into a handkerchief. In fact, what you see in the foreground are people who appear dark and drab with a somber look about them. Between them and the cheerful formation of skeleton soldiers a policeman sits atop his motorcycle. He separates the grieving widows and mothers from the gleeful ghosts who don’t yet see the futility of war. They don’t see that no matter which nation wins the war, they as human beings will still lose. They are the price that is being paid for victory.
A few years ago, I had the occasion to participate in a “descriptive picture” project, which was one of the most enjoyable writing projects I have done. In the project, we were to select a picture and write about it in a way that would allow a reader to “see” the picture without actually seeing the picture. After reading each others descriptions we then looked at the accompanying pictures everyone else described to see how well each other had done.
I selected this painting, one of my favorites, by John Steuart Curry. Describing this particular painting was very enjoyable because it afforded me the opportunity to explain what it means to me and why I like it so much. What I took away from the project was that in describing what such a picture is "saying" to us, we develop an even greater appreciation for it.