Book Review: On Hallowed Ground by Robert M. Poole (Two stars)

Book Review. On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M. Poole

Two stars out of five

On Monday, November 25, 1963, I stood among the thousands in front of Arlington House watching the burial of John F. Kennedy. His family, nation and world leaders paid their respects to our murdered leader. Then as now, Arlington National Cemetery represented our nation’s way of honoring it’s fallen soldiers, whether President or private.

If that image appeals to you, don’t read this book.

Arlington National Cemetery, as exhaustively documented by Mr. Poole, started as the vengeful scheme of a glory-seeking Union general who stole Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s land and salted it with graves to punish his treason. The cemetery grew in the nation’s consciousness whenever politicians needed to manipulate the public, in general, or veterans and their survivors, in particular.

Despite that, Arlington became an appropriate memorial to our deceased defenders. The silliness—like Montgomery C. Mieg’s self-aggrandizing monument on Row 1 of Section 1, or Jackie Kennedy’s over-the-top demands for her husband’s funeral, or Ronald Reagan’s demand for a Vietnam unknown, even though there was no Vietnam unknown—is barely balanced by the humanity—like John J. Pershing’s requested burial among the soldiers.

I am a veteran of two foreign wars. Excuse my rancor at the politicians and toy soldiers, who confuse ceremony with respect.

Well documented and well written, but I’m sorry I read it. It’s a sad  story. Too much space is given to the Civil War. Not until page 68 is the first military burial recorded. Naturally Arlington’s role grew and changed with the evolving nature of America’s conflicts. World War Two (the conflict, not the impact on Arlington) is treated best—not at all. It’s not Poole’s fault; he’s a historian documenting the warts as well as the dignity.

Fortunately, most folks with loved ones buried there don’t know all the mean-spirited, prideful maneuvers which accompanied most of its development. It’s enough to know that their nation recognizes their sacrifice and ignore the insignificant men behind the curtains.