Constitution Day: W.D. Ehrhart

Over the course of the world wars our states and then our federal congress moved to commemorate the signing of our constitution in 1787 by the convention that wrote it.  This is boosterism.

More sober suggestions are January 10 when fourteen years later Vermont at last ratified that constitution and December 15 at the end of that year when the assent of Virginia bound all states to the Bill of Rights.  Two others are April 9 when the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered seventy-eight years after and July 2 when the Civil Rights Act outlawed white supremacy one hundred and seventy-eight years after the founding compromise was proposed.

The poet W.D. Ehrhart teaches English and history at Haverford School

I suggest as well June 17 two years after that when W.D. Ehrhart took his oath as a Marine: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  On June 10 three years later, a 19 year-old sergeant with a Purple Heart, he separated, no longer sworn to obey our president.

Regardless of my suggestions we are now agreed to celebrate our constitution today.  Here in commemoration is one of Bill’s motions from the floor of the ongoing convention:


The Invasion of Grenada

I didn’t want a monument,
not even one as sober as that
vast black wall of broken lives.
I didn’t want a postage stamp.
I didn’t want a road beside the Delaware
River with a sign proclaiming:
“Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway.”

What I wanted was a simple recognition
of the limits of our power as a nation
to inflict our will on others.
What I wanted was an understanding
that the world is neither black-and-white
nor ours.

What I wanted
was an end to monuments.

W.D. Ehrhart

First published in The Outer Banks & Other Poems, Adastra, 1984. Reprinted from Beautiful Wreckage: New & Selected Poems, Adastra, 1999, with permission.

The historian Walter A. McDougall, another Viet Nam veteran in Philadelphia, supports a different view of the invasion in his collection edited with Paul Seabury.

5 thoughts on “Constitution Day: W.D. Ehrhart”

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