Friday, February 25, 2011

Someone recently asked me why I glorify war.

The answer is simple, I don't.

I probably put it best in the intro to Finding Your Father's War. "War is a nasty, gruesome business. It has far less glory than popularly supposed, and is, as a rule, a waste of good lives. It is one of the most brutal, repulsive, and undeniable fascinating activities known to man. We all know it is awful, yet we still fight."

In editor removed a few adjectives from the first line such as horrible and brutal. He figured I had made my point. I'm not sure I did. However, I have a theory as to why we seem to go to war every generation or so. That's because as a society we forget just how fucking bad it really is. Over time bad memories of it are replaced by the ones recalling humor, friendship, and heroism. And the last generation sends the next out to wade in the mud, sand, blood and shit.

A vet once turned to me and said, "you want to know what the smell of death is like? It smells like shit. When someone dies they crap their pants. There's nothing special about it."

I've spent a long time trying to understand what my father went through that made him what he was. I will never fully know, but I've come close. I recall the fellow just off Omaha Beach telling my how he prayed to God that if he made it through alive that day he would go to mass every day for the rest of his life. He did, and he did. When his wife became ill he felt it was a duty placed on him by God in addition to going to mass, to take care of her. He had had a number of good years with her; what's a few more having a burden when he could have had none.

Or the guy who blew off a leg from a mine saying he was never as happy as when they hauled him back as he knew he was not going back into combat. Screw the leg; he was still alive. Or son that told me when his dad came home he crawled into a bottle and never came out.

In my work I have tried to understand these things, with any luck make others understand as well. There's enough pro-military material out there. Eventually the seduction of heroism and medals and bringing back bloody helmets as a souvenir overwhelms the cries of the actual combat vets who want to make sure people know that it truly sucked. Big time. Never forget: it's not just for the Holocaust.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where did all the painted helmets go?

Some people just can't deal with the fact that there are not that many genuine painted helmets left from the war.

Well, this is what happened to a lot of them:


Monday, January 24, 2011

The Golden BB

Most people are familiar with the idea of the "Golden BB." In modern terms it means that even a nearsighted, syphilitic, old villager can fire up into the air and shoot down a stealth fighter, IF he just happens to point it in the right direction and pull the trigger at the right time.

In other words, while the odds of some improbable things happening are pretty low, there's always that one chance.

With fewer and fewer really well documented items coming onto the market, I keep seeing collectors look for the "Golden BB" in items they buy. They will find something and go to any length trying to justify how it is rare, or cool, even when some common sense should tell you to be very, very suspicious.

You can always tell these tales as they generally start with "well, he COULD have … (done such and so)." If you have to bend over backwards and come up with improbable scenarios to try and justify something, maybe you should take a big step back, take a deep breath, and think.

A lot of these tall tales revolve around so called secret or operations. Well, he COULD have been sent on a secret mission into occupied Germany, but his records say he was at cook and baker's school as a cover. Well, he COULD have been issued old obsolete material and taken care of it so he came home from WW2 with all WW1 webbing. Well, he COULD have been transferred from the Marines to this Army unit due to his training in amphibious landings.

Yes, it is possible someone COULD have served in the Army in WW1, the Marines in WW2, The Air Force in Korea, and maybe the Naval reserves during Viet Nam, but it's not bloody likely. Yes, it's possible that the Smokey the Bear patch found in a Nam Vets lot COULD have been adopted by his unit as they kept starting up forest fires by their artillery strikes. Yes, a guy COULD have been issued with a gizmo that was made in the last week of the war and flown over especially to see if it could get tested out in combat. Yes, it's possible that Marine ended up with a rare prototype Army helmet cover on Iwo Jima (and was able to hang onto it after he was wounded and evacuated).

By the way- one of the above is a real example claimed by a fairly well known museum. The rest are variations I have heard over the years.

You know the people who do this. No matter what evidence you point out, they always have a work around for how it COULD have happened. They always claim no records were kept for some obscure reason. They will never listen to reason. They will always deep in their heart believe that maybe this German badge was made by a small Czech company that used a different technique that every other manufacture which just happens to look like a modern copy, and thus no one has ever documented it.

And yes, there are always the Golden BB's that seem highly improbable, but might actually turn out to be true. I've learned my lesson though. After pointing out one major problem with something, if the person immediately comes back with a "he COULD have…" in that tone of voice where you know they just have to believe.. it's not worth my time trying to set them straight.