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.


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