War is Hell

My biggest fear? That people have so much power over my life.
And that they're so willing to stupidly abuse it.

My whole life I've been trying to learn about war. Vietnam, mostly, because my father was there, crawling around the jungles and rice paddies, but also other wars. I don't remember when I found out that my dad had been in the war; in fact, I can't remember ever not knowing. But ever since, I've been picking up bits of information about it and storing them in my head. Mostly I read books - Born On the 4th of July, Catch-22, The Things They Carried, All Quiet On the Western Front, The Moon is Down, and Going After Cacciato, among others; and, most recently, Cold Mountain. For some reason I never watched many war movies. That's probably for a couple of reasons: I can get much more involved in a book than I can a movie, books make me think more, and when I watch a movie I know the characters are just actors. It's not real war. Sometimes I'd watch a war movie with my dad and he'd say something like, "That's the type of helicopter we dropped from in Vietnam."

My dad is part of the reason I've wanted to read up so much on war; it's unbelievable to me to think that my father has killed people, has led other men in killing people, and has lived in fear of being killed. He doesn't really talk about it, so the only way I can figure out what it was like is by collecting information about it.

Another reason war stories fascinate me is that war is the most horrifying event I can think of. More horrible than natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or mass murders. The idea of men (and now, women) being trained to kill, being barked at until they learn to follow orders unquestioningly, being thrust into places where they must live in constant fear: this leaves all other horrors in the dust, in my book. The fact that people would ever resort to such senseless brutality astounds me. That anyone coulc calmly consider war as a viable option for international problem solving... What frightens me even more is that these people are our leaders, are in control of so many aspects of our lives. Yikes.

Another thing that intrigues me about war - especially having lived all my life with a veteran - is that peple can come away from such horrors and resume their normal civilian lives. Sure, there are remnants - shortly after my dad'a return from war, he and my mom had a little party. In the middle of it, a car outside their apartment backfired. My dad and a friend, also fresh out of the war zone, hit the floor so fast that the couch they'd been sitting on skidded backwards across the room. But I've never seen him do anything like that; he's okay with guns, he watches war movies, he doesn't have nightmares - nothing. That's amazing to me. I couldn't even watch Saving Private Ryan calmly, knowing that all those things really happened to people - people I knew. People who turned out okay, like my mom's father. He was one of the kindest men I've ever known, and yet he survived the insanity of World War II for much longer than the three hours it took to watch the movie. Three hours and I still can't stop thinking about it.

I am of the opinion that any problem can be untangled if people are willing to grow up, listen to the other side's point of view calmly and rationally, and come to a compromise. Neither side will be completely happy, but it's better than both sides suffering tremendous losses of life, right? War occurs when people - mostly overgrown boys who like wielding power - feel like flexing their political muscle by expending a few (thousand) young people's lives. War comes about because of arrogance, pompousness, overblown pride, and a vicious unwillingness to consider that we might be even a little bit wrong.

It makes me sick. How can politicians send our youth off to be slaughtered? If I ever had a child who was called to war, I would have no qualms about sending him packing to Canada. I might even go with him. I'm pretty fed up with our whole political system. This happy land of the free, to which anyone could once flee to escape persecution, has stopped practicing what it preaches. Intolerance of non-Caucasians, of gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people, of those who believe in a minority religion - Paganism, Wicca, Satanism and the like in particular, those who choose (or are forced by circumstance) to live alternative lifestyles - single mothers, polyamorous families, vegans, hippies, etc., and so many other groups is apparent everywhere. And yet, in times of war, it's our "good old boys" who we cheer on as they march off to murder, rape, and pillage. And we expect them to be happy when they come back to the civilian life after having done this, and slip right back in where they left off. After watching their buddies and people they don't even know and would have nothing against in other circumstances die.

I can't get the image of the Omaha Beach invasion from "Saving Private Ryan" out of my head. Playing in a continuous loop in the back of my mind is the shot of a man wandering dazed through his dead and dying fellow soldiers looking for his blown-off arm, finding it, and wandering off clutching it.

War is awful.


brain | writings | sparkyville


page by sparky ( kumquat37@hotmail.com )
written 08/10/98