This time around, I have neither served as a warrior nor experienced combat. But I believe I've done that time during past lives and so have you. We are all subliminal veterans and victims of combat.
If you reject these writings because you refuse to believe in reincarnation or because you insist that civilians should shut up about war, too bad, so sad. Read on or refuse to, figure it out or not. All I can do is offer it up to you.
We must taste the blood-acid vomit of war without having to experience it first-hand, take full breaths of that weed’s rancid perfume and mist our face with its fecal dew. We must become familiar with the horrors that good fortune and rare wisdom have allowed us to avoid.
Let us evoke combat from the writings of those who have experienced it for us, as well as from bygone experience; that we may stop rehearsing it so often in worlds present and future—much less often than during reincarnations of the past.
I can tell you what my grandfather told me. He said that the sweetest fruit he ever tasted – and we lived in Provence, where fruit is good and plenty – were raw onions dug up from some forsaken garden plot: covered with dirt, those onions were, and “We ate them like apples.” The memory made him smile.
That when you’re squad gets caught far from shelter in a firestorm, it is best to fall flat in file and crawl forward until your head nuzzles under the crotch of the next man ahead, then cover his ass with your helmet.
How funny he found it when one of his men crapped his pants (as happens to more than one out of four combatants under fire) on the head of the fellow below. They lived through that firestorm bad enough to crap one’s pants, and got to laugh about it!
Or my Dad telling me about catching lice with his recon company under a rotting pier; or solemnly showing me a narrow, cobblestone beach at the bottom of a deep-shaded gorge, too steep to climb down to blindly, though there may have been a hidden path. He never revealed it and we never went back, even though it was quite close to home.
One of his best friends and a landing craft full of scouts from a tank destroyer unit were massacred in a crossfire of German machine guns, probably nested on the cliff where we stood, a hundred feet or more (I was young, back then, and small) above the rocky beach along the coastal highway. Out on the far right flank of the American landing in Provence (Southern France), beyond which the French Naval Assault Group of Corsica got massacred. My dad was a lucky man.
Another friend of his died after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. He commanded the only tank platoon in that place: ten tanks, flown there in pieces, and him with both his arms broken and set in plaster casts, in the lead tank. He died during the death march out to concentration camps, along with two thirds of the captive survivors.
Or the story my father once told me, about when he was the young officer in command of the point troop of a horse cavalry regiment during a multi-hundred mile march from Fort Hood, Texas to Fort Riley, Kansas and back, one of the last marches like that in American history, coming back, heat-drugged, to post.
The horse of the lead element in the advance guard he commanded got wind of the nearing post and charged over the crest and down into the valley below, back to their comfortable stalls and out from under their dozing riders and the crushing sun. No doubt a few of them tumbled off, though he didn’t tell me and I was too dumb to ask.
My father sent word back along the column, to wake everybody up because the horses were going to get frisky. I’ll bet they made a fine entrance on post, in tight parade formation, looking smart after a masterful march. He never said; but I saw the pride in his eyes.
Both parsed their stories short and doled them out to me sparingly, though they knew I would have listened rapt for as long as they cared to speak. Such was the pain of their recollections.
Let’s pull on the grimy boots of an average combat infantryman. On PeaceWorld, every child would learn this kind of thing as ordinary fare—but nothing about military glory. Eight-year-olds would have taken “Combat Infantry Warrior” by dictation in school or devoured it as a comic book fare. Here goes…
Instead of waking up in a soft bed in a warm room just down the hall from loving parents, or alongside a sweet mate bent on loving, or just on your own and shiftless; you start up from rotting litter at the bottom of some dank hole, roused by an annoying itch and a high-explosive roar that has stunned your senses for months, or an ominous quiet that portends nothing good.
The horizon rumbles with the distant grumble of heavy artillery – yours, if you’re lucky; the other side’s or both, if not – that sounds surprisingly like the growl your empty stomach makes—except it is quivering the entire landscape in addition to your guts. Hungry for another bite, it trickles a dusty rivulet of sand into your hole. Beware that it doesn’t approach screaming to blow you out of your hole and rip you to pieces for its breakfast. Nothing you could do about it.
You are dreadfully alone, surrounded by steaming huddles of fellow sufferers buried invisible. None of you has set aside your rotten shoes or shit-colored rags, or rested or bathed properly for a fortnight. If you slept at all, your deathlike coma was bathed in sweat: a crowded nightmare maddeningly interrupted at any moment. A zombie haze of sleep deprivation is your constant lot and that of your officers who decide how you live and whether you die.
This dark, damp morning is like every other: sweltering hot or freezing cold depending on seasonal excess. Who would have dreamt – in the coziness of city or country housing – that mere weather could be so savage?
A fetor fills your nostrils. It is common to every battlefield: a compound of mud or dust, foul breath, body odor and human waste, moldy clothing, food and equipment, of high-explosive gas and rotting, seared lumps of flesh of every description. For just about the last hundred years, the underlying stink has been the inescapable one of diesel smog. Before that, it was the barnyard stink of draft animal and cavalry crap on every marcher’s shoe.
Every toxic effluvium and taboo fluid that you shunned in peacetime will make up your body bath during war. Its stench and unbelievable racket will fester in your psyche until you die; any hint of them during your remote civilian future will fire up fugues of post-traumatic stress.
You ache everywhere and gut-churning diarrhea trots along behind you—half from dread and its immunity-suppressing pall and half from the fecal breakfast you were just lucky enough to choke down. Your muscles are laced with acid, the milk of overwork. You cringe from a maddening skin crawl of lice (the combatant’s constant companion), and a sticky, stinking glaze of filth. You and your buddies stink of ammonia sweat; your hyper-abused bodies don’t carry any more fat and burn muscle instead. You bear embarrassing sores and chronic complaints no one will acknowledge except with ridicule. You must cough, sneeze or shit during perilous moments and imperil your friends while doing so. You’ve lost more weight than would be normal or healthy. Your exhaustion would flatten you under normal circumstances; any doctor worth his salt would take one look at your sorry ass and send it home for a week’s bed rest. Not here, not now. Front line rifle strength is too low to permit such a luxury.
You are hungry and crazed with thirst. Quarts of warm, chlorine-stinking water nauseate you and fail to quench your thirst. You lost your appetite the moment you opened and sniffed the next can of soldier’s dog food. For every torment spared you by the genius of your nation’s combat logistics, a dozen more plague you, worse and unfixable.
Whether you are a clinical alcoholic or not, the false promise of alcohol and drugs will make you suffer like the damned. You would do almost anything for a swig or a needle-shot of escape. Nonetheless, neither food nor drink nor drugs – those musty horrors obtainable in your pigsty – offer you any consolation.
Only the fitful mails can console you now: a precious word from home. The mail clerk is just as likely to toss you the Dear John news that your mate went mad with loneliness and threw herself at the nearest jerk, or that your family and friends were massacred during the latest martial atrocity back home and have abandoned you forever.
Instead of endless commutes to an almost bearable job, you must face down the snarling machinery of industrial hate that stretches out beyond the horizon: the entire genius, fortune and flower of youth of some random country, whose citizens you never met nor held quarrel with—entirely, devoted, to, your, personal, extermination. Gulp!
The firepower coming from your side is as menacing as that of the enemy. Front-line troops can and will be massacred by either side. Mechanized forces are hotbeds of disaster; both sides’ artillery, tanks and aircraft, perfectly designed to annihilate your transparent fragility. Disease and accidents will kill you just as dead as combat, often more readily. Death is not picky on a battlefield.
Danger lurks everywhere, and quiet execution by firing squad or a squad leader’s pistol if you tarry too long in a place of safety. No confidence or security awaits you except on a tidy row of a military cemetery or convalescent ward; otherwise, a common grave carved out by a bulldozer, or some dank, cry-filled and stinking aid station grotto: from first aid to last rites, by the book, with militarily efficiency.
Instead of schmoozing with familiar, competent and reasonably sane people under the constraints of civility and law, you confront lost souls as filthy and miserable as your own. Instead of a coterie of friends and acquaintances nourished by mutual kindness, they are a bunch of smelly, brutish and vulgar compulsive-neurotics with whom you share nothing but misery motivated by petty spite and perfectly reasonable terror.
If you are lucky enough and possessed of worthy courage, they will treat you better than a noble brother during bright and shining crisis, share with you their last crust of bread and sip of water, risk their life to save yours—and treat you like dirt at any other time. Your tender feelings and bruised bodies will be at each other’s mercy. No choice in the matter.
This black morning offers endless upset and anxiety to you and your prized friends. You have become sly beasts, by now, as superstitious as cannibals and feral-wary of every Other.
If you can find some pocket of relative security, combat may be the last of your worries. You will be bullied by rear area lifers handpicked for cruelty and determined to keep you cowed: brutes you would never party with by choice or trust in combat—for endless rounds of meaningless, filthy and exhausting chores. Their only response to your demand for dignity: reflexive insult, brutality and more perilous tasks. Their relative safety dictates your peril; their meager comfort, your misery. Imps lining the entryway to Hell and goading the damned to their doom—their primary purpose is to drive you back into the firefight. Like other repressive institutions in peacetime, like cilia lining peristaltic intestines, they flutter wastes along their way after wringing all life from them.
Your commanders will be more intent on the enemy’s destruction than your well-being. If they are good guys, they will work themselves ragged to see that you are fed and housed to minimum standards. They might briefly regret your bug-like distress and extinction, then carry on. If not, they won’t give a damn; indeed, they’ll seek their own promotion by promoting your distress.
This is what makes a general’s career and earns him his stars. His primary task will be to nail you and your friends to some untenable post, then send you on endless marches into greater peril until you turn into casualties, like lost luggage not worth the bother. There will always be more nameless replacements for him to use up. That is a general’s duty, glory and reward.
Your best friend will die before your eyes or be horribly mangled in your arms, and his replacement and their replacements afterwards, and likely yourself in the long run. After witnessing their final agony, you will bury them in a common hole (one of hundreds you have had to dig) that took hours of exhausting work to scrape from the dirt, stubborn rocks and roots at your feet. The labor is staggering, to dig a proper grave or decent dugout.
“The ‘million dollar’ wound (as suffered by Hollywood heroes) is caused by a high velocity military bullet, undistorted and still encased in its metal skin, which passes straight through relatively elastic muscle tissue and out the other side, making a pencil-thin tunnel and leaving a star-shaped exit wound only about three-quarters of an inch across. However, the size of the tunnel caused by the bullet’s passage varies due to yawing. For roughly the first 6in of its journey the fully jacketed bullet continues point first, and this may well be enough to take it out the far side; but because the heavier base of the bullet still wants to be at the front, after that distance it begins to turn around or cartwheel. When this tumbling reaches 90° the bullet is traveling sideways, thus enlarging the tunnel to more than an inch across. By the time it has traveled through tissue for about 15in it is moving base first, and the tunnel resumes its original width. Irrespective of the distance traveled inside the body, however, a bullet which hits major bones may break up; the metal jacket and soft lead core may separate into irregular pieces, each of which travels on in unpredictable directions—as do the pieces of broken bone. In such cases, the exit wound may be up to 5in across. [Note: go measure that on the skin of your torso: a bleeding wound five inches around]. Limb wounds which shatter the long bones can cause massive damage; particularly to the legs, where splintered bones threaten major blood vessels. Even a ‘clean’ penetration of the heart, liver of major blood vessels is usually fatal, and brain damage normally has devastating results even when the victim survives: …
[Author’s note: bulletproof armor and modern surgical techniques permit the survival of many wounded soldiers who used to die quick: those struck in exposed portions of the face and neck, leading to the brain and cervical vertebra. Another, larger group gets concussed by explosives and suffers an impairment. Thus more and more wounded veterans live out the rest of their lives more or less vegetative and/or paralyzed. Yet another bunch of high-tech survivors lose unarmored appendages: arms and legs, hands and feet].
“… apart from yawing and bone strikes; the amount of damage a bullet causes depends upon another effect known as cavitation.
“Imagine a tennis ball, drilled through the center and sliding freely long a pencil-thin rod. The rod is the tunnel made by the bullet – the ‘permanent cavity’; the ball is the ‘temporary cavity’ caused all around that path by a brief but powerful shock wave following immediately behind the bullet, cavity up to 7in across, which then collapses inwards again (the vacuum effect may also suck dirt through the entry wound into the bullet track). Some organs, such as the liver, can rarely survive this process; others, such as the lung, are less affected
“The crushed muscle tissue of the permanent cavity and the stretched tissue of the temporary cavity are both, in effect, pulped, with their blood supply through minor vessels disrupted; if left untreated the flesh will rot (necrotize), producing an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. The surgical treatment therefore involves debridement – the cutting away of the dead tissue and of a margin of healthy tissue around it; this more or less radical depending upon individual circumstances, and the correct timing and degree of debridement are matters of professional discussion among trauma surgeons. In the best case, new healthy tissue will grow inwards all around the debrided wound. In the worst case, sepsis will occur – gangrene – and the patient’s prospects become seriously worrying.” Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam, Da Capo Press, Perseus Books Group, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2004. Originally published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, England, 2004, pp. 533-534. (See also, below the next paragraph.)
“No weapon frightens me as much as the shell. Bullets have certain logic. Put a sizeable enough piece of concrete between yourself and the firer and you will be untouched. Run between cover, for it is difficult even for an experienced shot to hit a man who sprints fast. Even when people around you are hit, the wounds seldom seem so bad, unless the bullet has tumbled in flight or hit them in the head. But shells? They can do things to the human body you never believed possible; turn it inside out like a steaming rose; bend it backwards and through itself; chop it up; shred it; pulp it: mutilations so base and vile they never stopped revolting me. And there is no real cover from shellfire. Shells can drop out the sky to your feet, or smash their way through any piece of architecture to find you. Some of the ordnance the Russians were using was slicing through ten-story buildings before exploding in the basement. Shells could arrive silently and unannounced, or whistle and howl their way in, a sound that somehow seems to tear at your nerves more than warn you of anything. It’s only the detonation which always seems the same – a feeling as much as a sound, a hideous suck-roar-thump that in itself, should you be close enough, can collapse your palate and liquefy your brain.” Anthony Boyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, Penguin Group, New York, London, 2001, first published by DoubleDay, New York, 1999, p. 244.
“The most clichéd but accurate metaphor for the sound of incoming shells in flight is that of an old-fashioned steam express train rushing past a few feet away. Depending on their distance, speed and angle [and caliber], shells tunneling through the air make lightly different noises; so a heavy barrage weaves itself into a bewildering cacophony of sounds; but the rushing always ends the same way, with a thunderclap detonation – sschhiiii… boom! Hollywood’s microphones fail to convey either the sharpness or the loudness of battlefield explosions; and the visual effects normally used to simulate shellfire – with plastic bags of petrol and aluminum silicate – are equally misleading. In reality the eye usually registers a shell burst as an instantaneous orange-yellow flash inside a dark, leaping fountain of mixed smoke and pulverized earth, sometimes studded and fringed with large pieces of slower-moving debris. The bigger, heavier chunks of earth and stones thrown up by the explosion fall nearby first; the smaller debris, blown much higher, comes pattering and clinking down for a considerable time afterwards and over a wider area.
“The instantaneous pressure wave from the explosion moves outwards at supersonic speed – this is the expanding ring effect seen fleetingly in, for example, aerial footage showing the explosions of ‘sticks’ of bombs. It is followed after a slight but appreciable interval by a blast wind – the bulk flow of hot gases, fragments and ground debris away from the explosion. People in the target area experience the pressure wave as a sharp squeezing sensation in the chest, and its shock is also felt through the ground underfoot; this shuddering of the earth is powerful enough to make those sheltering in trenches fear (justifiably) that they are about to be buried alive, and those who are lying flat feel themselves being shrugged violently into the air. These sensations are accompanied by stupefying noise, and under heavy and persistent fire all the physical senses are overwhelmed. Completely impotent to affect their chances of survival, soldiers find sustained shelling and mortaring the worst ordeal of battle; those experiencing it often become temporarily unhinged, losing all muscular control (including of the bladder and sphincter) and the capacity of any rational thought beyond ‘Oh please God no…’ These effects are particularly marked among men exposed to shellfire for the first time—as were the great majority at Dien Bien Phu. Although these physical and mental reactions are quite involuntary, the fear is rational: in modern warfare it is shell and mortar bombs that cause the great majority of casualties.
“In that minority of cases when men suffer a virtually direct hit from artillery the result is complete destruction of the body: “The shell hit him, I’m telling you, it blew him to tiny little bits… a booted foot, a section of human cranium, a bunch of fingers, a bit of clothing. It was simply a matter of little, tiny bits.’ To be a witness to this utter physical annihilation – perhaps of a friend – is particularly shocking; it abruptly tears away a number of necessary self-protective illusions all at once. When a body has been blown up, the spinal column – surprisingly resilient – often survives after a shell has fallen among a group of men; counting the remaining spines is sometimes the simplest way to determine the number of dead.
“Most injuries, however, occur further out from the site of the explosion. Blast injuries to the human body are categorized as primary, secondary and tertiary. The first is the direct effect of the pressure wave; the second, the effect of projectiles and debris carried by the blast wind; the third, the result of the body being thrown through the air and smashing into the ground or other obstacles.
“The most obvious sign of primary injury is rupture of the eardrums, which may occur when air pressure rises to anything between 5 and 15 [additional] pounds per square inch [normal atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi]; war memoirs offer many instances of men killed by blast who appear peacefully asleep apart from tell-tale bleeding from the ears. The lethal internal damage caused by pressures of 5psi and upwards do[es] not present dramatic outward signs (though shellfire casualties typically suffer multiple injuries). It is the gas-containing organs which sustain immediate and often fatal damage from the pressure wave: the lungs and occasionally the colon suffer catastrophic injury from the instantaneous compression effect of the blast. Large blood-filled cavities are formed in the spongy alveoli of the lung, and fatal air embolisms are released into the arterial system; less often, the bowels may rupture, as – in a few cases – may the spleen and liver.
“Secondary injuries will be more obviously dramatic. When a shell bursts the steel case breaks up into fragments of all shapes and sizes, from tiny beads to twisted chunks weighing several pounds. These – together with stones, pieces of weapons and equipment, and even large bone fragments from casualties nearer the blast – whirl outwards from the center at different speeds. The effects of being struck by shell fragments (usually, though incorrectly called ‘shrapnel’) vary as widely as the size and speed of the metal shards. Sometimes a man is unaware that he has been pierced by a small splinter until somebody else points out the bloodstained hole in his clothing. Larger fragments, cartwheeling unevenly through the air edged with jagged blades and hooks, can dismember and disembowel.
“In many cases the evidence confronting an eyewitness is all too vivid. In others the immediate reaction is one of simple puzzlement: blast and steel can play such extreme games with the human form that the observer does not understand what he is looking at. When some random physical reference point suddenly jerks the whole image into a comprehensible pattern, the shock of recognition may be appalling. The results of massive destruction – the ruined hulk of a torso, the crimson rack of ribs, the glistening entrails, limbs ripped away and scattered, a severed head – have a charnel house squalor that denies all human dignity. On chilly evenings at Dien Bien Phu, the warm, gaping body cavities steamed visibly, and the opened-up bowels gave off a stink of faeces.” Martin Windrow, The Last Valley, op. cit., pp. 371-374.
Or check out Southern Lebanon or Palestine or Syria within the last few years… Am I really in the 3rd millennium of the Christian Era on Planet Earth?
“It comes down to physics. What movies cannot render is that, often, the most lethal aspect of an explosion is not the scattering of projectiles in its blast, but the tremendous shock wave that blast releases. And whereas this shock wave rapidly weakens over the open ground of a traditional battlefield, the canyonlike structure of a city provides both channels for it to travel and an amplifying effect as it caroms off surrounding walls and building. This wave, too, will gradually weaken as it moves away from the source, but it’s exponentially more concentrated force will inflict far greater damage. It is also likely to leave behind clearly delineated, concentric circles of destruction. Much like reading the growth rings of a tree, a seasoned observer examining these circles can quite easily determine the explosion’s precise epicenter, even if no obvious physical evidence – a crater, for example – is left behind.
“In the immediate blast area, the ground will be swept perfectly clean. Naturally the size of this epicenter will depend on the explosion’s magnitude – given the range of ordnance most commonly used by modern armies, it might extend anywhere from fifteen to eighty feet – but within this area, there will not be a scrap of paper or a nugget of loose asphalt, and anyone unlucky enough to have been standing there was not flung or somersaulted to their death, but vaporized: not a tooth, not a patch of clothing or a shoelace, they have simply turned to mist.
“Moving past the epicenter, one will begin to come across small bits of debris, including scraps of flesh, but initially these will be so minute and degraded as to be unrecognizable. A little farther out and these scraps will become larger, but distinguishing them from mere detritus will still be difficult because human bodies break apart in unpredictable ways, and the parts here will be blackened with scorch marks, encrusted with dirt and gravel, so as to be easy to mistake for clumps of singed fabric or even twisted fragments of metal.
“Beyond this ring, the human remains will start to take on recognizable form. At first, these are likely to be mostly detached limbs and torsos, some still clothed, but most naked or bare to their underwear, their outer garments having been shredded or burned away in the initial blast. In this area, there may also be a number of bodies without heads. This is because the head is the heaviest part of the human body, as well as its most delicately attached, and in the tremendous concussion of an artillery blast, it often severs at the top vertebrae of the spinal column. It is not at all uncommon in such situation to come across three or four heads lined up against a street curb or the side of a building some distance away from the explosion, the heads having rolled until coming to an obstacle to halt their momentum. In this section, one will also begin to come across the first of the survivors, most grievously wounded, and since many of them will still be conscious and pleading for a help that is beyond the ability of anyone to give them, it is usually this area that is the most upsetting to the eyewitness.
“At a certain point away from the epicenter – anywhere from sixty to three hundred feet, again depending on the explosion’s magnitude – it will appear one has reached the outer edge of destruction, but this will probably not be true. Depending on the trajectory of the shell and the architectural peculiarities of the city, shock waves are likely to have traveled through the surrounding building and alleyways, and there one is liable to find a number of more dead with no visible wounds upon them. These will be people who have essentially been crushed, their internal organs bursting from the tremendous split-second force to which they were exposed, and it is not at all abnormal to find these victims still sitting upright in chairs, as if they are merely napping or gazing meditatively into space.
“But as ghastly as all this is, those who fall direct victims to an artillery shell’s blast and shock wave normally represent only a portion of those killed when a city is bombarded. Many more are felled by glass shards from blown-out windows; these are like thousands of jagged daggers streaking out in all direction, sometimes with enough velocity to pierce metal or concrete or pass clean through a human chest. Others die from having buildings topple on them. And then there are the fires which so often accompany bombardments. While more advanced armies have developed firebombs that literally suck the oxygen out of a targeted area, quickly exterminating all within, the more common form of death in such circumstances is the protracted ordeal of carbon-monoxide poisoning as the building around the victim slowly burns. And then, of course, there are those who linger for a time, who don’t succumb to their wounds until the next day or the one after that…” Scott Anderson, Moonlight Hotel, Doubleday, Random House, 2006, pp. 168-170.
Otherwise, you will have to lug their leaden, broken bodies to some uncertain fate in the rear, half-willing that they croak and relieve you of the struggle to save them. Precious friendships and loyalties long gone will twist like daggers in your heart; you will shun them eventually. No more such painful friendships for you.
The buddy you save will have been one of the ‘lucky’ ones. More likely, all your friends will have moved out, under orders to ignore the wounded; and your wounds will pin you to the ground until some wandering enemy puts you out of your misery with more or less sadistic flourishes or queasy hesitations, and robs your corpse. In good time, you will die screaming in agony or bleed quietly to death, all alone.
Who cares about anyone but your own, vermin-infested little tribe? Everyone outside your narrow squad – ally, foe, co- and non-combatant – will assume the phantom shade of non-human wraiths whose suffering and extermination become matters of relief, indifference and derisive sport. Most of all, you will despise those pasty-faced civilians you were sent here to defend. Wishing them fates worse than your own, you will worsen their fate with the black magic of your envy.
Sooner or later, you and every survivor not a sociopath-born will turn into a post-traumatic zombie—at which point, nothing will make any difference until you’ve received months of professional therapy and perhaps never again regardless. You will never fully recover.
Your only real assignment is to kill and (if possible) not be killed. You will be called upon to perform with professional expertise every crime you despise. Nothing but complete acceptance of this criminal degradation will let you escape from this hell with your body intact but your soul in tatters. Your hatred will blind you. Your enemies’ screams of agony will become music to your ears, as may the wail of hapless women and children unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. Plunder will become an indoor sport, a relief from the depthless boredom of enforced hurry-up-and-wait-forever, war’s other trademark. Any decency you once prized will be ripped from you, and every perversion of justice and compassion will become routine.
It’s not until then that you will fully understand the perversion that is war. Unfortunately, too late to do anything about it, except to compound its misery. Your options will narrow to mere survival (and perhaps not even that). Everything else will seem insignificant to you, empty words and hollow feelings compared to the rush of raw survival and the black and white of combat.
Stripped of the pallid grays and rainbow titter of civilian life, you may become addicted to your dilemma and unfit to resume the trappings of peace. In that case, your beloved society, long-experienced at social triage, will quietly snuff you dead once you return to its embrace—without pause, mercy, dignity or regret. You will not even be counted among the casualties of war, much less honored for your sacrifice. More veterans die that way, abandoned by everyone at home, than in combat.
These days, more children die from war than soldiers.
Tomorrow’s wake-up will be much like today’s, like yesterday’s and the day before, unless some new disaster tests the limits of your courage, sanity and endurance, and likely causes you to flail, wail and perish.
Instead of manly, heroic appeals to duty, honor, country and God, that you would expect to pronounce under such imaginary circumstances; your last gasps are likely to sound like baby cries: ma, mommy, mama – that her loving embrace might soothe your agony – your last-stand plea for the comforts of the womb. All your precious manhood will leak out of you with your blood.
No one will give much of a damn about your fate for very long. If you are a parent, your death will multiply the misery of your children and spouse, in addition to the unbearable one of your parents. Those grieving your loss will shut up, sooner or later, whether in victory or in defeat. Then they will die in their turn, and your life, flushed down the void, will be forgotten.
Your misery will become an abstraction, less than a footnote in history books that have buried so many wasted lives in military jargon and socio-political jibber-jabber. Less meaningful than the death of a worker ant. Like a moth to the flame, your passionate, pristine existence – born in pain and tenderly raised by devoted parents or guardians – will add its featherweight of fuel to the WeaponWorld Jive Drive. Endless yous, reincarnated in the children to come, will have to retrace your path to oblivion.
Now tell me, dear Learner, how can the comforting routines of peace and progress prepare us for this interminable agony—compared to which Christ’s afternoon Crucifixion would not have been such a big deal? Only gradual, hypnotic conditioning from birth, paralleled by thousands of years of compulsive abuse and obsessive oppression – courtesy of weapon civilization – could keep us from abandoning this charnel bedlam screaming our lungs out, and from defying the obvious psychopaths who would dare poke our tender extremities into the patriotic blaze, like weenies crackling in the campfire.
It would be better if there were no more war on Earth, only peace. Not no combat at all, at least not for a while yet—but less so at this moment, and much less over time.
- Learner PeaceWorld -
LEARNERS: On the Move from WeaponWorld to PeaceWorld