Among those who served in Vietnam, I had it pretty good. The only time I was in the jungle was on an ill-advised medical mission. I experienced incoming rocket attacks nearly every night, but I was on a big base where the odds of getting hit (I sort of did) were low; and I never had to hold a weapon in anger.
I wasn't thrilled about being sent there, but on reflection I'm glad I was. I experienced, first hand, a seminal event of my generation. During my tour, I made friends that I was sure were and would remain the best I ever had. (After returning to the world, I had contact with one of them, once, and rarely think of them now.) And I got to understand, if comparatively removed, why so many people find their war experience to be the highlight of their lives. It's an important point.
War is intense. It focuses the mind. It provides a kind of clarity, eliminates the extraneous, makes the universe small. War imparts meaning in and of itself, demands a certain kind of bravery (much more for some than for others) even if, as in Vietnam and, I'd opine, Iraq, the real purpose or "value" is unclear. Whatever else it might be, war is a world unto itself, with rules easy to understand; unlike life, in war intention is discernible. It needn't be explicable.
So I found this article, about a lengthy poem, "Why Men Love War," by a Vietnam veteran, and about the writings of a British Iraq war veteran, compelling. The author's use of the word "fun" is problematic; partly because it's true, and partly because it's false, especially for those damaged by it. In some ways I thought the article was insane. And flippant. But there is truth, too, worth considering. Today, the day after veterans' day. The article concludes:
And I guess I'd add that the "we" who love war includes those who never served. Because it's so easy, so cleansing, so self-serving to salute a parade, produce a lump in the throat, slap on a sticker, and, for a moment, call it good.This month marks the thirty-year anniversary of the publication of ‘Why Men Love War.’ It’s no less true today than it was then. I hope that it will be widely read, especially among today’s newest generation of veterans, to give them the peace of mind that what they’re experiencing is not new. If they read with an open mind, they might even come closer to reconciling their feelings on war, and recognize that there is no great answer but the terrible truth. We love war because it’s fun. It’s terrible, reviling, and true. The dirty, nasty thing was a blast, and we know we’re not supposed to think that. We’re especially not supposed to feel that. But we do.