Monday, March 12, 2012

Fatal Attraction

I know a little about what it's like, and I've written about it before. My experience in the Vietnam War was nothing compared to that of a grunt in the jungle or the guys in the Hindu Kush; but I was shot at a couple of times, and I lived with rockets raining in around me nearly every night, got hurt by one, tended to people hurt by others. I came to disrespect, to put it mildly, the ARVN guards -- our allies! -- who routinely let thieves and worse onto our base to steal and otherwise do harm; and to feel revolt at the stupid rules that prevented our guys from going into nearby villages to take down the rockets as they were being set up. You live with fear and anger. You focus on just living through it, and you increasingly rage at and dehumanize those who threaten it, foe or friend of foe.

I neither excuse nor condone in any way the latest horror committed by our troops; but I think I do understand what happens to people when they are made to kill or be killed, when they live within the constant chaos of war, with the countless soul-demeaning and humanity-destroying ways it damages a person, the senselessness of it all, the hypocrisy of those cheering them on from the sanctuary of home. We send soldiers off and stay behind, beating our chests with phony pride from the other side of the world, foisting a perverse kind of patriotism and using it to berate our political opponents, conflating the fighting of wars with undefined and -- lately, anyway, as we ignore our future -- undeserved claims of exceptionalism.

Fearful, tribal, manipulatable, quick to hate, prone to rejecting reason, humans have a long way to evolve before war could disappear or, yes, even become unnecessary. But is it too much to ask, even now and notwithstanding the pathetic human failures by so-called godly design, to consign war to the last of last resorts? At long last, can we stop loving it so much? (And, needless to ask, isn't it past time to get the hell out of Afghanistan, a war that's gone on for a decade, was lost when George Bush abandoned it for his war of ego, and which if we haven't gotten right by now we never will?)

Efficiently taught to kill instinctively and remorselessly, kids do (and, for the most part, they are just kids), while we pretend it doesn't harm them; and then we bring them home, those that survive, unwhole, expecting them to return to normality, to resume life as if nothing happened. While our presidential hopefuls, unbelievably, demand we engage in yet another war, employ our imaginary right to impose our version of gods' will on the rest of the world, equate efforts to prevent it with cowardice. War, it seems, is who we've become. Americans -- RWS™ and teabaggRs, anyway -- can't seem to get enough of it. (I just added that link. Click it only if you think you can stomach comments about the killings from the right.)

There's sickness in war, no matter how "justified" it might be, sickness enough to go around. When its poison seeps up out of its "acceptable" and "civilized" constraints, we recoil in horror; as if we didn't know it all along.


[Update: Turns out the soldier was from a base in my state, where there's recently been evidence of reversing diagnoses of PTSD, presumably to get out of paying for care. And now, there's a suggestion that the soldier might have been diagnosed with TBD, and then cleared for duty.]


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Dr S: Your description of the futile, senseless brutality of war begs one large question. If war accomplishes nothing but destruction and waste (of people, resources, life) then WHY does it continue? Why can we (human beings) not learn from the past (even the excruciatingly recent past)?
    For all the advances humans have made in physics, science, technology,medicine--we still resort to savagely killing each other to solve disputes. As though we were taking cues from cavemen instead of philosophers.And this (behavior)persists in the age of information? DD

  3. Well, although I certainly don't know the answer, I didn't entirely beg the question: I rued how much we (especially our right wing comrades) love war; how we equate it with patriotism, use it as a cudgel against those who disagree. And I alluded to how poorly evolved (or unintelligently designed) is the human brain: so frail, so easily misled, so quick to anger, so needy of wrong stuff to believe in, so tribal.

    Why can't we learn from the past? Hell, our R candidates can't even seem to remember a few years back.


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