Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We Do Love Our Wars

I saw something today that was excerpted from Kurt Vonnegut's unpublished papers. And, although we are of course completely preoccupied with how confidence in the markets can be restored, it's worth a few minutes to read. Here's a small taste:
It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: “Men, up to now you’ve been good, clean, American boys with an American’s love for sportsmanship and fair play. We’re here to change that.

“Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the world. From now on, you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes.

“Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill – do you understand?”

His talk was greeted with nervous laughter and general agreement that he was right. “Didn’t Hitler and Tojo say the Americans were a bunch of softies? Ha! They’ll find out.”

And of course, Germany and Japan did find out: a toughened-up democracy poured forth a scalding fury that could not be stopped. It was a war of reason against barbarism, supposedly, with the issues at stake on such a high plane that most of our feverish fighters had no idea why they were fighting – other than that the enemy was a bunch of bastards. A new kind of war, with all destruction, all killing approved.

A lot of people relished the idea of total war: it had a modern ring to it, in keeping with our spectacular technology. To them it was like a football game.

[Back home in America], three small-town merchants’ wives, middle-aged and plump, gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking home from Camp Atterbury. “Did you kill a lot of them Germans?” asked the driver, making cheerful small-talk. I told her I didn’t know.

This was taken for modesty. As I was getting out of the car, one of the ladies patted me on the shoulder in motherly fashion: “I’ll bet you’d like to get over and kill some of them dirty Japs now, wouldn’t you?”

We exchanged knowing winks. I didn’t tell those simple souls that I had been captured after a week at the front; and more to the point, what I knew and thought about killing dirty Germans, about total war. The reason for my being sick at heart then and now has to do with an incident that received cursory treatment in the American newspapers. In February 1945, Dresden, Germany, was destroyed, and with it over 100,000 human beings. I was there. Not many know how tough America got.

And seriously, folks: if we didn't love war so much, we wouldn't be contemplating this "economic meltdown" either. War, after all, is the polluted spring from which flows both material debt and ruinous destruction -- physical, mental, and spiritual.


Mimi said...

I read what he wrote. And I saw a picture a year or so ago. It was of a little boy, maybe two years old, in Iraq. He had no arms and only one leg, having been caught in a bombing raid. What possible military or political objective can justify that? Do Bush and his gang see that little boy when they close their eyes at night?

Jim Wetzel said...

Mimi, I couldn't begin to guess what, if anything, Dubya & Co. see behind their eyelids of an evening. Maybe nothing. They seem like a pretty representative case of what the Bible is talking about when it mentions those who consciences are "seared."

Thinking Mama said...

Ever wonder why unConstitutional, U.S.-initiated wars are always fought over there on foreign soil? And with people whom the government-sponsored media have taught us to hate?

What Mimi says about this little boy really touches me. Why? Because ever since I gave birth to the first of three wonderful little guys, I've seen a bit of each of my sons in every man or boy that I meet. What if that little boy had indeed been one of my little guys, nabbed by soldiers in a war over something that no one's quite sure of, even those who started it? That maimed little boy whose life has been forever touched by American soldiers who are fighting for "freedom" (although we are, of course, much less free than we were when this particular unConstitutional war started) has a mother, whether or not she's alive, and a life ahead of him. That life, that mother, that family is permanently altered thanks to some real negligence on the part of some elite American government officials who, in lieu of productive work, like to play war in other countries. I, too, wonder, Jim, what King Jorge does to sleep at night; my guess is that he needs pharmaceutical assistance just to take a nap.

Jim Wetzel said...

T. Mama, there's nothing I can add to that. Americans do have terrible difficulty in thinking of foreign people as being ... well, people.