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The Combat Experience: The Child and the Video Tape and the Horror.

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To disclosure, this old army infantry vet is unlike many with whom I've conversed and others whose views I'm aware of: those who react Skinner-like (Google B. F. Skinner and/or operant conditioning) to the proposition of war and to the use of violence with "Just say no." There are times when the reality is such that no other tools are available to resolve an intolerable circumstance. An example: I'd have had then no reluctance, nor would I have suffered the least guilt, pulling the real life trigger of Burt Reynold's crossbow in the 1972 movie Deliverance. Nor would I hesitate today, in a similar exigency. Nonetheless, as the instances when pulling a trigger and taking a human life are necessary, or sending Americans to do that on our behalf, are so rare that it is every American's moral obligation to know what they're demanding of those we send to do our dirty work.

This is dedicated to the veterans of this country's combat arms, those who have served on the fields of combat, and who have fallen there . . . whether or not they now sleep in the ages or awake with nightmares or struggle with limbs missing. And it's particularly dedicated to the veterans we're day-by-day manufacturing. The goal here is to honor them all by diminishing their number.

I've one preliminary request. Read it as you read something when you were first learning how to read: slowly, mulling every word for context.

***

With what it called Cinemascope, in 1953 20th Century Fox revolutionized commercial movie making by doubling the width of its films. The greater width of the screen had two immediate results: it more intimately brought the audience into the movie itself, and the so much wider canvas demanded to be filled, thus ushering in movies that were hawked as ". . . with a cast of thousands!"

In 1956, Cecil B. DeMille gave the world The Ten Commandments, and in fact did fill the screen with thousands of what are known as extras. In Commandments those thousands were the Pharaoh's army that pursued Moses' army of exiles from Egypt, all the way to the parted waters of the Red Sea. And not a single member of the audience either knew a thing about even one of the soldiers, or cared.

For all except a few percent of the US population who are literally very intimately involved in this country's wars, nothing is much different about how we perceive the cast of thousands in a war movie and how we feel about the cast of players who fill the slots in our two combat arms, the army and the marines. The country's total military is comprised of only about one percent of the country's population. Winnow that further, considering only those who are in the army and marines, and the likelihood any of us actually knows a member in either branch becomes less and less. Subtract out those in support roles -- supply, stateside command, etc. -- who either never leave stateside or who don't come within a couple hundred miles of a combat zone and . . .. Well, you know where I'm coming from: Objectifying the combat soldier -- psycho-speak for depersonalizing, dehumanizing another, for truly not putting oneself emotionally in someone else's shoes (boots in this case) -- is what we've been up to since the conversion to an all-voluntary military service . . . and it's what has enabled us as a society to rather easily and thoughtlessly ask and to expect them to do what we won't while we sit relaxed in front of our television sets.

An army or marine expeditionary force is a cast of thousands. But zoom in for the close up, to the individual. Because that's what the cast is composed of, not a mechanically moving horde of automatons, but individuals as unique human beings. Each soldier and each marine is as different, one from the next, as any of us are from any of our siblings, or our neighbors, or the worker in the adjacent cubicles. Each of us has been cued since before birth to react differently to the different situations in which we daily find ourselves. Sometimes we're strong. Sometimes we aren't. We can be surprisingly brave one moment and utterly fearful the next. No reaction we might have is ever completely predictable. And so it goes.

If this is any good it will have the effect of acting like a metal splinter that has somehow insinuated itself below the skin. Taking all the time necessary, you'll very carefully examine the surrounding area -- the full context in this case -- before rushing in with that old pocket knife, the one with the dusty, and, in some spots, rusty blade that you've been carrying in your pocket.

***

Aside from doing what I can to not increase the population of them, I don't spend time concerning myself with the concerns of our fallen dead. Their struggles have ended. But the struggles of those we lightly think of as "wounded" -- the ones we do not see, even when they're square before our eyes -- do not end until they too join their quiet and forever still comrades.

So here's how it's going to work, using two analogies.

In the first analogy you're the parent of a 4-year-old. You've just returned from grocery shopping. You've parked the car in the front drive, and have taken the child inside and have situated it in the living room, in front of the TV. You then begin to busy yourself with fetching the bags of groceries, racing as quickly as possible so as to not leave your youngster out of your sight any longer than is absolutely necessary. You're at the refrigerator putting the milk away when you hear the front door creak open, then slam shut. You call out your child's name, but there is no answer.

It's when you get to the front door that the greatest horror you will ever experience begins to play: the child has seen something in the middle of the street and has scampered after it. And the driver coming down the street has had no chance whatsoever to stop in time. The entire world in that moment flashes blazing white. The sound of tires screeching are louder than a cannon's roar. The 'thud' of the youngster being bounced off a front bumper and the horrifying screams issuing involuntarily out the child's lungs and throat reverberate a thousand times louder than even that. Time has stopped.

You burst from the door. You're hysterically shouting your child's name and for someone to call 9-1-1at the top of your lungs. Into the street, you scoop your child into your arms. Eyes you love more than your own life look pleadingly into yours for the answers to what happened, why, and what's happening to me? The child's cries turn into whimpers, and then bare whispers. With every part of every second the breathing becomes more difficult, less strong. And all the while you're pleading "Oh God, oh dear God, please God . . ." You'll make any deal. The legs of the child that you, in raptured tears of joy, welcomed into your life begin to tremor. The little arm that's grasping your shirt begins to quiver. And the gaze that's clinging to yours for dear life grows dimmer and dimmer and dimmer until a blank film falls over the lens, and it's all over.

Tough to handle? The single most unthinkable, most obscene moment a parent can ever suppose, and one no parent ever wants to live, let alone relive? But let's get even more thoroughly obscene, if that's possible.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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You come close to capturing the folly of war with ... by Margaret Bassett on Monday, Nov 9, 2009 at 9:20:41 AM
beyond any reasonable doubt that the argument ' Wa... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Nov 9, 2009 at 12:22:48 PM
Mark writes: "A soldier picks up a weapon and with... by Ed Tubbs on Monday, Nov 9, 2009 at 1:22:12 PM
to brush off the horror.Surely, you are right- the... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Nov 9, 2009 at 1:39:41 PM
No matter what we may ask of them, should they not... by KenH on Monday, Nov 9, 2009 at 2:25:53 PM
I agree with the above. People were sent to Viet N... by John S. Hatch on Monday, Nov 9, 2009 at 3:34:32 PM
Don't know about being a soldier. Never was. My co... by mikel paul on Monday, Nov 9, 2009 at 5:47:46 PM
My only regret is that both my sons were in combat... by Jason Paz on Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009 at 4:35:56 AM

 

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