A bit more than a week ago an elderly woman made the quip to me, "I'd rather fight them over there than here." She was referring to the there-is-no-good-answer to the question President Obama is stewing over: whether to accede to General McChrystal's request for an additional 40,000 - 80,000 additional ground forces for the war in Afghanistan.
The remark was also despicably thoughtless because not only could "she" never be a part of the "we" whom we are blithely shoving into the physical and mental sausage making machine, when "she" was younger and had the chance to be one of those women (the field hospital nurses and Red Cross doughnut dolly volunteers who visited the combat units), she had "other priorities."
Here I am not criticizing her failure to volunteer in her youth, rather I'm condemning a thought process that so merrily today trips over the stench and toxin filled Southeast Asian moat without even pausing to ponder what once was in that oozing moat. Could have taken an up-close-and-personal peek, but didn't. And doesn't even today give the first pause to ponder the subsurface ghastly, slime-covered creepy-crawlies that inhabit her words.
But . . .. Those in a moment.
Everyone has seen them, the homeless vets. Across America, they're in parking lots and at freeway on-ramps. Unwashed and unshaven and in soiled jeans and jackets, and with empty eyes that stare unfocused into the sunlight, they hold signs made from corrugated cardboard that say "Hungry." Because they are!
I've seen the soccer moms in their late-model SUVs turn away. I've seen the whitest of white senior citizens swerve their shiny Cadillacs into the farthest lane from them. I've heard the disdain-filled comments deriding them. As if they -- the veterans, the unwashed and homeless -- should have at least a level of pride that would prevent them from discomforting those of us who are comfortable. "I don't care -- You would never catch me begging like that" is the tenor of the cast derision.
Yeah . . . you're too good. Right?
Well, tell you what: I don't see it quite that way. The way I see it, they're so much better persons than all who scorn them. Those who look away remind me of the worthless, cowardly town folk in High Noon, starring Gary Cooper, or the middle-age couple in Hombre, starring Paul Newman; the upright citizens, the finer citizens who felt and feel that by some yet to be discovered right they are somehow entitled to being protected, to being rescued . . . by someone else. They could not and cannot picture themselves getting down in the dirt. That wouldn't be who they were. So let me help out a bit.
What follows is "the moment" I promised five paragraphs earlier. And it matters not at all whether the soldier or marine was a draftee or a volunteer.
Basic training or boot camp was designed to peel away as much of the recruit's civility and individuality as possible. He -- and now she -- must be able to kill another human being. It's not a clean exercise. None of this John Wayne stuff. A round from a military weapon is not surgical. It's messy. Take a 45-round to the hand or arm, or hit a human target with one, and the hand or the arm is rendered to a gristly rendition of stringy hamburger. A fifty caliber round leaves nothing but a tattered recollection of what had been there. Grenades are worse. Heads get blown completely away, as do guts. Guts splatter over everyone in the vicinity. And they're smelly things. They stink of what they once contained. Same thing, mortar rounds. And I understand the IEDs that today's Iraq and Afghanistan boots are facing are every bit as ugly.
Nor can basic training nor boot camp inure you from the horrors you inflicted on another human being, even if it was unintended. If it was unintended -- that old lady who was inside the hooch, or the little girl, lying lifelessly in her mother's arms . . . the mother looking up into your eyes, pleading with you to answer the "how" and the "why" questions that no one can answer -- and you are especially bent and warped. Forever.
And it's hour after hour, after day after day, after month after month, and time loses all meaning. It is its own macabre Clockwork Orange parallel universe.