Monday, May 28, 2012

Most Americans Have No Idea What Happens in War.

A must read for Memorial Day: Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards by Arthur Silber

An excerpt:

"In an essay written some time ago, I quoted Paul Fussell at length, on "The Culture of War, and the Culture of Chickenshit." Fussell has written at least two indispensable books: The Great War and Modern Memory, about World War I, and Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. In Wartime, at the opening of the chapter, "'The Real War Will Never Get in the Books,'" Fussell writes (highlights added and footnotes omitted in all the following excerpts):
What was it about the war that moved the troops to constant verbal subversion and contempt? It was not just the danger and fear, the boredom and uncertainty and loneliness and deprivation. It was rather the conviction that optimistic publicity and euphemism had rendered their experience so falsely that it would never be readily communicable. They knew that in its representation to the laity what was happening to them was systematically sanitized and Norman Rockwellized, not to mention Disneyfied. They knew that despite the advertising and publicity, where it counted their arms and equipment were worse than the Germans'. They knew that their automatic rifles (World War One vintage) were slower and clumsier, and they knew that the Germans had a much better light machine gun. ... And they knew that the greatest single weapon of the war, the atomic bomb excepted, was the German 88-mm flat-trajectory gun, which brought down thousands of bombers and tens of thousands of soldiers. The Allies had nothing as good, despite one of them designating itself The World's Greatest Industrial Power. The troops' disillusion and their ironic response, in song and satire and sullen contempt, came from knowing that the home front then (and very likely historiography later) could be aware of none of these things.

The Great War brought forth the stark, depressing Journey's End; the Second, as John Ellis notes, the tuneful South Pacific. The real war was tragic and ironic, beyond the power of any literary or philosophic analysis to suggest, but in unbombed America especially, the meaning of the war seemed inaccessible. As experience, thus, the suffering was wasted. The same tricks of publicity and advertising might have succeeded in sweetening the actualities of Vietnam if television and a vigorous uncensored moral journalism hadn't been brought to bear. America has not yet understood what the Second World War was like and has thus been unable to use such understanding to re-interpret and re-define the national reality to arrive at something like public maturity.
The truth today is still worse, for we have significantly regressed. Even as our governing class remains absolute in its determination to avoid the central and most fundamental lessons from Vietnam, it has remembered and applied certain lessons very well indeed. The horrors of Iraq, including the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent Iraqis, never even enter the consciousness of most Americans. The dead and horrifically injured Americans are shuffled offstage without ceremony. The great majority of Americans continue in their preferred mode of existence: intellectually ignorant and lazy, spiritually fat and self-satisfied, and completely oblivious to the unimaginable suffering their government inflicts in other parts of the world.

Our national media remain cowed and intimidated, and they refuse, a few honorable exceptions aside, to provide details of the daily and hourly horrors in Iraq to the public. A single major newspaper could provide a noble and invaluable service: if they gave a damn at all about unnecessary death and suffering, they would select the most awful and horrifying picture they could find -- a body with its guts falling out, a bloody corpse shorn of arms and legs, a mutilated face made unrecognizable -- and fill up their entire front page with it, a new one every day. Perhaps after a month or two, enough Americans would demand that their government stop butchering people who never harmed us. [To achieve the sought-for effect, the pictures obviously should be of Iraqis, and only Iraqis. The Iraqis had no choice about our criminal war of aggression, and the endless destruction we have unleashed; the United States did -- and does, even today. We could leave, as we quickly would if we had any remaining decency and humanity, but we won't.]
Most Americans have no idea at all what happens in war. I certainly don't pretend that I do, either -- but I read a great deal on the subject, and I try to learn. From Fussell's Wartime again:

What annoyed the troops and augmented their sardonic, contemptuous attitude toward those who viewed them from afar was in large part this public innocence about the bizarre damage suffered by the human body in modern war. The troops could not contemplate without anger the lack of public knowledge of the Graves Registration form used by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps with its space for indicating: "Members Missing." You would expect front-line soldiers to be struck and hurt by bullets and shell fragments, but such is the popular insulation from the facts that you would not expect them to be hurt, sometimes killed, by being struck by parts of their friends' bodies violently detached. If you asked a wounded soldier or marine what hit him, you'd hardly be ready for the answer, "My buddy's head," or his sergeant's heel or his hand, or a Japanese leg, complete with shoe and puttees, or the West Point ring on his captain's severed hand. What drove the troops to fury was the complacent, unimaginative innocence of their home fronts and rear echelons about such experiences as the following, repeated in essence tens of thousands of times. Captain Peter Royle, a British artillery forward observer, was moving up a hill in a night attack in North Africa. "I was following about twenty paces behind," he says,
when there was a blinding flash a few yards in front of me. I had no idea what it was and fell flat on my face. I found out soon enough: a number of infantry were carrying mines strapped to the small of their backs, and either a rifle or machine gun bullet had struck one, which had exploded, blowing the man into three pieces -- two legs and head and chest. His inside was strewn on the hillside and I crawled into it in the darkness.
...

Sometimes damage to the body was well beyond endurance, for those perceiving as well as those damaged. Once in the Normandy battles a British major accompanied a stretcher party searching for a wounded man earlier parties had missed. "Sure enough," he says,
we found a poor little chap with both legs blown off above the knees, moaning softly and, I remember, he was saying, "Oh dear! Oh dear!" The stretcher-bearer shook his head and, I thought, looked pointedly at my revolver.
And there's an indication of what can be found on the ground after an air crash in one soldier's memories of a morning after an artillery exchange in North Africa. Neil McCallum and his friend "S." come upon the body of a man who had been lying on his back when a shell, landing at his feet, eviscerated him.
"Good God," said S., shocked, "here's one of his fingers." S. stubbed with his toe on the ground some feet from the corpse. There is more horror in a severed digit than in a man dying: it savors of mutilation. "Christ," went on S. in a very low voice, "look, it's not his finger."
Toward the end of the same chapter, Fussell writes about "Eugene B. Sledge's memoir of a boy's experience with 'the old breed,' the United States Marines," which Fussell describes as "one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war." Fussell says the tone of Sledge's book is "unpretentious, unsophisticated, modest, and decent." Fussell continues:
But for Sledge the worst of all was a week-long stay in rain-soaked foxholes on a muddy ridge facing the Japanese, a site strewn with decomposing corpses turning various colors, nauseating with the stench of death, "an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool." Because there were no latrines and because there was no moving in daylight, the men relieved themselves in their holes and flung the excrement out into the already foul mud. It was a latter-day Verdun, the Marine occupation of that ridge, where the artillery shellings uncovered scores of half-buried Marine and Japanese bodies, making the position "a stinking compost pile":
If a Marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting. I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, legging lacings, and the like. . . .

We didn't talk about such things. They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans. . . . It is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane. . . . To me the war was insanity.
And from the other side of the world the young British officer Neil McCallum issues a similar implicit warning against the self-delusive attempt to confer high moral meaning on these grievous struggles for survival. Far from rationalizing their actions as elements of a crusade, McCallum and his men, he says, "have ceased largely to think or believe at all":
Annihilation of the spirit. The game does not appear to be worth the candle. What is seen through the explosions is that this, no less than any other war, is not a moral war. Greek against Greek, against Persian, Roman against the world, cowboys against Indians, Catholics against Protestants, black men against white -- this is merely the current phase of an historical story. It is war, and to believe it is anything but a lot of people killing each other is to pretend it is something else, and to misread man's instinct to commit murder.
Accounts of this kind are unknown to the American public. Most Americans are unaware of any and all such details; most Americans do not want to know them and will stop you, should you try to tell them. To the extent our political leaders are cognizant of such facts, they do everything in their power to prevent them from reaching the public. After all, our governing class might undertake the next campaign of slaughter any day now; if Americans knew what that slaughter actually entailed, they might not go along with the smug complacence they have exhibited on all such previous occasions. In an identical manner, if the ignorance of the American public were penetrated to any significant degree, they might demand an immediate end to the pointless murder in Iraq. But our governing class must maintain its prerogatives; as Higgs notes, it would not do to let the inmates run the asylum.

So the myths prevail. Our wars are always noble, fought for the purest of motives. Our warriors are similarly noble, engaged in a high-minded crusade. They butcher and slaughter, and are butchered and slaughtered themselves, so that "civilization" might be preserved. Never mind that many of the warriors themselves would not agree. Never mind that the front-line soldiers know that war is insanity, and only insanity. Never mind the overwhelming, senseless, futile, endless horror of what actually happens in combat, and the details that never reach the public.

1 comments:

Anonymous,  20:15  

Here's the thing. So-called liberals/Democrats/progressives support Obama no matter what because he represents their side...their team, no matter how many people they kill/torture. These partisan people vastly outnumber those who oppose actions regardless of the party undertaking those actions.

In other words, tptb want Obama in office because those who usually protest war do not protest when it's their team in office. Not to mention, he's black, making people on the left even less likely to suspect him.

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