On this day of remembrance for our victorious dead, I strongly recommend that you all read Losing the War, by Lee Sandlin. An essay maybe 20 pages long, it makes the case that our wars have been all but forgotten by the American people, in many cases because it was simply too terrible to describe. Although he illustrates his thesis with World War 2, it is still a marvelous essay on the nature of war, drawing from many elements of North European culture. I’ll briefly post a couple quotes from it, and then the link to the essay, should you wish to read the whole thing yourselves. If you want to understand why we are so grateful to our soldiers, then I beg of you, read this.
“When I was taking my survey a friend told me that he was sitting with his father, a veteran of the European campaign, watching a TV special on the 50th anniversary of D day. My friend suddenly had the impulse to ask a question that had never occurred to him in his entire adult life: "What was it really like to be in a battle?"
His father opened his mouth to answer -- and then his jaw worked, his face reddened, and, without saying a word, he got up and walked out of the room. That's the truth about the war: the sense that what happened over there simply can't be told in the language of peace.”
“Around 100,000 Japanese soldiers died on Okinawa -- a few hundred were captured, mostly those who were too badly wounded to commit suicide. About 100,000 of the native inhabitants of the island died as well. Almost 8,000 Americans were killed or missing; almost 32,000 were wounded. And there were more than 26,000 "neuropsychiatric" casualties -- more than a third of the American casualties in the Okinawa combat zone were soldiers who were driven insane.”
“So what did the people I asked know about the war? Nobody could tell me the first thing about it. Once they got past who won they almost drew a blank. All they knew were those big totemic names -- Pearl Harbor, D day, Auschwitz, Hiroshima -- whose unfathomable reaches of experience had been boiled down to an abstract atrocity. The rest was gone. Kasserine, Leyte Gulf, Corregidor, Falaise, the Ardennes didn't provoke a glimmer of recognition; they might as well have been off-ramps on some exotic interstate. I started getting the creepy feeling that the war had actually happened a thousand years ago, and so it was forgivable if people were a little vague on the difference between the Normandy invasion and the Norman Conquest and couldn't say offhand whether the boats sailed from France to England or the other way around.
What had happened, for instance, at one of the war's biggest battles, the Battle of Midway? It was in the Pacific, there was something about aircraft carriers. Wasn't there a movie about it, one of those Hollywood all-star behemoths in which a lot of admirals look worried while pushing toy ships around a map? (Midway, released in 1976 and starring Glenn Ford, Charlton Heston, and -- inevitably -- Henry Fonda.) A couple of people were even surprised to hear that Midway Airport was named after the battle, though they'd walked past the ugly commemorative sculpture in the concourse so many times. All in all, this was a dispiriting exercise. The astonishing events of that morning, the "fatal five minutes" on which the war and the fate of the world hung, had been reduced to a plaque nobody reads, at an airport with a vaguely puzzling name, midway between Chicago and nowhere at all.”
“"The infantryman hates shells more than anything else," Bill Mauldin wrote about the front lines in Italy. His phrasing makes it sound like the men were expressing an aesthetic preference, like a choice among distasteful rations. But "shells" weren't a few rounds of artillery floating in at odd intervals. They were deafening, unrelenting, maddening, terrifying. One fortified American position in the Pacific recorded being hit in a single day by 16,000 shells. In the middle of an artillery barrage hardened veterans would hug each other and sob helplessly. Men caught in a direct hit were unraveled by the blast, blown apart into shards of flying skeleton that would maim or kill anyone nearby. Afterward the survivors would sometimes discover one of their buddies so badly mangled they couldn't understand how he could still be breathing; all they could do was give him the largest dose of morphine they dared and write an "M" for "morphine" on his forehead in his own blood, so that nobody else who found him would give him a second, fatal dose. (One soldier marked with that "M" was Bob Dole, wounded in Italy in 1945; he wasn't released from the hospital until 1948.) Commanders came to prefer leading green troops into combat, because the veterans were far more scared. They knew what was coming.”
By: Henry B.
'Fire of the Spirit' Teen blog is run by Henry B. To find more information about this blog, go here