"So what happened "I wasted 'em he said, then puffed on his cigarette. Just another day at work, killing three men on the way to eat a mango. How are you ever going to go back to the world?" i asked him. A few months later a ten-year-old vietcong girl blew him up with a command-detonated booby trap. War is a brutal, deadly game, but a game, the best there. And men love games. You can come back from war broken in mind or body, or not come back at all. But if you come back whole you bring with you the knowledge that you have explored regions of your soul that in most men will always remain uncharted.
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Louis and then four years later commanding the Union armies, is the best example, although i knew many marines who were great warriors but whose ability to adapt to civilian life was minimal. Advertisement - continue reading Below, i remember Kirby, a skinny kid with just you and me lord tattooed on his shoulder. Kirby had plan extended his tour in vietnam twice. He had long since ended his attachment to any known organization and lived alone out in the most dangerous areas, where he wandered about night and day, dressed only in his battered fatigue trousers with.45 automatic tucked into the waistband, his skinny shoulders and. One day while out on patrol we found him on the floor of a hut, being tended by a girl in black pajamas, a bullet wound in his arm. He asked me for a cigarette, then eyed me, deciding if I was worth telling his story. "I stopped in for a mango, broad daylight, and there bigger'n hell were three nva officers, real pretty tan uniforms. They got this map spread out oil a table, just eyeballin' it, makin' themselves right at home. They looked. I looked at them. Then they went for their nine millimeters and I went for.45.
War, since it steals our youth, offers a sanction to play boys' games. War replaces the difficult gray areas daily life with an eerie, serene clarity. In war you usually know who is your enemy paper and who is your friend, and are given means of dealing with both. (That was, incidentally, one of the great problems with vietnam: it was hard to tell friend from foe-it was too much like ordinary life.). War is an escape from the everyday into a special world where the bonds that hold us to our duties in daily life-the bonds of family, community, work, disappear. In war, all bets are off. It's the frontier beyond the last settlement, it's Las Vegas. The men who do well in peace do not necessarily do well at war, while those who were misfits and failures may find themselves touched with fire. Grant, selling firewood on the streets.
Advertisement - continue reading database Below, advertisement - continue reading Below, most people fear freedom; war removes that fear. And like a stem father, it provides with its order and discipline both security and an irresistible urge to rebel against it, a constant yearning to fly over the cuckoo's nest. The midnight requisition is an honored example. I remember one elaborately planned and meticulously executed raid on our principal enemy-the. Army, not the north vietnamese-to get lightweight blankets and cleaning fluid for our rifles repeated later in my tour, as a mark of my changed status, to obtain a refrigerator and an air conditioner for our office. To escape the vietnamese police we tied sheets together and let ourselves down from the top floor of whorehouses, and on one memorable occasion a friend who is now a respectable member of our diplomatic corps hid himself supermarket inside a rolled-up Oriental rug while the. Leaving him to make his way back stark naked to our base six miles away.
Some of them are fairly painless to discuss; others go almost too deep, stir the caldron too much. I'll give the more respectable reasons first. Part of the love of war stems from its being an experience of great intensity; its lure is the fundamental human passion to witness, to see things, what the bible calls the lust of the eye and the marines in vietnam called eye fucking. War stops time, intensifies experience to the point of a terrible ecstasy. It is the dark opposite of that moment of passion caught in "Ode on a grecian Urn "For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd/ For ever panting, and forever young. " War offers endless exotic experiences, enough "I couldn't fucking believe it! s to last a lifetime.
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I miss it because i loved it, loved it in strange write and troubling ways. When I talk about loving war I don't mean the romantic notion of war that once mesmerized generations raised on Walter Scott. What little was left of that was ground into the mud at Verdun and Passchendaele: honor and glory do not survive the machine gun. And it's not the mindless bliss of martyrdom that sends Iranian teenagers armed with sticks against Iraqi tanks. Nor do i mean the sort of hysteria that can grip a whole country, the way during the falklands war the English press inflamed the lust that lurks beneath the cool exterior of Britain. That is vicarious war, the thrill of participation without risk, the lust of the audience for blood.
It is easily fanned, that lust; even the invasion of a tiny island like grenada can. Like all lust, for as long as it lasts it dominates everything else; a nation's other problems are seared away, a phenomenon exploited by kings, dictators, and presidents since civilization began. Advertisement - continue reading Below, and I don't mean war as an addiction, the constant rush that war junkies get, the crazies mailing ears home to their girlfriends, the zoomies who couldn't get an erection unless they were cutting in the afterburners on their F-4s. And, finally, i'm not talking about how some men my age feel today, men who didn't go to war but now have a sort of nostalgic longing for something they missed, some classic male experience, the way some women who didn't have children worry they. I'm talking about why thoughtful, loving men can love war even while knowing and hating. Like any love, the love of war is built on a complex of often contradictory reasons.
But progress has simply given man the means to make war even more horrible; no wars in our savage past can begin to match the brutality of the wars spawned in this century, in the beautifully ordered, civilized landscape of Europe, where everyone is literate. War is not all aberration; it is part of the family. The crazy uncle we try-in vain-to keep locked in the basement. Advertisement - continue reading Below, advertisement - continue reading Below, consider my own example. I am not a violent person.
I have not been in a fight since grade school. Aside from being a fairly happy-go-lucky carnivore, i have no lust for blood, nor do i enjoy killing animals, fish, or even insects. My days are passed in reasonable contentment, filled with the details of work and everyday life. I am also a father now, and a male who has helped create life is war's natural enemy. I have seen what war does to children, makes them killers or victims, robs them of their parents, their homes, and their innocence-steals their childhood and leaves them marked in body, mind, and spirit. I spent most of my combat tour in vietnam trudging through its jungles and rice paddies without incident, but I have seen enough of war to know that I never want to fight again, and that I would do everything in my power to keep. Then why, at the oddest times-when i am in a meeting or running errands, or on beautiful summer evenings, with the light fading and children playing around me-do my thoughts turn back fifteen years to a war I didn't believe in and never wanted. Why do i miss it?
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And last year in Grenada American boys charged into battle playing Wagner, a new generation aping the movies of vietnam the way we aped the movies of World paper War 11, learning nothing, remembering nothing. Alfred kazin wrote that war is the enduring condition of twentieth-century man. He was only partly right. War is the enduring condition of man, period. Men have gone to war over everything from Helen of Troy to jenkins's ear. Two million Frenchmen and Englishmen died in muddy trenches in World War I because a student shot an archduke. The truth is, the reasons don't matter. There is a reason for every war and a war for every reason. For centuries men have hoped that with history would come progress, and with progress, peace.
But we were also mute, i suspect, out of shame. Nothing in the way we are raised admits the possibility of loving war. It is at best a necessary evil, a patriotic duty to be paragraph discharged and then put behind. To love war is to mock the very values we supposedly fight for. It is to be insensitive, reactionary, a brute. But it may be more dangerous, both for men and nations, to suppress the reasons men love war than to admit them. Apocalypse now, robert duvall, playing a brigade commander, surveys a particularly horrific combat scene and says, with great sadness, "you know, someday this war's gonna be over. " he is clearly meant to be a psychopath, decorating enemy bodies with playing cards, riding to war with Wagner blaring. We laugh at him-hey!
it too, loved it as much as anything that has happened to them before or since. And how do you explain that to your wife, your children, your parents, or your friends? That's why men in their sixties and seventies sit in their dens and recreation rooms around America and know that nothing in their life will equal the day they parachuted into. Lo or charged the bunker on okinawa. That's why veterans' reunions are invariably filled with boozy awkwardness, forced camaraderie ending in sadness and tears: you are together again, these are the men who were your brothers, but it's not the same, can never be the same. That's why when we returned from vietnam we moped around, listless, not interested in anything or anyone. Something had gone out of our lives forever, and our behavior on returning was inexplicable except as the behavior of men who had lost a great perhaps the great-love of their lives, and had no way to tell anyone about. Advertisement - continue reading Below, in part we couldn't describe our feelings because the language failed us: the civilian-issue adjectives and nouns, verbs and adverbs, seemed made for a different universe. There were no metaphors that connected the war to everyday life.
The first morning we were up at dawn trying to save five newborn rabbits. Hiers built a nest of rabbit fur and straw in his barn and positioned a lamp to provide warmth against the write bitter cold. Advertisement - continue reading Below "What people can't understand hiers said, gently picking up each tiny rabbit and placing it in the nest, "is how much fun vietnam was. I loved it, and I can't tell anybody.". And as I drove back from Vermont in a blizzard, my children asleep in the back of the car, i had to admit that for all these years i also had loved it, and more than i knew. I hated war, too. Ask me, ask any man who has been to war about his experience, and chances are we'll say we don't want to talk about it-implying that we hated it so much, it was so terrible, that we would rather leave it buried. And it is no mystery why men hate war.
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Originally published in the november 1984 paper issue. I last saw hiers in a rice paddy in vietnam. He was nineteen then-my wonderfully skilled and maddeningly insubordinate radio operator. For months we were seldom more than three feet apart. Then one day he went home, and fifteen years passed before we met by accident last winter at the vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. A few months later i visited hiers and his wife. Susan, in Vermont, where they run a bed-and -breakfast place.