from the dead
The whole thing is so utterly insane that it just sickens me. Eileen and I have decided that if war does come the best thing will be to just stay alive and thus add to the number of sane people.
—George Orwell, September 29, 1938
Ten years ago this March a lawyer in my then-office was arrested for uttering the word “why.”
He had just come back from court, then walked a block from the office to join the rest of the staff. We of the staff were gathered on a street corner supporting several dozen people sitting in our small burg’s main street, protesting George II’s lighting the fuse on Operation Iraqi Fiefdom. Shortly before his arrival, state agents had announced that those on the sidewalks needed to leave. Unbeknownst to us, then, even law-enforcement officers in our little town had received the BushCo national memo: the new tactic was to dissolve such assemblies by dispersing first, and, if necessary, arresting, the observers, rather than the observed.
This lawyer had not been present for the dispersal announcement. When he reached the corner, and asked us what was going on, before we could reply, a gendarme brusquely informed him that he needed to leave the sidewalk.
He then asked, as would any reasonable human, “why?”
His arms were immediately pulled behind his back; he was cuffed, arrested, and frog-marched to a waiting cop-bus.
I recall this event often. For the word “why” is the one word that those who promote and pursue war never want uttered. Because following that word to its inevitable conclusion always exposes the Potemkin facade erected to excuse senseless slaughter.
For there is no answer, here, to “why?” Other than: “Madness. Madness.“
From time to time appear approving citations to the 2000-year-old recruiting poster from Horace: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
For instance, they like that, over in the IGTNT obscenity on StormKos.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori translates as: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
It is even the motto, of some outfit or another, among the serial killers, murdering for money, there in the US death industry,
But it is a lie. A foul, suppurating lie.
Wilfred Owen, a man who actually did die, “for his country,” machine-gunned to death a week before the end of WWI, knew it to be a lie, and exposed it as such in his poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est.”
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The various events that seek to solemnize and sanctify the endless senseless slaughters that have occurred across this globe, throughout the millennia, are frauds. Every one. Their purpose is but to console the commemorators, reassure these that they are not complicit in constructing and condoning charnel houses. At such events people confront an abattoir, and pronounce it a perfumed garden. These events, they are poisonous rituals of dark magic.
Willi Heinrich served four years as a combat infantryman in the German army during WWII. He tramped over 8000 miles of Russian territory: to the suburbs of Moscow, and back again. Over the course of his service in it, his division lost 12 times its original strength. He was severely wounded on five separate occasions.
Such a man might be expected to have a better idea than most of how a nation should properly memorialize its war dead.
Heinrich is best known in the United States, if he’s known at all, as the author of Cross Of Iron, a novel adapted by two ex-Marines, director Sam Peckinpah and screenwriter Walter Kelley, into what Orson Welles pronounced the greatest anti-war film ever made.
Welles, here, as often, was right.
Cross of Iron is a hard read. It is 1943, and the German army is preparing to lose the Taman peninsula. The officers and men of the German Army who people the book know that the war is lost to them; in the world of the book and the film, as too often in the world of Reality, most lose their lives simply so that a Prussian aristocrat may secure an Iron Cross. Before swiftly returning to safer climes.
Heinrich’s next novel, variously titled in English Crack Of Doom and The Savage Mountain (in the titles, at least, Heinrich has been consistently disserved by his translators), is an even harder read. It is now December 1944, and Russian forces are poised to sweep the Germans out of Czechoslovakia. Most of the novel’s principals, male and female, are last seen hanging upside down, dying slowly and in inconceivable agony, gutted by Czech partisans. The only character with the remotest chance at something approaching a future is a German soldier who, on the final page, and quite rightly, deserts.
Which brings us to Heinrich’s next novel, rendered into English as The Crumbling Fortress. All of the principals in this novel are deserters. There are two Swiss who, in violation of Swiss law, crossed the border in 1941 to enlist in the German army, in order to fight “Communists.” There is a Russian who deserted his nation’s army to fight with the Germans. There is a Frenchman and his wife; he had fought for France and been captured and imprisoned in a POW camp, but was sprung early by a relative in the collaborationist government and appointed mayor of a village. And there are two German Jews, who bobbed adrift through Europe as Europe either tried to kill them, or turned away.
In the novel’s present, it is August 1944, and the Americans have landed at Toulon. These seven people have retreated to an abandoned village in the French Alps, built at the lip of a hollow mountain that is crumbling away, hoping that the contending German and American forces—to wit, the war—will pass them by.
This book is about living. Not dying. It as if, after exorcising his war service in the unrelieved carnage of his two previous novels, Heinrich could no longer bring himself to kill people. Even fictionally. There is even a long passage in which a soldier finds himself, to his ultimate satisfaction, unable to kill a lizard.
The only fully-sketched character to die in the book is a man dying anyway from tuberculosis. And who is killed in unconsciousness. As explained by his killer. Who has been coarsened by his service so that he is nothing but that: a killer.
Had he been ready he would have fired into the air. What happened was like a chain reaction, and between the alarm bell ringing in his head to the reflex movement of his hands, the instinctive thumb pressure on the safety catch and the automatic grip on the trigger-guard, less time elapsed than his reason required to cancel out the short-circuit action of his limbs. He simply fired on the spur of the moment as he had done for three long years; in that time he had acquired the habit of firing a fraction of a second before his brain began to function.
Most of this book is description, interior processing, talk. Especially talk.
It is Heinrich getting it all out.
Early on in the novel, before one of the Swiss men has admitted to the others, or even to himself, that he fought for Germany from choice, even against the wishes of his own nation, he protests that “as soldiers we only did our duty.”
To which the old German Jew replies:
“I don’t doubt it. But just think what we might have avoided in this century without soldiers who only did their duty.”
This old Jewish man, Knopf, had volunteered to fight for Germany in WWI; he then spent WWII evading the efforts of his own country to kill him, and his daughter, Anna.
The French mayor, Vieale, had volunteered to fight for France in WWI. Vieale, asked if he would have volunteered for this second war, into which he was impressed, responds:
“No, Monsieur, certainly not. I remembered the first war only too well. But with young people it’s a bit different. Why should they be any more sensible than I was thirty years ago?”
“Somebody should have told them,” threw in Anna.
“Some tried to. But when you shout against the wind, no one hears you.”
Knopf notes that in Germany, though there the nation lost tens of thousands of men, no one remembers the WWI battle of Verdun.
The mayor’s wife replies that Verdun is certainly remembered in France.
Knopf nodded. “For the French Verdun is something like a national shrine, but in the wrong sense, it seems to me. Instead of pointing a warning the military achievement is glorified. But that is not the way to speak for those who paved the road to Verdun with their bones. When we sing the national anthem in a military cemetery it is, of course, a very moving event, but it distorts the true nature of the matter. We should rig up giant loudspeakers and relay recordings of the screams of the wounded and dying and then no one would ever forget that cemetery.
“We ought not to play anthems over their graves or make solemn speeches in remembrance of them. A people which is proud of its war dead has learned nothing from the war. This is only my personal opinion, but as long as we have no stronger feelings than a bad conscience about our dead when we talk of them, then there will always be other wars. It all began with falsehood and it will one day finish with falsehood: that is what I mean by inevitability. Lies breed death, death breeds lies and so it goes on. By distorting the meaning of our existence we have legitimized mass murder.”
After this novel, Heinrich turned away from the war. He began writing novels about post-war Germany, describing a land where returning foot-soldiers were thrown onto the scrap-heap, where those who in even the smallest way resisted the Nazis were shunned, while war criminals and weak-willed collaborators and enablers smoothly moved to seize again the levers of power, with the tacit or express approval of the victorious occupiers. He wrote as a man awake amongst a people sunk into a state of collective amnesia.
Today, in Afghanistan, German soldiers festoon their vehicles with Nazi emblems, mount skulls on the hoods of their patrol vehicles, press their weapons to the temples of Afghan boys, laughingly enacting “mock executions,” and photograph comrades extending their erect penises towards the opened jaws of human skulls.
In La Debacle, Emile Zola chronicles combatants caught in one of the countless wars fought over those bits of dirt known as Alsace and Lorraine in the 1100-plus years between the death of Charlemagne and the close of World War II.
Here, in Zola, in that conflict known as the Franco-Prussian War, a soldier lies pinned down in a cabbage field by artillery fire. The soldier, Maurice, watches with, something like awe, the stretcher-bearers:
tranquilly risking their lives under fire, trying to get to the men who had been hit. They moved forward on hands and knees, taking advantage of ditches, hedges or any other available cover. Then, as soon as they found anyone lying on the ground, their difficult task began. Some lay on their faces, in a pool of blood, at the point of death; others had their mouths full of mud, as though they had been biting the ground; others lay in huddled heaps, arms and legs twisted, chests almost crushed. Then, with the utmost care, the stretcher-bearers would disentangle those who were still breathing, straighten out their limbs, and, raising their heads, do their best to clean them up . . . .
Getting them back was the real difficulty: those who were able to walk they had only to support, but all the others had to be carried, either holding them in their arms like children, or holding them on their backs, with their arms round their necks.
Maurice was watching one of them, a thin, puny lad, staggering under the weight of a heavy sergeant with both legs broken, for all the world like an ant carrying a grain of wheat too big for it, when suddenly a shell exploded, and he saw him lurch forward and disappear from sight. When the smoke cleared away, the sergeant could be seen lying on his back, while the stretcher-bearer was huddled up with his side ripped open. Whereupon another stretcher-bearer appeared, another busy ant, and having first turned his mate over and discovered that he was dead, proceeded to hoist the wounded sergeant on his back and carry him off.
As his own “side’s” artillery rolls into the cabbage field, and then begins firing incessantly—though “there was not a Prussian in sight, only puffs of smoke, rising in the air and floating for a moment in the sunlight”—Maurice:
looking over his shoulder,  was surprised to see, in a remote valley protected by steep hills, a peasant at work in the fields, patiently walking behind his plough, which was drawn by a big white horse. Why waste time? Just because there was a battle on, the corn wouldn’t stop growing, people still had to live.
Later in the day, after the pointless deaths of thousands, Maurice, now himself a stretcher-bearer, bearing the body of his wounded friend, pauses at a stream, where:
he was amazed to see, on his right, at the bottom of a remote valley protected by steep hills, the same peasant that he had noticed earlier in the morning, still driving his plough, drawn by the big white horse. What was the point of wasting a day? The corn wouldn’t stop growing or people living, just because there happened to be a battle.
We did what we could but it was not enough because I found you here. All of you are not just names on the wall, you are alive. Your blood’s on my hands, your screams in my ears, your eyes in my soul. I told you you’d be alright but I lied. Please forgive me. I see your face in my son. I can’t bear the thought. You told me about your wife, your kids, your girl, your mother. Then you died. I should have done more. Your pain is ours. Please, God. I’ll never forget your faces. I can’t, you’re still alive.
For there is one thing we can know for certain: the horrors of war are not cabined to those who fight in them.
The centrality of war is the intentional killing of human beings.
While the healer is charged with preserving life—to “abstain from doing harm.”
When those worlds collide, when a healer is tasked with applying the healing arts to those deliberately damaged by war, then, as one nurse learned, “you can never be ordinary again.”
Snowden was lying on his back on the floor with his legs stretched out, still burdened cumbersomely by his flak suit, his flak helmet, his parachute harness and his Mae West. The wound Yossarian saw was on the outside of Snowden’s thigh, as large and as deep as a football, it seemed. It was impossible to tell where the shreds of his saturated coveralls ended and the ragged flesh began.
Pediatrician Ronald J. Glasser in 1968 was assigned as an Army major to a hospital at Zama, in Japan. He never got near Vietnam. His initial assignment was in fact to treat people clear out of the war: the children of Japan-based American officers, and of other high-ranking government officials living there. But with six to eight thousand wounded Americans flowing out of Vietnam each month, Glasser, like every other available physician, was soon called upon to treat the war-ravaged too.
And so, there in Japan, every day, Glasser encountered the war: “the blind 17-year-olds stumbling down the hallway, the shattered high-school football player being wheeled to physical therapy.”
Glasser had trained to heal children; in Japan he found himself treating children. Children sent to kill, returned mangled and maimed. Children broken, who would always be broken. As Glasser himself broke.
“At first, when it was all new,” Glasser wrote in his memoir, 365 Days, “I was glad I didn’t know them; I was relieved they were your children, not mine.
“After a while, I changed.”
Glasser’s children “trip over mines and are reduced to vegetables; after a night of grisly hand-to-hand murder they are enraged when the cook runs out of cornflakes; they nervously conspire to kill their swinish senior officers[.]”
Glasser’s children were erased from the earth in ways like this:
Graham was eighteen years old when a tracer round skidded off his flak vest and triggered a grenade in his webbing. He struggled for a moment to pull it off and then, according to the other medic working with him, he jumped out of the aid station, and kept running, with the grenade bouncing against his chest until it went off.
William Styron, in a review of Glasser’s work, recounts the final story in 365 Days:
Major Edwards, a doctor in the hospital burn unit, is faced with the hopeless task of saving a young soldier cruelly burned across 80 percent of his body. The tale is simple, the situation uncomplicated: a dedicated physician, through no other motive than that resulting from the mighty urge to hold back death, trying against all odds to salvage someone who himself is suffering, without complaint, ecstasies of pain. Two human beings, then, locked in the immemorial struggle against inexplicable fate. [T]he moment of the boy’s imminent death and his last cry to the doctor—”I don’t want to go home alone”—seem to rise to form a kind of unbearable epiphany to the inhuman waste and folly of war.
Glasser’s life was utterly changed. He is, today, more than 40 years on, still wedded to those wounded in war: he recently wrote another book, Wounded: Vietnam To Iraq. Wherein we learn that there have been more amputations in Iraq than in any American conflict since the Civil War.
And where we learn that 30 percent of those wounded in Iraq suffer traumatic brain injuries. And that physical injuries combined with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder place the number of Americans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan at well over 100,000.
That “[d]eaths have traditionally been viewed as a measure of potential victory or personal danger in any military conflict . . . But in this war the use of death as a function of peril is not only deceptive, it’s delusional. Death in Iraq is no longer the real measure of risk. The story of this war cannot be told solely in the count of its dead. Whatever else may be said about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is more a war of cripples and disabilities than it is a war of death.”
There was no morphine in the first-aid kit, no protection for Snowden against pain but the numbing shock of the gaping wound itself. The twelve syrettes of morphine had been stolen from their case and replaced by a cleanly lettered note that said: “What’s good for M&M Enterprises is good for the country. Milo Minderbinder.” Yossarian swore at Milo and held two aspirins out to ashen lips unable to receive them. But first he hastily drew a tourniquet around Snowden’s thigh because he could not think what else to do in those first tumultuous moments when his senses were in turmoil, when he knew he must act competently at once and feared he might go to pieces completely. He recovered possession of himself before the tourniquet was finished and loosened it immediately to lessen the danger of gangrene. His mind was clear now, and he knew how to proceed.
“I’m cold,” Snowden said softly. “I’m cold.”
“You’re going to be all right, kid,” Yossarian reassured him with a grin. “You’re going to be all right.”
“I’m cold,” Snowden said again in a frail, childlike voice. “I’m cold.”
“There, there,” Yossarian said, because he did not know what else to say. “There, there.”
“I’m cold,” Snowden whimpered. “I’m cold.”
“There, there. There, there.”
In his first book, Glasser wrote this about combat medics:
A tour of Nam is 12 months; it is like a law of nature. The medics, though, stay on line only seven months. It is not due to the good will of the Army, but to their discovery that seven months is about all these kids can take. After that, they start getting freaky, cutting down on their own water and food so they can carry more medical supplies; stealing plasma bottles and walking around on patrol with five or six pounds of glass in their rucksacks; writing parents and friends so they can buy their own endotracheal tubes; or quite simply refusing to leave their units when their time in Nam is over. And so it goes, and the [North Vietnamese] know it. They will drop the point, trying not to kill him but to wound him, to get him screaming so they can get the medic too. He’ll come. They know he will.
Jack McCloskey was one of those men. He always came. Though already against the war, when he shipped to Vietnam as a combat medic in 1967; issued a .45, he stored it in his footlocker. In his holster he carried battle dressings.
In Strange Ground, McCloskey describes how he changed:
I remember the first guy I treated. A young guy, about eighteen or nineteen. He had stepped on a Bouncing Betty, and it literally blew him apart. I remember running up and him saying, “Doc, Doc, I’m going to live ain’t I?” And me saying, “Sure, babe,” and then he died. I held his hand, and he died. I remember crying. I cried at the next one and I cried at the next one and I cried at the next one. But it got to the point where I stopped crying, because I thought I’d either kill myself or go crazy if I felt for these guys. I started thinking, I’m going to stand up next time in a firefight and expose myself and end it. So I started shutting down. Not having emotions. Steeling myself: You’ve gotta make it, therefore you can’t cry anymore. I put myself in a cage.
Sometimes rather than saving these young lives, McCloskey, when there was nothing more to be done, with morphine, ended them.
Nobody knew I did it. I think some of the guys knew I was going to. I had some guys beg me to do it: “Doc, don’t let me suffer like this.” I did it. And there’s always that thing that sticks in the back of my head—whether they would have made it or not. I don’t think any of them would’ve. But it still doesn’t sit good with me.
After McCloskey’s two best friends, both medics, were killed in action, he himself began using morphine.
“I got to a point where I’d start shaking, there was so much shit going on in my head. When I wanted to scream, I’d do a Syrette. It would calm me down. I would lose the edge of all this horror. I didn’t like the bad memories. If I got high, I could think of Allen and Casey and remember the conversations and good times we had.”
McCloskey took his morphine habit, and fifty-six smuggled Syrettes, with him back to the States. After hearing himself and his fellows denounced as “killers” at an anti-war rally in the fall of 1968, he threw his remaining Syrettes in the ocean.
I never did morphine again. But I had incredible nightmares. There’s one that always comes back when I get really depressed. I’m in combat. I reach in my medic bag to pull out a battle dressing. And as I open the battle dressing, it starts to turn into a body bag.
Jack McCloskey died in 1996 at the age of 53, of heart failure. He had never been well, since his return from Vietnam, suffering the lingering effects of two physical wounds, PTSD, and exposure to Agent Orange.
Stateside, he had become one of the people who patiently worked to awaken the Veteran’s Administration, and the nation, to the existence and effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, helped create Swords To Plowshares, founded Twice Born Men.
According to his friend, Jerry Nicosia, “The cause of veterans’ rights was his purpose. He never gained fame or made money from it, as some did. He lived a totally poor, destitute life, essentially hand to mouth. He was never famous in a national way, but he was famous among his friends. He was always there, always there for Vietnam vets.”
He found a pair of scissors at last and began cutting carefully through Snowden’s coveralls high up above the wound, just below the groin. He cut through the heavy gabardine cloth all the way around the thigh in a straight line. Snowden rolled his head to the other side of his neck in order to stare at Yossarian more directly. A dim, sunken light glowed in his weak and listless eyes. Yossarian, puzzled, tried not to look at him.
When wounded men left the care of medics like McCloskey, they often passed to clearing stations where they were treated by men like Dr. Dennis Greenbaum. These were soldiers too badly injured to survive the 30-minute helicopter trip to an evacuation hospital. Greenbaum found that the equipment needed to treat these men was not available, and that those treating them were too often underqualified for the task.
I remember the chest wounds. Here was I, with no surgical experience, operating on some guy’s chest, which in civilian practice is done by the most senior of surgeons. With no experience and no time to prepare a scrub for operating, I’d have to go in and isolate where the bleeding was, put in chest tubes, and actually do the operation, because there was nobody at the clearing station more qualified than me. There were people at the evacuation hospital, but that was sixty miles away.
Greenbaum’s brigade medical commander had in civilian life “push[ed] diet pills to fat people. So the highest-ranking medical officer in our brigade was this major whose entire experience was running a fat farm.”
Greenbaum discovered that the military had placed a value on human life that depended upon what sort of clothing one wore. And even then, the life of an American dog, was considered of more worth than that of any human being native to Vietnam.
The ARVN troops had the lowest priority for treatment on the list of all the casualties you could get. The highest was any US person. The second-highest was a US dog from the canine corps. The third was NVA. The fourth was VC. And the fifth was ARVN, because they had no particular value. The only thing below them was the civilians.
Sometimes men like Greenbaum were ordered first to save lives, and then to end them.
I had a friend who was in one of the smaller outlying landing zones, and he went out on a chopper to an area where some American soldiers had wounded a number of NVA. They asked him to maintain the NVA while they were being questioned, since these guys were too sick to be brought into the clearing station. He did that, and when it was over and he had all these IVs going and he had resuscitated them, the GIs said to him, “Okay, that’s all we need, thanks very much. Take the IVs out now.” He said, “C’mon, how can we do that? These guys are still alive.” “Well, they’re NVA, and we got all the information we needed.” And he stopped the IVs. I haven’t spoken to him very often in the last ten years, but I can tell you he talks about it every time. It’s bothering him.
He began cutting downward through the coveralls along the inside seam. The yawning wound was dripping blood in several trickles, like snow melting on eaves, but viscous and red, already thickening as it dropped. Yossarian kept cutting through the coveralls to the bottom and peeled open the severed leg of the garment. It fell to the floor with a plop, exposing the hem of khaki undershorts that was soaking up blood on one side as though in thirst. Yossarian was stunned at how waxen and ghastly Snowden’s bare leg looked, how loathsome, how lifeless and esoteric the downy, fine, curled blond hairs on his odd, white shin and calf. The wound, he saw now, was not nearly as large as a football, but as long and wide as his hand, and too raw and deep to see into clearly. The raw muscles inside twitched like live hamburger meat. A long sigh of relief escaped slowly through Yossarian’s mouth when he saw that Snowden was not in danger of dying.
If Greenbaum operated on men with no surgical experience, he was at least a doctor. James Hagenzeiker, shipped to Vietnam as a surgical assistant, was no such creature. He had trained to “just pass a lot of instruments to the surgeon, hold the clamps, stuff like that.” But when he arrived at Phu Bai, “the first case I scrubbed on was a guy who got fragged in the leg and the back.” He was told by the surgeon, “you do the ass and I’ll do the leg.”
Hagenzeiker protested that he had no experience in treating wounded men.
“Don’t they send you guys to a dog lab or something?” responded the surgeon. “Well, this is as good as a dog lab here.” And the surgeon talked him through the procedure.
Hagenzeiker was soon routinely performing debribements and amputations. And the work went to Hagenzeiker’s head: “I thought that once somebody got to the OR,” he recalls, “we could save him. I thought we were miracle workers.”
But not always, could they work miracles.
I remember one guy who came in after some kind of mortar fragment went into his armpit area. He was in the pre-op ward and he was really happy because he figured he’d have this thing fixed and then he’d be out of it because he’d be going home. He was real short. He even wrote his wife a letter, told her what happened, that he was in the hospital and they were going to operate and he’d be home in a month or two. He gave the letter to an orderly to mail, went into the OR, and he died. I don’t even know if they figured out what he had died from. I guess it was from shock. They couldn’t control the bleeding. They went all over the place trying to find out what the hell wh was bleeding from, but it was a real complicated area and the more they went looking around the more he would bleed.
And so Hagenzeiker became practiced in preparing the dead.
Then I had to put him in a shroud. You tie the hands together, tie the feet together, take the penis and tie a piece of cord around it real tight. Because everything goes, they lose their muscle control, and if there’s urine there he’ll urinate all over everything. So you tie it off like it was a hose. You take cotton and stuff it down his throat. Take cotton and stuff it up the nose. Stuff cotton in the anus, because immediately they start to ferment, to bloat out. Then you put them in a sheet, and you have to wrap them up real tight so they can’t flop around.
Snowden quivered when Yossarian pressed against him gently to turn him up slightly on his side.“Did I hurt you?”
“I’m cold,” Snowden whimpered. “I’m cold.”
“There, there,” Yossarian said. “There, there.”
“I’m cold. I’m cold.”
“There, there. There, there.”
Medic Jack McCloskey began his tour crying over the men that were lost. Nurse Jane Piper never stopped.
I got there in March. Around July, I started to cry myself to sleep at night. My older sister died in August, so I went home on emergency leave. I didn’t realize until I got home that I had been crying for a long time. It was just the despair of the injuries on the unit and having to go back the next morning. I didn’t want to change units, but it was getting to me. Taking guys on a stretcher to the back of the hospital, under the canopy, to wash the mud out of their hair. Scraping the mud off all these young bodies that would never be whole again. I didn’t even notice I was crying every night.There seemed to be so little reason. I couldn’t understand why we were there. I have never understood how people can hurt each other so.
“It’s starting to hurt me,” Snowden cried out suddenly with a plaintive, urgent wince.
Yossarian scrambled frantically through the first-aid kit in search of morphine again and found only Milo’s note and a bottle of aspirin. He cursed Milo and held two aspirin tablets out to Snowden. He had no water to offer. Snowden rejected the aspirin with an almost imperceptible shake of his head. His face was pale and pasty. Yossarian removed Snowden’s flak helmet and lowered his head to the floor.
“I’m cold,” Snowden moaned with half-closed eyes. “I’m cold.”
Some now find it strange, that something wasn’t done, when it became apparent that Major Hasan was against Operation Enduring Fiefdom and Operation Iraqi Fiefdom.
It is not strange at all. It is common that men and women in and around wars despise those wars. Jack McCloskey served in Vietnam, while against the war; so did Jane Piper. Pat Tillman, about whose death at the hands of fellow Americans, BushCo and the military lied and lied and lied and lied, had spoken bitterly against Operation Iraqi Fiefdom. In 1973 active-duty Air Force officers serving in Southeast Asia joined Congressmember Elizabeth Holtzman in suing the federal government to halt the bombing of Cambodia. Soldiers have refused deployment to and hectored Congress about Operation Iraqi Fiefdom and Operation Enduring Fiefdom.
Lewis Puller, son of Marine legend Chesty Puller, writing in his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Fortunate Son, wondered of the Corps how he could “love and despise it with equal ardor”; horribly wounded in Vietnam, Puller sought a seat in Congress campaigning against “the monstrousness of war.” Former Marine captain Matthew Hoh, who “drank myself blind” upon his return from Iraq, and who was installed by the Obama administration as the senior civilian in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, resigned in protest, a resignation “based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”
And when Dr. John Talbott, a psychiatrist, arrived in Vietnam in 1967, he found that nearly the entire hospital staff opposed the war.
When I got there I expected to get into arguments, but the amazing thing was you could say in the mess hall, “Jesus Christ, Lyndon Johnson is an asshole,” and you wouldn’t get an argument. I remember listening to Johnson’s speech when he said he wouldn’t run again. I heard it on Armed Forces Radio up in my office. He said, “I will not seek election or the nomination of my party,” and in the hospital this cheer went up. I went out the door and there were corpsmen and doctors yelling their lungs out. They thought the war was over, that Johnson had admitted he was wrong.
On his first day in Vietnam, Talbott discovered that his superior, the chief of psychiatry in Saigon, was physically and mentally incapacitated.
The first thing that happened was that I found my commanding officer in his bed. This was the head of psychiatry. [H]ere’s this guy lying in bed, blanket up over his head. It was ten or eleven in the morning, maybe noon. I said, “Hello, sir, Captain Talbott reporting for duty, sir.” He just rolled over. I don’t think I saw him more than a day or two after that. He probably had a month or two left on his tour, but he was a basket case. He was a casualty. This was my boss, lying in bed. I thought, Shit, I’m going to wind up like that. And the funny thing was that no one treated him. They just protected him. They were marvelous in protecting people. I think the feeling was, Well, what the fuck, he’s going to get out anyway, and we’ll just hold the fort.
Talbott’s CO was not some anomalous head-case. As mental health specialist Charles Figley has stated: “Exposure to case after case of combat-related stress injuries often has negative effects for the caregivers who handle these cases . . . My research on secondary traumatic stress—defined as the consequent stress and emotions caused by helping a traumatized and suffering person—has found that the negative effects can be similar to those of primary exposure.”
The human murrayewz has spoken of this on StormKos:
My spouse is a vet center readjustment counselor working with PTSD clients . . . Hasan undoubtedly learned horrible things working with clients—my spouse works with many counselors who haven’t had combat experience and they agree hearing the sorts of war stories that result in real PTSD is traumatic. Spouse has had reactivation of bad dreams and PTSD problems from his own combat experience in Viet Nam since becoming a counselor of vets.
The edges of his mouth were turning blue. Yossarian was petrified. He wondered whether to pull the rip cord of Snowden’s parachute and cover him with the nylon folds. It was very warm in the plane. Glancing up unexpectedly, Snowden gave him a wan, cooperative smile and shifted the position of his hips a bit so that Yossarian could begin salting the wound with sulfanilamide. Yossarian worked with renewed confidence and optimism. He poured envelope after envelope of the white crystalline powder into the bloody oval wound until nothing red could be seen and then drew a deep, apprehensive breath, steeling himself with gritted teeth as he touched his bare hand to the dangling shreds of dying flesh to tuck them up inside the wound. Quickly he covered the whole wound with a large cotton compress and jerked his hand away. He smiled nervously when his brief ordeal had ended. The actual contact with the dead flesh had not been nearly as repulsive as he had anticipated, and he found excuse to caress the wound with his fingers again and again to convince himself of his own courage.
The military has been aware of this transferred-PTSD effect since at least WWI. During that conflict, the British, forever enmeshed in their pernicious class system, decided that shellshocked officers would be seized by spasms of stuttering, while enlisted men would be afflicted with “hysterical mutism.” And then found that among the doctors—officers—treating these men, some began developing stutters of their own.
The treatment of British soldiers felled by shell-shock is artfully and wrenchingly depicted in the 1997 film Regeneration (US title, Behind the Lines), an occasionally fictionalized account of the wartime psychiatric facility Craiglockhart Hospital. It was there that the “war poets” Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were treated: Owen after suffering a breakdown, Sassoon after authoring a pamphlet against the war, which the brass concluded must be evidence of a breakdown. Both were eventually pronounced “cured,” both returned to the front.
The film concludes with one of those scenes that is more “true” than any mere factual depiction. The armistice has been declared, and the Craiglockhart psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers, shellshocked with a stutter he has contracted treating shellshocked stutterers, sits reading a letter from Sassoon. In it is enclosed Owen’s poem “The Parable Of The Old Man And The Young.” Owen by then rendered a corpse on a muddy canal bank, machine-gunned to pieces a week before the end of the war.
The realization moves across Rivers, as it moves across us, that all of Rivers’ well-meaning, compassionate efforts at treatment, at healing, at “a cure,” were all a failure. Because he cured no one. All that he had done, was enable more killing, ceaseless carnage, pointless death.
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Next he began binding the compress in place with a roll of gauze. The second time around Snowden’s thigh with the bandage, he spotted the small hole on the inside through which the piece of flak had entered, a round, crinkled wound the size of a quarter with blue edges and a black core inside where the blood had crusted. Yossarian sprinkled this one with sulfanilamide too and continued unwinding the gauze around Snowden’s leg until the compress was secure. Then he snipped off the roll with the scissors and slit the end down the center. He made the whole thing fast with a tidy square knot. It was a good bandage, he knew, and he sat back on his heels with pride, wiping the perspiration from his brow, and grinned at Snowden with spontaneous friendliness.
“I’m cold,” Snowden moaned. “I’m cold.”
“You’re going to be all right, kid,” Yossarian assured him, patting his arm comfortingly. “Everything’s under control.”
Private Arthur Hubbard in 1917 was treated for shell-shock. But though he had been buried alive by a shell, it was not that which had really shocked him. It was instead what he himself had done. He wrote from the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital to his mother of “a terrible sight that I shall never forget as long as I live.”
[W]e had strict orders not to take prisoners, no matter if wounded my first job was when I had finished cutting some of their wire away, to empty my magazine on 3 Germans that came out of one of their deep dugouts, bleeding badly, and put them out of misery. They cried for mercy, but I had my orders.
As Joanna Bourke states in her pitiless account of Anglo-American men at war in the 20th Century, An Intimate History of Killing, “[t]here is little to differentiate Arthur Hubbard’s letters to his family from those written by hundreds of other privates around the time of the Battle of the Somme.”
And in the next war, men were still being ordered to kill prisoners. But this time military psychologists and psychiatrists were enrolled to enable such killing. By assuring men that over such atrocities they should feel no guilt.
A lecture entitled “Reactions to Killing,” which was circulated by psychologists during the Second World War, provides a good example of their ethical function. In this lecture, the killing of prisoners was taken for granted; military psychologists and other officers were simply told that if men expressed reservations about killing prisoners, they were to be advised to alleviate their guilty consciences by transferring moral responsibility to a higher authority; “obeying orders,” in other words. Guilt-ridden men were to be reminded that the act of slaughtering prisoners was “shared by the group” and was necessary to safeguard not only the individual and his comrades, but also “civilized ideals.” Above all, any hint that killing prisoners was an “expression of blood-lust” had to be removed. For military psychologists, then, the killing of non-combatants was merely a fact of modern warfare rather than a moral problem.
As Siegfried Sassoon, when he spoke out against the slaughter of WWI, was branded by his superiors a victim of “shell shock,” so too was a young man admitted to the Boston Veterans Administration Hospital, who confessed to participating in the slaughter at My Lai, diagnosed as a “paranoid schizophrenic.”
A nurse, one Sarah Haley:
voiced concerns. The staff told me that the patient was obviously delusional, obviously in full-blown psychosis. I argued that there were no other signs of this if one took him seriously. I was laughed out of the room
“These professionals denied the reality of combat!” she exclaimed. “They were calling reality insanity!”
It is a lie that American atrocities in Vietnam were cabined to My Lai. It is another lie that American atrocities in war have been delimited to Vietnam. It is a further lie that American atrocities are not condoned by the US military. And it is a vile and suppurating lie that atrocities are not occurring, on levels so deep and pernicious that they are not even widely perceived as atrocities, as we speak.
In his review of Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, William Styron wrote:
As a young Marine lieutenant I knew a regular gunnery sergeant, a mortar specialist, who carried in his dungaree pocket two small shriveled dark objects about the size of peach pits. When I asked him what they were he told me they were “Jap’s nuts.” I was struck nearly dumb with a queasy horror, but managed to ask him how he had obtained such a pair of souvenirs. Simple, he explained; he had removed them with a bayonet from an enemy corpse on Tarawa—that most hellish of battles—and had set them out at the end of a dock under the blazing sun where they quickly became dried like prunes. The sergeant was highly regarded in the company and I soon got used to seeing him fondle his keepsakes whenever he got nervous or pissed off, stroking them like worry beads.
Snowden shook his head feebly. “I’m cold,” he repeated, with eyes as dull and blind as stone. “I’m cold.”
“There, there,” said Yossarian, with growing doubt and trepidation. “There, there. In a little while we’ll be back on the ground and Doc Daneeka will take care of you.”
But Snowden kept shaking his head and pointed at last, with just the barest movement of his chin, down towards his armpit. Yossarian bent forward to peer and saw a strangely colored stain seeping through the coveralls just above the armhole of Snowden’s flak suit. Yossarian felt his heart stop, then pound so violently he found it difficult to breathe. Snowden was wounded inside his flak suit. Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowden’s flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowden’s insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out. A chunk of flak more than three inches big had shot into his other side just underneath the arm and blasted all the way through, drawing whole mottled quarts of Snowden along with it through the gigantic hole in his ribs it made as it blasted out. Yossarian screamed a second time and squeezed both hands over his eyes. His teeth were chattering in horror. He forced himself to look again. Here was God’s plenty, all right, he thought bitterly as he stared—liver, lungs, kidneys, ribs, stomach and bits of the stewed tomatoes Snowden had eaten for lunch. Yossarian turned away dizzily and began to vomit, clutching his burning throat. He was limp with exhaustion, pain and despair when he finished. He turned back weakly to Snowden, whose breath had grown softer and more rapid, and whose face had grown paler. He wondered how in the world to begin to save him.
Four-fifths of the men afflicted with shell-shock in WWI were never able to return to duty. As Bourke notes, this to the military was unacceptable. Thus, by WWII, “shell-shock” had morphed into “combat fatigue,” and it was most often considered a form of either exhaustion, or cowardice.
By the Second World War, the inability to act aggressively was itself regarded as a psychiatric disorder. It was believed that men who were unable to kill were “dull and backward.” They were men who “lacked the ability to understand complex ideas,” such as “patriotism, appreciation of the alternative to winning the war, tradition,” and, having been brought up with the “Christian attitude,” did not possess “the capacity to adjust to what was the antithesis of this attitude.” Men who experienced emotional conflicts in killing were “psychologically inadequate individuals” or were “ineffectives” who required “salvaging.” If they broke under the strain, they were “childish,” “narcissistic,” and “feminine.”
Mental-health professionals were encouraged to not only subscribe to and promote such views, but to make judgements of a broken soldier’s mental state based on economic considerations. Psychoanalyst William Needles recalls that during WWII he was pressured to diagnose men as “constitutional psychopaths,” which ruled out government compensation. “Fear of the national debt,” he recalled, “was uppermost.” As Bourke observes, “military psychiatrists made their diagnoses with economic and administrative repercussions firmly in mind.”
My father was presented with the choice of being diagnosed as a “constitutional psychopath,” or being discharged as “ordinary.” In more than three years in the South Pacific, he had, as Rickie Lee Jones puts it, “seen things no man should have ever seen.” These ranged from having his best friend’s face splattered in slimy dripping chunks onto his own, to a night driving a doctor around an island where a storm had felled nearly as many Americans as had the Japanese; everywhere were men impaled by twigs, branches blown off trees. He spent several months in a psychiatric facility, and was ultimately released as, uh, “normal.” None of us knew any of this until after he was dead, when we went through his things, and came upon his journals from that time. It made sense of what he had been. He had been a good and decent man, and he had tried to have a life, but it had all been taken from him, many years before, many thousands of miles away. My father was a ghost.
What had happened to my father, basically, was this. He was 17. It was a bright sunny day. All his life was before him. There was a shell; his best friend’s face was blown into his mouth.
Like Yossarian, like James Jones, my father stripped off his uniform.
I am here to strip off all of your uniforms.
Understand: you all are naked. Free human beings. Alive on this earth.
My father has been dead now many years. But there are still many such ghosts among us. The human akdude6016 on StormKos has written of one:
The ghosts of WWII still haunts our family. My 94 year old uncle was placed in a nursing home a few years ago after my aunt found him hysterical on their front yard “fighting” the Japanese. He fought in the South Pacific and has never talked to any of us about what happened. The VA wouldn’t pay for it, so my aunt has been forced to use their dwindling savings to keep her husband in a safe and controlled environment.
By the time Vietnam was upon the US, the psychiatric enabling of war-induced mental illness had become so sophisticated that the military could boast that less than 2 percent of men in service suffered psychiatric breakdown.
This was accomplished through complete denial, by kicking the human can down the road. Psychiatric sufferers were confronted with the doctrine of “immediacy, expectancy, simplicity, and centrality”; the same doctrine Major Hasan was instructed in, that is forced upon troops today.
Dr. Talbott explains how this works:
In the army training, they start off the lectures by saying, “The purpose of the Army Medical Corps is to maintain the fighting force.” So you learn from the start that your purpose is not to help people grow or feel better about themselves, your purpose is to allow them to fight the best they can. There were three principles of preventive psychiatry in the army. One was immediacy: You’ve got to treat everything right off the bat. The second is proximity: You’ve got to treat it right near where it occurred. And the third is expectancy. You say, “You will get better, and you will go back to work.”
There in Saigon, Talbott would take men broken in the field, allow them to rest a bit, then load them up with drugs—tranquilizers, sedatives, maybe pentobarbital. “I might even go so far as to play sounds of machine guns or bombs to bring the person back to it.” Most of these people Talbott would soon pronounce “cured,” and they would be sent back into the war.
When Talbott’s appendix burst halfway through his tour, and he found himself in an intensive-care unit, he was forced to finally, really, confront the war.
Kids all around me dying. It was horrible lying in that ward. When you lie there for twenty-four hours, immobile, while all around you eighteen- and nineteen-year-old kids are screaming, moaning, blown apart . . . Awful. Awful. It was hard for me to go back [to work]. I came back much more cynical about the war. I’d really seen it rip people apart, and it wasn’t nice.
As Bourke illustrates, by forcing men back into the war whose minds had taken them right out of it, mental-health professionals created and enabled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder . . . which it took men like Jack McCloskey to force the government, and even the mental-health field, to first just recognize, much less begin to treat.
Today the military knows it has a monster on its hands. Just days before Major Hasan’s rampage at Fort Hood, the base commander there issued a memo urging unit commanders to “actively encourage soldiers to seek professional care for any behavioral health related issues that could affect their well-being.”
Bourke ends her chapter on “Medics and the Military” with a merciless judgement:
Emotionally “stitching up” men so that they could return to the frontlines as soon as possible had its civilian counterpart in some areas of civilian psychiatry (particularly in industry where the psychiatrist was in the service of the employer rather than the patient). In wartime, the position of social scientists was even more ambivalent. They spoke of peace while providing statistics for the war-mongers; they healed men in order to return them to combat to be killed; and they were in conflict with the military while at the same time exploiting its research possibilities. The medical corps, however, was a fully integrated part of the military establishment and one which accepted that “the customer” was the commanding officer and not the patient; military psychiatrists and psychologists were therefore “captive professionals.” In time of war, clinical psychology and psychiatry took on a distinctive kind of practice: inciting the urge to kill rather than controlling people’s violent urges. The role of the psychiatrist with the military was thus scarcely veiled: to stimulate men to commit violent acts without remorse.
Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollably. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.
There is of course a way to end all this. And Harry Behret knows what it is.
Harry Behret in the late 1960s was the president of the College Conservative Club at Queens College, vice-president of the Young Republicans. Unlike the chickenhawks who today so infest the national Republican Party, Behret acted on his beliefs. He wrote his draft board telling it he no longer wished to avail himself of his student deferment. Once drafted, he enlisted for three years, rather than two. And he asked to be sent to Vietnam.
Behret was assigned first to a base at Dau Tieng, next to the Michelin rubber plantation, twenty miles from the Cambodian border. He was an artillery meteorologist, tasked with sending up weather balloons packed with flammable hydrogen gas. Sited right behind the base ammunition dump.
Behret learned early that the war in Vietnam—like, today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—was lost. And for the same reason.
Some VC mortar team lobbed three mortar rounds on us. Only three rounds—that means they’re out there with one mortar tube. And one mortar tube—that means two Viet Cong, each maybe five feet two in height, 110 pounds, between sixteen and eighty years of age. With a rusty piece of metal, popping three rounds on the base. Pop-pop-pop. The helicopter gunships go off and strafe the area, the jets come in and napalm, the eight-inchers and the 175s and the 105s go off, and the .50-calibers are strafing. Then everything dies down. And you hear pop-pop-pop—they fire three more rounds at us.
At that point I knew there was no way we could win that fucking war. You had these two guys in sandals with a rusty piece of metal, and they take on these gunships and these batteries and all this technology. We’ve just blasted the surrounding countryside all to hell, and what do they do? They shoot back. I was awed. It was one of those incredible moments when a human being does something you think is just impossible. I was kind of proud. I said, “There’s no way we’re going to beat them.” I could see them firing the first three rounds and di-di mau-ing, which means getting the hell out of there. But to stay there, take it, and then shoot back! Forget it. They’ve got more than we’ve got.
Behret was sent next to a small base in Ninh Hua. There, the American artillery went off every day, as it had at Dau Tieng, but this time it was aimed at no one at all. There was no enemy. The guns were firing at ghosts.
“They hadn’t seen a Viet Cong in ages . . . [I]t wasn’t really a war. You were getting combat pay, and the guns were going off and blowing up monkeys and trees and whatever they were blowing up. But it was meaningless. The psychological toll on you was incredible. For me it was worse than Dau Tieng. At least there you were getting shot at, there was some rationale behind the insanity. This was just plain insanity.”
An alcoholic American soldier was assigned to drive the base rations truck to Nha Trang to pick up perishables. He kept getting into accidents; it was determined he could no longer be trusted to ferry food. Instead, he was assigned to drive to and from a nearby village to transport the Vietnamese workers who labored at the base.
“He had an accident and killed twelve people,” Behret recalled. “I was selected to ride shotgun for the medics down at the accident site. The first thing I saw is somebody’s brains lying in the roadside. Bits and pieces of people all over the place. When I got back to the base, somebody was upset because there was a big inspection that day and we didn’t have the Vietnamese to clean up for us. It was a real inconvenience.”
After that, Behret signed out of the war. He began drinking heavily. With his poker winnings, he lent money. He dealt dope. “In rifle inspection, they would pick up my rifle and find cobwebs in it.” Behret piled up the Article 15s; with one more, he could be sent “to Long Binh jail with a bad discharge home.”
It was then that he was ordered to shoot his dog.
They said, “We have too many dogs on the base, we’ve got to get rid of some. Behret, we’re gonna get rid of your dog.” I was supposed to take it out and shoot it. What they wanted me to do was refuse to shoot the dog, so they could bust me and send me to jail. I shot the dog.
Like Major Hasan, like Glasser’s children, Behret then resolved to kill fellow Americans.
Five or six of us got together, and each of us had a man among the lifers that we were going to kill if the base ever got hit. And I would have killed him. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have blown him away. But the opportunity never came.
Behret’s time ran out, and he was shipped home. Back in the States, at the airport bar, he was unable to order a beer, because he couldn’t produce an ID.
Forty years on, Harry Behret lives in south Florida, where he has developed into a fine photographer. He works with and honors veterans. But neither enables nor honors the wars they are veterans of.
For Behret understands the secret of no more Snowdens. And that is that the best and truest way to honor veterans, is to ensure that there will be never be veterans again.
Because war, it’s over, on this planet.
WWI is the conflict from which sprang Veterans Day. Originally dubbed Armistice Day, when it was touchingly believed that that conflict had been “the war to end all wars.”
Asked during that conflict what the combatants would do, if they truly became “awake,” the oddbins mystic/philosopher G.I Gurdjieff rightly replied: “They would throw down their guns and go home to their families.”
That awakening, belatedly, is upon us. The understanding that warriors are no longer needed, no longer wanted, on this planet. That what this place needs, is healers.
Governments will never end war. Governments are war. The only way to end it, to end them, is for individual human beings to sign right out of the program. Harry Behret and his people are right out of it. Every other person in the United States, and on this planet, needs to rise right out of it, too.
No more veterans. Ever. As of now. No more “memorials.” Ever. As of now.
So let it be written. So let it be done.
The thing that hurt me the most was that I put myself to the test and I failed. I felt responsible for the things that were done and the people who were killed. I never protested that this alcoholic was put in charge of driving people. I laughed on the sidelines like everybody else. I saw twelve people die, just out of a racist mentality. And it was something I subscribed to, or at least I went along with it.You always have an image of what you would do in a situation like that. You think you won’t let it happen. And you let it happen. Then you know that if you had been with Lieutenant Calley, you would have been shooting people, too.
You realize you’re a human being. And in the proper place, and the proper time, with a gun in your hand, you will act like the animal a human being can be.
It took me a long time to accept that I was a shylocker, that I dealt drugs, that I saw people as gooks. That I let myself be put in a position where I shot a dog. Every test I had to face, I didn’t do what I should have done. I went along with the military. I resisted to the point where they were going to chop my neck off, and then I went along.
The only thing I got out of it is that I have a five-year-old son, and he ain’t gonna do what I did. My experience will help in that respect. I think there’s been a Behret in every fucking war in this country’s history. But there ain’t gonna be no more Behrets in no more wars.
“I’m cold,” Snowden said. “I’m cold.”
“There, there,” said Yossarian. “There, there.”
He pulled the rip cord of Snowden’s parachute and covered his body with the white nylon sheets.
The poet Lew Welch, in considering the right reaction to this world, inscribed these lines:
(1) Freak out.
(2) Come back.
(3) Bandage the wounded and feed however many you can.
(4) Never cheat.
The Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien concludes, in “On The Rainy River,” a piece in which he describes deciding to answer his “country’s” call, rather than slip over the border into Canada:
“I was a coward. I went to the war.”
In early 1977, two films were in post-production at a film studio in England. The first was the afore-mentioned Cross of Iron. Which Orson Welles, the finest filmmaker ever incarnated on Terra, pronounced, correctly, the finest anti-war film ever made.
But when it was released, no one wanted to see it. Except in Germany. Where it was perceived, wrongly, as a vindication of the soldiers of the Reich.
Down the hall from the Cross of Iron editing crew labored the Mordorites who inflicted upon the world Star Wars. A film that ebulliently spread mass sunny slaughter into outer space. That offered a penultimate sequence which, as German director Wim Wenders noted, with no little outrage, aped, frame-for-frame, a celebrated portion of Triumph of the Will.
A film that opened with the obliteration of an entire world, and all the creatures on it, an event which the filmmakers expected the audience to accept with less emotion than the later Perils-of-Pauline tribulations of a pair of bumbling robots. Nick an R2, and the heartstrings are tugged. Exterminate a planet, and the billions of people upon it, and blithely chew the snack-bar cud.
So you’ll be ready, the day that they come for you, to tell you that it’s time to drag or be dragged, out on the killing floor.