Thoughts About The Horrors Of War, The “Hooters” New Recruits And How Right Robert E. Lee Was
By John Lofton, Editor
It’s a Saturday morning. I’m dropping something off at the dry cleaners. I notice in the parking lot an official-looking car with a huge Marine Corps insignia covering most of the hood. I see coming out of our local “Hooters” restaurant about 40 crew-cut young men, laughing, talking, going to their cars, some getting in the official-looking car. Each young man has a copy of the 2010 “Hooters” calendar. I ask one of them: “Are you new recruits in the Marine Corps?” He says: “Oh, yeah!” - as if to say “Damn right! You better believe it!”
As I drive home, I think of Chris Hedges’ article: “Why Are We So Blind To The True Horrors Of War?” I wonder what kind of crap these young men were told to get them to sign up as Marines? I also wonder if the Marine recruiters used our Federal tax dollars to buy all these guys lunch at “Hooters” as part of the deal for them to become cannon fodder. In his piece Hedges writes, in part:
“War is brutal and impersonal. It mocks the fantasy of individual heroism and the absurdity of utopian goals like democracy. In an instant, industrial warfare can kill dozens, even hundreds of people, who never see their attackers. The power of these industrial weapons is indiscriminate and staggering. They can take down apartment blocks in seconds, burying and crushing everyone inside. They can demolish villages and send tanks, planes and ships up in fiery blasts. The wounds, for those who survive, result in terrible burns, blindness, amputation and lifelong pain and trauma. No one returns the same from such warfare. And once these weapons are employed all talk of human rights is a farce….
“Filmic and most photographic images of war are shorn of the heart-pounding fear, awful stench, deafening noise and exhaustion of the battlefield. Such images turn confusion and chaos, the chief element of combat, into an artful war narrative. They turn war into porn. Soldiers and Marines, especially those who have never seen war, buy cases of beer and watch movies like “Platoon,” movies meant to denounce war, and as they do so revel in the despicable power of the weapons shown. The reality of violence is different. Everything formed by violence is senseless and useless. It exists without a future. It leaves behind nothing but death, grief and destruction…
“War’s effects are what the state and the press, the handmaiden of the war makers, work hard to keep hidden. If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be harder to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of the eight schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan a week ago and listen to the wails of their parents we would not be able to repeat clichés about liberating the women of Afghanistan or bringing freedom to the Afghan people.
“This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war’s perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war’s consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining. And the press is as guilty as Hollywood. During the start of the Iraq war, television reports gave us the visceral thrill of force and hid from us the effects of bullets, tank rounds, iron fragmentation bombs and artillery rounds. We tasted a bit of war’s exhilaration, but were protected from seeing what war actually does.
“The wounded, the crippled and the dead are, in this great charade, swiftly carted off stage. They are war’s refuse. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they tell is too painful for us to hear. We prefer to celebrate ourselves and our nation by imbibing the myth of glory, honor, patriotism and heroism, words that in combat become empty and meaningless. And those whom fate has decreed must face war’s effects often turn and flee…
“The public manifestations of gratitude are reserved for veterans who dutifully read from the script handed to them by the state. The veterans trotted out for viewing are those who are compliant and palatable, those we can stand to look at without horror, those who are willing to go along with the lie that war is about patriotism and is the highest good. “Thank you for your service,” we are supposed to say. They are used to perpetuate the myth. We are used to honor it….
“[When I went back to Sarajevo after covering the 1990s war I saw] Despair and suicide grip survivors. More Vietnam veterans committed suicide after the war than were killed during it. The inhuman qualities drilled into soldiers and Marines in wartime defeat them in peacetime. This is what Homer taught us in “The Iliad,” the great book on war, and “The Odyssey,” the great book on the long journey to recovery by professional killers. Many never readjust. They cannot connect again with wives, children, parents or friends, retreating into personal hells of self-destructive anguish and rage…
“Look beyond the nationalist cant used to justify war. Look beyond the seduction of the weapons and the pornography of violence. Look beyond Barack Obama’s ridiculous rhetoric about finishing the job or fighting terror. Focus on the evil of war. War begins by calling for the annihilation of the others but ends ultimately in self-annihilation. It corrupts souls and mutilates bodies. It destroys homes and villages and murders children on their way to school. It grinds into the dirt all that is tender and beautiful and sacred. It empowers human deformities — warlords, Shiite death squads, Sunni insurgents, the Taliban, al-Qaida and our own killers—who can speak only in the despicable language of force. War is a scourge. It is a plague. It is industrial murder. And before you support war, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, look into the hollow eyes of the men, women and children who know it.”
I’m pretty sure none of the new recruits I saw were told any of this. Ditto, their recruiters when they were new recruits.
In mid-August of last year, in Afghanistan, an Associated Press photographer took a photo of a young soldier who had been hit by a grenade. His leg was badly injured. He died hours later. The “AP’s” distribution of this grisly scene caused quite a controversy.
I think such photographs - still pictures and videos - should be shown, often, and in color. As Robert E. Lee said: “It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it.”