Men and War

(Inspired by the war fanboys on MSNBC last night….)

War changes you, this I know. I know it from my brother-in-law, whose job it was at 17 to crawl under barbed wire and disarm the bombs attached to the bodies of U.S. troops by the Viet Cong, and then carry those bodies back — because “we don’t leave our people behind.” He still jumps at loud noises.

I know it from the old men I interviewed who were part of the Normandy invasion, especially the one who looked me in the eye and said, “You don’t really want to know, and I don’t want to talk about it.”

Or the young Iraq vet, the neighbor across the hall, who pulled a gun on me in full military stance when he heard me enter my storage unit at night. (I could tell he wasn’t quite sure where he was.) But even if he’d never pulled the gun, I’d know war changed him because I could hear when he woke up screaming in the middle of the night.

Women always know, because we’re the ones who end up cleaning up the emotional mess – or become targets. (Or we run, because it’s too much for many people to handle.) And those women tell other women, until it becomes common knowledge. We’re the ones who see the walking wounded, and know how much it takes for them to get through another day.

I don’t know that women are naturally pacifists. I think it’s that they take a long look at the human wreckage and make an informed choice: This isn’t worth it. Because it usually isn’t.

But the really strange reaction to war, the one that bugs the hell out of me, is that of the men who didn’t go to war. There was a spate of essays in the 80s and 90s from men who confessed how sorry they were they got out of the draft, or didn’t see combat — because “that’s what makes you a man.”

And the outgrowth of that? The George W. Bushes, the William Kristols, the Karl Roves, the Don Rumsfelds, the Robert McNamaras and other assorted half-wits who like to prop up their own inadequacies by sending other men to die for the causes they select.

War is death and destruction, not a glorious cause. If we’re going to send people to die in wars, we need a damned good reason.

4 thoughts on “Men and War

  1. Here’s an interesting counterpoint to this. This article is from 2007 and is largely about the sexual harassment/rape of women soldiers but I’ll share these paragraphs here:

    Not everyone realizes how different the Iraq war is for women than any other American war in history. More than 160,500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war began in 2003, which means one in seven soldiers is a woman. Women now make up 15 percent of active duty forces, four times more than in the 1991 Gulf War. At least 450 women have been wounded in Iraq, and 71 have died — more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined. And women are fighting in combat.

    Officially, the Pentagon prohibits women from serving in ground combat units such as the infantry, citing their lack of upper-body strength and a reluctance to put girls and mothers in harm’s way. But mention this ban to any female soldier in Iraq and she will scoff.

    “Of course we were in combat!” said Laura Naylor, 25, who served with the Army Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. “We were interchangeable with the infantry. They came to our police stations and helped pull security, and we helped them search houses and search people. That’s how it is in Iraq.”

    Women are fighting in ground combat because there is no choice. This is a war with no front lines or safe zones, no hiding from in-flying mortars, car and roadside bombs, and not enough soldiers. As a result, women are coming home with missing limbs, mutilating wounds and severe trauma, just like the men.

    and this:

    Yet, despite the equal risks women are taking, they are still being treated as inferior soldiers and sex toys by many of their male colleagues. As Pickett told me, “It’s like sending three women to live in a frat house.”

    It’s a really good article on a subject we don’t hear much about. Isn’t equality great?

  2. I remember asking my dad (a survivor of what he called his “walking tour” of North Africa and Italy, including Anzio) if he wanted to see Saving Private Ryan. He said no, thanks, he’d already seen it.

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