(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.