This weekend, there were a couple of old, black-and-white war movies I enjoyed watching. They were shown on the TMC channel. If you have Fios, that’s channel 230 in my corner of Pennsylvania.
Anyway. What intrigued me about these movies was the minimal blood and gore, and the focus on the thinking and emotional struggles of the soldiers. My 18 years as a psychotherapist kicked into high gear as I watched the way various actors portrayed their parts. One eventually just lost it. Waiting hour after hour, minute by minute for some action–ANY action–to start finally wore out his last nerve. He fell into a weeping puddle. What really amazed me was how kind the other men were. They understood. No one reviled him or called him a coward.
Others handled the stress with humor, often sardonic. Some talked about what they would do when “this mess” was all over. Some talked of their yearning for home–especially the ones who had wives or girlfriends. Always, they watched as they marched, or rested. Always, there were sentries while they tried to get some sleep. Always, there was the imminent reality of death.
There were a few unflattering references to the enemy, but not many. Once, as two of them shared a can of K-rations, they talked about how “the Huns” were just as scared as they were, and wondered what they had for food.
One of the movies featured a literally crazy general who believed the only way to control his men was through fear. In that same movie, a sergeant was happy to kill a captured enemy soldier after giving him a cigarette. That same sergeant later plotted against the lieutenant of his company, and was responsible for the deaths of several of his own men. All in the name of power and control.
There were true heroes, men risking their lives to save many others’ lives. Men who volunteered for the most dangerous missions in which death was almost certain.
My dad was a WWII vet, and fought his war in a submarine. I vaguely remember Korea, though not on a personal level. But Viet Nam did touch me personally. There were at least two soldiers I know of who graduated with my high school class, and then immediately left for the war. They came back in coffins. I remember the newspaper stories of those two young men, and how unreal it seemed that someone I knew and greeted in the halls every day was just–gone.
General William Tecumseh Sherman, who fought in the American Civil War back in the 1860s, is credited with telling young new recruits that “War is hell.” Indeed it is, and no more so than a civil war in which families are divided, neighbors and relatives bear arms against each other, and nothing is ever really settled.
America is in the midst of an undeclared civil war right now. Violence has become rampant, with very little done to stop it. Accusations, calumniations, endless incarceration of political prisoners going on without trial for over two years; threats and counter-threats fly through cyber-space, with a shocking use of the F-bomb, which seems to have taken the place of most adjectives and a lot of nouns and verbs.
I’m nearly 76. I have wonderful memories of Memorial Day parades, music, and picnics with family and friends. It was the beginning of summer. School never went past Memorial Day back then, as it often seems to do now.
It’s a different world now, not a better one. I wonder, if those who are buried at Arlington and other military cemeteries could speak to us, just what they would say. I think the world they fought to save would break their hearts if they could see what we have become.