Metroblog

A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

18 October 2006

The Darker Side of War

Via The Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of one of the great American journalists of the 20th century, A.J. (Abbott Joseph) Liebling, born in New York (1904). He got his first real writing job working at the New York World, and began writing about New York City saloons and nightclubs, racetracks and corner stores, gourmet restaurants and boxing rings. His favorite subjects were food, journalism, and boxing.

In 1939, he began to cover the war in Europe for The New Yorker. Unlike other war correspondents, Liebling didn't write about politics or combat strategy. He wrote about day-to-day life among the soldiers and the civilians. He later said that he missed the war years. He wrote, "The times were full of certainties: We could be certain we were right—and we were—and that certainty made us certain that anything we did was right, too. I have seldom been sure I was right since. ... I know that it is socially acceptable to write about war as an unmitigated horror, but subjectively at least, it was not true, and you can feel its pull on men's memories at the maudlin reunions of war divisions. They mourn for their dead, but also for war."

A. J. Liebling also said, "Cynicism is often the shamefaced product of inexperience."
I remember sometime during my military service, a Master-Corporal remarking that "what this country needs is a good war". While I was still considering this, he went on: "Kill off all the deadwood" he said reflectively.

I remember feeling that way. Lasted until I was about 21, I'd guess. But like Liebling, I met many people who had served in wars.

They talked about "... what's his name, y'know. He kept that cricket in a jar, used to drive Sgt. Mason nuts--'Fizzle', that's right, that's what we called him! Well he spent a month's pay to buy a used bus. You see, he'd use it to sneak girls into camp. Well one day the CO flagged him down ..."

They spoke of "We grew up together. There was this one time that him and me, we stood sentry duty for three days on this bridge. We ran outa rations and it was Ollie kept us fed by shooting these wild pidgeons. Finally this Brit officer turned up and asked us what the hell we thought we were doing there. The battalion had moved on two days previous and forgotten us!"

They spoke of army bureaucracy, oligarchy and kleptocracy: "So Smitty says he doesn't see why the Officer's Mess should get all these here steaks ..."

And you could tell they missed that part.

A friend who cared for people in old folks homes once told me they had to leave the lights on after hours for half-a-dozen old men who would walk, yell, or cry out at night.

And most of them didn't talk about the night shrieks, about the ghost smells in their noses, the unforgotten bloodstains long since scrubbed off.

War, real war, is about sacrifice. Those on the home front were asked to make sacrifices not only to preserve the supply chain, but to show unity of suffering. It was mostly illusion, though it was neccessary.

It would never have been dreamed of to tell these people, living through a true war, to live their lives as though nothing had happened. To go shopping. To sacrifice their rights.

After all, there was a war on.

2 Comments:

At 1:32 a.m., Anonymous raincoaster said...

Yep, good post. But we did let Trudeau get away with the War Measures Act when there was no war. I'm still trying to wrap my head around why the country okayed that; I mean, sure he was smarter than Bush is, but who isn't? Why wasn't there more of an outcry at the national level?

 
At 7:58 a.m., Blogger Metro said...

I think that Trudeau could impose the WMA because a) It was all happening in Quebec. If it had been national there woulda been some howling on the praries youbetcha.

b) To many, if not most, Canadians, there was a definite visible breakdown of law and order: a minister had been kidnapped and killed--an authority figure.

Who better to restore law and order than the military?

--This was barely post-Watergate and certainly pre-Somalia.

c) Finally there was the glory and sincerity of Trudeau himself, Mr. "I've been called worse things by better people." [than Nixon!]

I doubt Harper could pull it off. He and his cronies are going to have to pull the same stuff that went down south of 49 and chip away at the Charter of Rights bit by bit.

 

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