Last week I stumbled on a phrase that haunted me, knocking at the back of my eyelids till I went and looked for it. It was Thomas Powers’ writing in the New York Review of Books on Chris Kyle’s book (praised and selling) which, became in turn Clint Eastwood’s film (praised and selling) both called “American Sniper”. It spoke of “the half strangled confusion of men who have suffered and killed for reasons that slip away like water in the sand.”
And I realised I see war as a metaphor for existence.
And if I can, an articulate old woman, I can see how kids who have no great cultural or emotional exchange look for a shortcut into something more exciting, more involving which in turn becomes more worthwhile and they light on war – more – justified war, praiseworthy war, or to be the handmaidens of such a war.
In a religious monitor system ie where first you learn, then you teach somebody else, there will be many who fall on young malleable minds to send them off in a direction for which they don’t need much prompting. It’s an adventure – hey man, it’s a quest..
I discovered (I bet I am not the only one who didn’t know) that the word “jihad” means struggle – which is not the sense of it in most of the stuff I have read, where it has been offered to me as meaning “war”.
Call it what you will, I think people go to war because they think it will clarify their existence into life or death.
But that doesn’t take into consideration the transit into war – what languages you speak, your abilities, physical hardship and survival skills, how you deal with noise and the mess of war, being fairly horrible to others in order to survive yourself, being asked to do something you don’t want to do and being wounded.
Death may offer a martyr’s crown but wounded is another thing and surviving maimed is something else again.
Some people think that all war is the same and other people think that certain wars are different. Just as concentrating on individual experience is a way of surviving on one hand, it may lead to falling down the tunnel into madness on the other.
Watching the rerun of the last segment of The World at War on tv recently I was struck by the rationalisations of the those interviewed and the apparent superficiality of their observations – they had a good time, they shared companionship they cherished. The most critical thought offered by one contributor was that he felt his experience of war separated him both from those who had gone before and his own children. But he didn’t enlarge on that. Is it that war is like nothing else, beyond words or is it not good form to introspect about it?
The series is knocking a half century old, manners and thought have changed since then. Has the impact of war?
Unreported World (C4, 27 March 2015) reported from the small town of Kobani in Northern Syria where the Kurds fought Islamic State off over four months in hardship.
Outside the town the local farmers with their vehicles set up a kind of camp, which was regularly visited by a doctor and treated with what he could salvage from gutted chemists’ shops. They wanted to go home. I hope they do. Such refugees are the recognisable face of war.
Measuring each other in Tony Scott’s film Crimson Tide, Gene Hackman’s commanding officer trades warrior quotes with his watchful second in command (Denzel Washington) who comments drily that, in nuclear war, the enemy is war itself.
And behind the bombardment, the destruction, the displacement of people, the sheer bloody misery of what is all over the Middle East lies the shadow of nuclear war.