Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quotes from "War" Part II

I decided to post these last quotes separately because, if he is correct, they cast a new light on how I can understand a combat vet's experience:

"Civilians balk at recognizing that one of the most traumatic things about combat is having to give it up. War is so obviously evil and wrong that the idea there could be anything good to it almost feels like a profanity. And yet throughout history, men like Mac and Rice and O'Byrne have come home to find themselves desperately missing what should have been the worst experience of their lives. To a combat vet, the civilian world can seem frivolous and dull, with very little at stake and all the wrong people in power...when men say they miss combat, it's not that they actually miss getting shot at--you'd have to be deranged--it's that they miss being in a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted. They miss being in a world where human relations are entirely governed by whether you can trust the other person with your life.

It's such a pure, clean standard that men can completely remake themselves in war. You could be anything back home--shy, ugly, rich, poor, unpopular--and it won't matter because it's of no consequence ina firefight, and therefore of no consequence, period. The only thing that matters is your level of dedication to th erest of the group, and that is almost impossible to fake...

War is a big and sprawling word that brings a lot of human suffering into the conversation, but combat is a different matter. Combat is the smaller game that young men fall in love with, and any solution to the human problem of war will have to take into account the psyches of these young men. For some reason there is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly. These hillsides of loose shale and holy treed are where the men feel not most alive--that you can get skydiving--but the most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again, but they can't. So here sits Sergeant Brendan O'Byrne, one month before the end of deployment, seriously contemplating signing back up." [bold emphasis mine] -pp. 233-234

" irony of combat psychology...the logical downside of heroism. If you're willing to lay down your life for another person, then their death is going to be more upsetting than the prospect of your own" -p. 237

"Combat fog obscures your fate--obscures when and where you might die--and from that unknown is born a desperate bond between the men. That bond is the core experience of combat and the only thing you can absolutely count on...the enemy might kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another's lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religious fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly. What the Army sociologists...slowly came to understand was that courage was love. In war, neither could exist without the other and that in a sense they were just different ways of saying the same thing." -p. 239

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