Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quotes from "War"

"War" by Sebastian Junger

The idea that there are rules in warfare and that combatants kill each other according to basic concepts of fairness probably ended for good with the machine gun. A man with a machine gun can conceivably hold of a whole battalion, at least for a while, which changes the whole equation of what it means to be brave in battle. In WWI, when automatic weapons came into general use, heavy machine gunners were routinely executed if their position was overrun because they caused so much death. (Regular infantry, who were thought to be "fighting fairly," were often spared.) Machine guns forced infantry to disperse, to camouflage themselves, and to fight in small independent units. All that promoted stealth over honor and squad loyalty over blind obedience.

In a war of that nature soldiers gravitate toward whatever works best with the least risk. At that point combat stops being a grand chess game between generals and becomes a no-holds-barred experiment in pure killing. As a result, much of modern military tactics is geared toward maneuvering the enemy into a position where they can essentially be massacred from safety. It sounds dishonorable only if you imagine that modern war is about honor; it's not. It's about winning, which means killing the enemy on the most unequal terms possible. Anything less simply results in the loss of more of your own men." - p.140

After describing his humvee being hit with an IED and the ensuing firefight, he writes:
"War is a lot of things and it's useless to pretend that exciting isn't one of them. It's insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know. Soldiers discuss that fact with each other and eventually with their chaplains and their shrinks and maybe even their spouses, but he public will never hear about it. It's just not something that many people want acknowledged. War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but for a nineteen-year-old at the working end of a .50 cal during a firefight that everyone comes out of okay, war is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of. In some ways twenty minutes of combat is more life than you could scrape together in a lifetime of doing something else. Combat isn't where you might die--though that does happen--it's where you find out whether you get to keep on living. Don't underestimate the power of that revelation. Don't underestimate the things young men will wager in order to play that game one more time." -pp. 144-145

"Society can give its young men almost any job and they'll figure how to do it. They'll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for." -p. 154

"Heroism is hard to study in soldiers because they invariably claim that they acted like any good soldier would have. Among other things, heroism is a negation of the self--you're prepared to lose your own life for the sake of others--so in that sense, talking about how brave you were may be psychologically contradictory...Civilians understand soldiers to have a kind of baseline duty, and that everything above that is considered "bravery." Soldiers see it the other way around: either you're doing your duty or you're a coward. There's no other place to go." -p. 211

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