Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

In A War, But Not At War

There are real wars afoot. Not silly PR wars or Rap Battles or video games, but real, live shooting and killing wars. Admit it, you’ve barely noticed.

As I prepare to launch into a new topic for my next round of “serious” reading (I am slowly working my way through the very heavy science in “Waterlogged”) I stumbled upon a curious historical overlay. My daily newspaper sat on a coffee table under which sat a picture of a paper from the 1940′s. We have been at war in the United States, no matter how you care to characterize that war, for much longer than the entirety of WWII. Yet the tenor of our homeland experience could not be more different.

The books I’ve got cued up are “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain, and “Redeployment” by Phil Klay, the first discovered in that newspaper above, the other from an interview of the author on the radio while driving to work (note: Evernote is brilliant for remembering that kind of stuff). Thus far I’ve successfully avoided reading a full review of either, having discovered in the first 2 sentences of a NYT review that there’d be more editorializing on the reviewer’s part than reviewing. Your mileage may vary, of course, especially if you agree with the reviewer.

What’s drawn me to these two particular books, indeed what has drawn me to this topic, is the conversational emphasis in both. Each is written from the points of view and in the voices of soldiers and Marines talking about being in a war. Driving to work this week I was struck by the complete absence of these voices in my life. Looking at the front page of a newspaper ca. 2014 beside the image from 1946 it’s clear that my experience is not unique. We have had men and women in a war for some 12 years now, but we are hardly a nation AT war, at least in comparison with our nation ca. 1946.

We barely talk about war, about Iraq, Afghanistan, or Al Qaida at all, while America in the 40′s talked about little else. If my experience is typical there is very, very little conversation that occurs between those who have served and those who have not, even though the length of our present wars has likely generated a similar number of war veterans walking among us then and now. Were the conversations of war only on the front page back then? Was there so little discourse about what it means to have been in a war when the veterans returned in the 40′s, too?

The United States has experienced exactly 3 incidences in which our country has been attacked since the Civil War. All of our wars and conflicts since then have been prosecuted on the soil of other lands. This is no less true now than it was in 1945, no less true following 9/11 than it was after Pearl Harbor. The towering strength of the U.S. economic engine insulates us today from the daily sharing of the war effort as completely as our new information technology makes the wars almost completely available for viewing. Interesting dichotomy, huh? War footage on demand, up to the minute, up close and personal, no war bonds or fuel rationing required.

It’s different now, you say. It’s not the same now as it was then, you add. Is that really true, though? All wars are unjust and all wars are just; which it is depends only on which team you’re on at what time. Did those who hated the wars of yesteryear hate them any less than now? Is the aftermath of being in war any greater or lesser now than then? Never having served, never having been in war, I have no standing to say, but from afar it doesn’t seem any less terrifying to have been detonated by a mortar in a WWI trench or bazooka in a WWII tank or an IED in a Humvee in Fallujah.

And there’s my point. I don’t know. There is no conversation, no opportunity to know. I don’t know why that is. I don’t think we need to re-introduce war bonds or ration nylons (imagine the carnage at Victoria’s Secret) to know we are at war. What I do think is that we will continue to have a disconnect between young people in a war and their country not at war until we engage in those conversations. War always seems to find us, for whatever reason, even when we are mostly minding our own business. We should know more about what it means to be at war.

When you come home from the War I’ll be ready to listen and to learn whenever you are ready to talk.