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The generals and planners talk about fighting forces and something they call the 'tooth to tail' ratio. Those are the same guys that like to talk about defending freedom, motherhood, and apple-pie. They also like to tell folks that there is glory and honor in battle. Maybe they're right, and I just missed it.
The guys I hung out with were more affiliated with the 'tooth' part of the war-machinery. Anyways, when the day was done; and even if it was a particularly bad day, no-one ever talked about the glorious causes mentioned by the REMFs. Mostly they didn’t talk at all. If you paid attention and looked closely at their eyes you could catch a hint of what was going on though. You might catch a look that said, “Man, I can’t believe you did that.” Deep down, you knew he’d have done the same though.
Sometimes a guy would say, “You dumb MFer, why did you do that?” He’d mean every word of it. But at the same time he knew he wouldn’t be there except for that, and he’d have done it too.
Sometimes the look would say, “Man, I screwed up and somebody paid or could have paid – big time.” The nod or shrug of response at least said, “I understand.” and usually would even forgive.
You see; way out there on the jagged edge of combat – where tooth clashes with tooth, the men know the truth. The REMFs are lying. It’s about keeping your buddy alive, and how that plays into your survival. Nothing more. The really accomplished Generals know this and they use it to achieve their aims. They put a group of soldiers in a situation where protecting each other takes and holds a chunk of ground, gets a body count, or over-runs a defensive fortification. They then move a marker on a model or write something on a map or in a book and head for the officer’s club where they drink a toast to the glory and honor of war.
Meanwhile, hours, days, weeks, or decades later; what I call the ‘three beasts’ often show up to do their grotesque dance. Look deep into the gaze of an old soldier and you will see them there. They’re always together and they’re always the same ones: sorrow, joy, and guilt. They dance, vying to lead, every time he thinks of that time and he never knows which one will emerge to call the tune or which one will be left to pay the fiddler.
There is sorrow for his closest friend or the trooper he hardly knew; who was badly maimed or had his life jerked from him, sometimes quickly, and sometimes in the most horrible way.
There is joy, because it wasn’t him.
There is always plenty of guilt. Guilt, because it could have been him. Guilt, because he’s happy it wasn’t him. Guilt, because he might have done something different. Guilt, because he might be squandering the reason the God left him and took the other guy.
In any event; glory, honor, heroism, patriotism, and any of the other platitudes never show up for the dance. It’s probably for the best, as the beasts would chase them away.
© 2002 Ed Boysun
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