April 08, 2011

There was Dresden, which was a wooden holding pen of women, children, and the infirm, which the Americans and Brits burned to a crisp. (Henceforth, the Slavs would be warned never to send old women and orphans against the mighty Anglo forces once the war was over. On the flip side, the Soviets proved themselves rightful inheritors to Ivan the Terrible during their months-long rape spree throughout Berlin.)

There was more sordid business in Germany after the war. Good ol’ “€œIke”€ (who may or may not have had Patton murdered, but probably did) decided it would be a good idea for millions of German POWs to do without food. Moreover, he ordered “€œshoot to kill”€ on wives and children who tried to sneak the starving men something to eat through the barbed wire after dark. He even denied them the relief parcels sent by the Red Cross! To this day, I”€™d like to knock the teeth out of that coward’s toothy grin.

Don”€™t be mistaken: We are to be glad who won was victorious and who lost was defeated. But let us not forget that the two sides were far more reflective of one another than most people today realize. And soldiers in general are more reflective of our basest animal instincts while in combat.

This minor historical lesson is not to denounce or defend. It is merely to elucidate.

Whatever else these current distasteful images from Afghanistan expose, I hope they at least show that once war begins, the “€œgood”€ and the “€œevil”€ blend readily into one another.

This is to be expected when humans are forced for prolonged periods into grossly dehumanizing situations. Even so, there is a difference between recognition and justification.

For a millennium we had a word to describe precisely this atrocious behavior. Ensconced in its meaning were horror, torture, death, robbery, mutilation, remorse, callousness, arson, and brutality. Yet in the past half-century we stupidly thought that by excluding such traits from the word, they would also be bred out of the conduct.

It’s long past time people remembered what the word “€œwar”€ really means.

Knowing the reality of what it actually entails is the first step toward avoiding it altogether.


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