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Part V, Myths and Fables II

By Remy Benoit

Look at love and war.

What are the myths and fables that have grown up around these?

What changed between John Wayne movies and The Boys of Company C, Apocalypse Now and Platoon? What myth, what perspective had changed? Can it even be imagined — John Wayne doing the scene Martin Sheen did, coming undone? In what ways had the dogs of war changed the tone of their howling and our perspective at their slipping.

We draw the sword with a clear conscience and with clean hands.
Wilhelm II, August 4, 1914
Germany will either be a world power or will not be at all.
Adolph Hitler
Is Paris Burning?
Adolph Hitler.
The wrong war, at the wrong place at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.
Omar Bradley, 1951 concerning proposal that Korean War be extended into China.
The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts.
Omar Bradley
To win in Vietnam, we will have to exterminate a nation.
Benjamin Spock
Vietnam was the first war ever fought without any censorship. Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.
William C. Westmoreland
Our strategy in going after this army is very simple. First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.
Colin Powell referring to Iraqi Army during Desert Storm

So many of our Post - World War II Vets question what their war was about; what was its place in history? Why was I there and what, not generally, but quite specifically, was I supposed to be doing there?

In our time, in the time of your story, how do we treat our Veterans? How are they, are they, welcomed home? Are they remembered, forgotten, institutionalized?

What does that say about the rest of us?

If your personal story, or the story you are writing, has to do with war, there are many, many aspects to consider.

Compare, for instance, just the public involvement in World War II and the lack of it for Korea, for Vietnam, for Desert Storm.

What does that say to the soldiers we send abroad?

What does the soldier feel when the war he is fighting is unpopular? When his even being there is condemned?

What does that add to what he already has to carry?

They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.
Tim O’Brien

"You know, Mom, there are no Disney cartoons for this war. Did you notice that? No patriotic songs, fund raisers for bonds, no little flags or gold stars in the window for men serving. Not for Korea, not for 'Nam. Did you notice that, Mom. What does that say about what we are doing, why we are there?

Doesn't it make you wonder?

You've been where I am now, waiting. Gran's been there too. Did you either of you wonder about whether or not what was happening was right, should be happening?"

Tears where flowing down Rhea's cheeks.

Her mother went to the stove to put on a cup of tea.

"When you lived in that boarding house, planted your victory garden, worked in war industry, you had at least had the feeling that what you were doing was helping Dad.

Gran had her knitting, her bandage wrapping, her air raid wardening, then her job in helping. I don't feel like there is anything that I can do that directly helps Jordan. Yes, I can teach history, try to help the kids make some sense of it, make some sense of it myself, but that is not a tangible thing that I can do to help Jor. I know, I know, democracy, freedom are intangibles, at least until they are taken away.

"Oh, it is all so confusing, Mom."

Her mother was rubbing the back of Rhea's neck, trying to ease the tension.

'Jor doesn't say too much, didn't even tell me he was drawing. I know why he is drawing. It is in the sketches Jesse " liberated " and sent to me. There's something wrong over there, Mom. I can feel it in my bones, see it in Jor's pencil work.

They keep telling us it's almost over; the survey said most people here don't want our men to be there.

None of it makes sense, Mom.

Am I being selfish to want my husband and Jesse back here home and safe? I guess you prayed real hard every night, that Gran prayed real hard every night, that millions of women all over the world have prayed real hard every night through so many years, through so many centuries.

A kind of sisterhood, Mom, huh?"

The tea pot whistled.

Mollie poured the tea into a china cup with yellow roses for Rhea, added two spoonfuls of sugar, and stirred it.

She pulled Rhea to her feet and said, "Come on, let's slip on our heavy sweaters and sit out on the balcony. The air is cold, sometimes that helps to clear your head, ease your heart."

Rhea slipped her sweater on mechanically and followed her mother onto the balcony, and sat down on an old rocker. Her mother handed her the tea cup.

Rhea sipped it slowly.

" Everything seems bigger out here, quieter even though there are people walking about. Look, Mom, look up at the night sky. That sky covers the whole earth, covers me, covers my Jordan."

"I know, Rhea, that's why I took the room on the top floor in the boarding house. There was no balcony, so I would just put my head out the one window, the one next to it had one of those metal boxes for keeping things cold in the winter: I'd stick my head out, warm or cold, wet or dry and do my praying through as direct a route as possible.

I can see what you mean, what you're feeling, not being able to do anything tangible the way we got to. It did mean an awful lot, comforted a lot, knowing we were saving metal scraps, rubber, even fat.I wish I had an answer for any of your questions, Rhea, but I truly don't. Women have always waited.

In fact, women started going too.

I always truly admired women who went to do nursing, always felt they had tremendous courage and heart.

When it is happening, Rhea, it seems like it will go on forever.

Jordan's time there is limited, you have that much in its favor, though the rotation system denies them the comraderie of troops trained and long time together. It must be totally unnerving to fly to a war on a commercial jet, without a platoon, without bearings and then to just be put into a battle situation immediately.

When our men went we had no idea of how long they would be gone. I worry a lot about these young men being sent there with no experience again, the officers, the enlisted men...

They went in the first one and the second on with months of training squashed down into just a few weeks.

They got the experience in the trenches, in the air and on the water in the first one, yet at least they went together. In '18 they faced the biggest army, longest front-line ever put on battlefield.

They fought, on the battlefields, in the jungles, in the air and on the water in the second one.

We fought on the home front. Total war they call it.

Each war the weapons got bigger, more precise, more lethal: flame-throwers, gas, a canon that could hit Paris from eight miles away. Tanks replaced the carnage of horses, chemicals, precision bomb sights. The list goes on and on.

The casualty numbers in the first war were beyond understanding; no antibiotics, no quick evac.The Spanish Influenza. Trenches collapsing and burying the men on foreign battlefields.Canons so powerful raining down on them that their impact shook the ground like earthquakes, lifting and letting drift down pieces of the earth the size of this house.

Simplest wounds got to be fatal wounds with all the festering in the mud. The second one brought them antibiotics, the first mobile surgical units right at the front, but not until Normandy.

Yet this one is different: little groups fighting, disappearing and reappearing troops, having a hard time sorting out who is who. Must be terrible for them.

Keep your faith, Rhea, no matter what.

Jordan wants you to, you know that.

I do know, do understand how much you miss him, and how alone you must feel with it. In our time, they seemed to be all going and we women had each other to hang on to for comfort. You're being denied ,just as they are being denied, that comfort, suffering from the lack of it, suffering from those who don't understand what you're suffering and feel they have to be expressing their views of what it is about by hurting you.

I am sorry you have to endure that, Rhea.

But remember what Gran always said, most people just want to be heard. I've always felt she had a great deal more patience with the listening to them than I do. Seems a whole lot of them don't know that the rest of us really are not wanting to hear their opinions."

"The tea is good, Mom. Thanks. And you're right, the cold is good, and your words are a comfort."

Rhea put her hand on her belly and sighed deeply.

" Someday when I get to be a mother, I will be sure, real sure, to try to know when to listen, when to speak. I love you, Mom. Thanks for flying home for a week. I know you have to get back to Dad and to your work, but it meant an awful lot to me for you to make the trip. I'll spend Christmas with Jordan's folks. I'm real at home there, don't worry. Besides, I can't imagine the Irons not dropping by, and heaven only knows who else. Thanks, Mom, thanks an awful lot.

Why don't you tell me about what is happening at the American School in Beirut?

They say it is such a lovely city.

And then, maybe, if you don't mind, you could pray with me for Jor, for Jesse, for all of them, out here under the stars?"



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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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