Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, officially the day that we remember our soldiers who have died in the service of our country, but also as the unofficial start of summer. However, I won't be dealing with the start of summer for this blog entry.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have always been a history buff. I especially enjoyed reading about World War II. WWII was also something that me and my brother had in common in regards to interests (among others, although we certainly had our differences). For some reason, WWII and the 1940's in general have always fascinated me, and still do. I even write short stories of a 1940's private eye character named Benny Baloney. But I digress.

When reading about the soldiers and thier experiences, I've often wondered how I would have done had I been drafted and gone to fight in Europe or the Pacific. Even though I read a lot about war, I'm no warrior. I'm not sure that I can kill anyone, even in self defense. As far as the warring part, I'm not sure that I would have made a very good soldier. And yet, consider many of the young men who were drafted. Many of them were 18 or 19.

That's just out of high school for most of us. And many of those young men were simple folk - basically country bumpkin farm boys with very little sophistication, as agriculture was a much larger part of American life back then than it is now. And yet, they were thrust into battle to fight in the largest, most expansive war that the world has ever known. Consider that these simple, unsophisticated country bumpkins were made to shoot and kill other men. What does doing something like that do to one's psyche - especially doing that same difficult act repeatedly for years? I'm sure that you get to a point that you just accept it - that it's either "kill or be killed".

Some soldiers may be able to handle that, but others may not. A lot depends upon how well the soldier is prepared for that. Shooting to kill is not like playing soldier when you're a kid. The other guy doesn't just go down for a few seconds and get back up again. The other guy is not only down, he stays down. Not only that, unlike the kid version in which the other guy simply goes down, the real version "other guy" is hit with a real bullet, in which there may be blood splattered, followed by a very real cry of pain. Imagine someone's wail of pain filling your ears, and then thinking that "I caused that. I caused that guy to be screaming in pain like that." That's got to damage you psychologically - especially the longer and the more often you do that, and especially if you weren't properly prepared for the very real results of making war.

Since I've never been in battle, the closest I've been is a video game called Call of Duty, in which you play a soldier first from the U.S., then Britain, and then the Soviet Union. It is played in a "first person" format in which you are looking at the battlefield from the eyes of a soldier. In this game, you hear the bullets whizzing by your head, and you see the "other guy" lurching from being struck by bullets, and you even see them being tossed in the air like rag dolls when something explodes near them. You even see the haunting images of death on their faces as you go by them.

However, ultimately, Call of Duty is as real as the version of war that I used to play as a kid. When I'm "hit" by bullets, I feel no pain. All that's affected is my "life meter" that gradually goes down the more I get hit, and the longer I go without finding a "medical kit". If my life meter goes down too far, then I "die". Then I can reset and pick up where I last got "killed". The medical kits are simple boxes or bags with a red "+" on it. When I make contact with it, I'm miraculously "healed" without ever having to take out bandages or disinfectants. I'm not even slowed down in my pursuit of the German soldiers, even if my life meter shows me as being "close to death", in which I am so wounded that the next bullet takes my life.

There are no smells of death. There are no large pools of blood. There is no suffering the long periods of boredom, or the effects of staying in a trench for days on end in freezing weather. None of that is felt in Call of Duty. How could the programmers include something like that? I get no psychological scarring, in which I involuntarily flinch at the sound of loud noises, or dive under tables whenever a plane or helicopter buzzes too low. And yet, that's what our soldiers endured, and continue to endure. I can't imagine what they've gone through, even with a game like Call of Duty. I just have to admire and appreciate that someone did answer the call to duty. I'm not sure that I could have done the same. God bless our servicemen and women who paid dearly for their service - some with the ultimate price. It's for such dedicated people that this holiday was made, so that we would never forget their sacrifices.

I believe that it was General George S. Patton that said it best. I don't know the exact wording, but it goes something like this: "Don't so much mourn that such men died in battle; instead, appreciate that such men lived."

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