A WARRIOR REFLECTS ON WAR.
What I do know is that many veterans are still paying a prolonged and painful price for our service. Because of grenade fragments still remaining in my legs, my wife, Loraine, laughingly calls me a "walking junkyard" and says I "clank when I walk." I've had several hospital stays since 1945. One was in 1985, when I was hospitalized for two weeks with a shrapnel infection. During surgery a shredded piece of my uniform was removed along with the offending shrapnel--42 years after I was wounded. The latest hospitalization was in 2003--almost 60 years after I was wounded!--again due to infected shrapnel. And doctors tell me the remaining shrapnel could cause another infection at any time.
But hey, I'm not complaining. How can I, when so many others suffered more horrible injuries, such as double or triple loss of limbs? I still remember a weeping lad I saw with part of his jaw blown away. And at least I'm alive, unlike those courageous young Marines whose lives were snapped off in their prime.
However, I still have philosophical questions regarding my personal Battle of Tarawa. What if one of the Japanese I failed to kill when my machine gun jammed was the one who later threw the grenade that wounded me? Or what if I'd survived intact only to be wounded more severely or killed in another Pacific campaign? Something else: Japan purchased scrap metal from the US before the war. Could the many fragments still embedded in my body be some of that metal? Probably not, but life is strange.
World War II has been called "the Good War." Noted author Studs Terkel wrote a popular book by that title. Sorry, Studs, but there are no good wars, only necessary ones. World War II certainly did qualify as necessary. But Vietnam and Iraq? George Washington exhorted that the country should not unsheathe its sword except in self-defense. That's uncommonly good sense that we should heed.
Civil War general William T. Sherman once observed that "war is hell." It sure the hell is! And I don't mind admitting that during those three brutal campaigns in which I fought I felt fear almost constantly. Fear seemed buried in my bones and deep in my psyche. I saw death in many forms--too many. I heard death rattles and worst of all I smelled death in all its dense, penetrating, difficult-to-describe acrid odor. Unforgettable.
So what's my take on war and its necessity? Sometimes I feel myself slipping toward pacifism. There must be circumstances where we can negotiate instead of just reaching for our guns Old West style.
Is aggression buried deep in our DNA? Did it push early man to beat his hairy chest when offended and reach for a pointed twig, a blunt branch, or a sharp stone, later expel his breath quickly through the mouth of a blowgun, and still later listen with delight to the twang of a longbow as it launched a deadly arrow? Then came the musket, the rifle, the deadly machine gun, the lumbering tank, and the high-flying aircraft carrying an impersonal cargo of aerial bombs that whistle an unholy tune as they terrify the scurrying hordes below.
The horrifying casualties resulting from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rattled the world. There are still convincing arguments on both sides as to whether the bombs should have been used. But today nine nations--the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel--possess atomic weapons, including hydrogen devices that make the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs seem like puny firecrackers.
I've always liked this comment by General Dwight Eisenhower: "I hate war, as only a soldier who lived it can, as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility and its stupidity." American WWII general Omar Bradley said, "As far as I am concerned, war itself is immoral." And farther back, Martin Luther commented, "War is the greatest plague that can affect humanity; it destroys religions, states, it destroys families. Every scourge is preferable to it." Sociologists, psychologists, and historians talk endlessly about why men commit atrocities in wartime. But war itself is an atrocity.
All too often books, TV shows, and movies romanticize and glorify war. I've frequently wondered whether the human species is programmed for war because of a defective gene. If so, we are doomed. Albert Einstein said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
I've given my Purple Heart and other campaign medals to Nickie, my grandson and namesake. I fervently hope he never earns any war medals of his own.
Caption: The first deployed atom bomb spreads a cloud over Hiroshima, August 6, 1945.