The real war was tragic and ironic beyond the power of any literary or philosophic analysis to suggest, but in unbombed America especially, the meaning of the war seemed inaccessible. Thus, as experience, the suffering was wasted. The same tricks of publicity and advertising might have succeeded in sweetening the actualities of Vietnam if television and a vigorous, uncensored, moral journalism hadn’t been brought to bear. Because the Second World War was fought against palpable evil, and thus was a sort of moral triumph, we have been reluctant to probe very deeply into its murderous requirements. America has not yet understood what the war was like and thus has been unable to use such understanding to reinterpret and redefine the national reality and to arrive at something like public maturity.
So wrote Paul Fussell in the Atlantic Monthly of August 1989
At 20 years of age Fussell found himself in France. Just across the channel and arriving in the dead of night this spoiled scion of a California family lay down to sleep. When he awoke he discovered the dead bodies of Germans his own age all around him. This is what war is like.These are the murderous requirements. America with leaders like Cheney and Bush totally ignored this. the pathetic Bush saw himself as a “War time” president. Only brave souls like Michael Moore called him on it.
America with no stomach for ground combat now sends murderous drones into Pakistan killing innocents. War still seems to be a grand chess game without real people.The human bodies sent to do the dirty work in places like Iraq and Afghanistan were poor whites, blacks with few other employment options, natives on reserves with no hope of employment, bored teenagers raised on Randolph Scott and John Wayne movies, cartoons like Rambo (made by the war shirker Sylvester Stallone).
Fussell adds this pretty picture:
After the disastrous Canadian raid at Dieppe, German soldiers observed: “The dead on the beach — I’ve never seen such obscenities before.” “There were pieces of human beings littering the beach. There were headless bodies, there were legs, there were arms.” There were even shoes “with feet in them.”
The Christian troubadour Bruce Cockburn comes closer to theological wisdom in his last album. His song Each One Lost makes the necessary point that all the dead “is a vital part of you and me.”
Here come the dead boys
moving slowly past
the pipes and prayers and strained commanding voices
and the tears in our hearts
make an ocean
all in this together don’t you know
You can die on your sofa
safe inside your home
or die in a mess of flame and shrapnel
we all in our time go
you know you’re not alone
you’re in the hearts of everybody here
Each one lost
is everyone’s loss you see
each one lost is a vital part of you and me
To remember is to end all wars.