Friday, November 12, 2010

My Log 235: Canada’s Remembrance Day always celebrates war: one American programme dealt with its real consequences

I am always put off by the celebrations each year on Nov 11 that, in Canada at least, glorify war and those who make it. Some perspective is needed: for example, I am not lost in unquestioning admiration, as I feel everyone is expected to be, for soldiers who have volunteered to become an occupying army in a foreign country, Afghanistan.

This year, this splurge of pro-war sentiment was mitigated for me by an American production by HBO called Wartorn 1861-2010 which documented the sad case of the millions of soldiers who have suffered what used to be called combat fatigue, and currently is known under the more scientifically accurate title of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In other words, it is about soldiers who have been psychologically damaged by what they have seen and undergone on the field of battle. This is the true face of war, and the way such victims have been treated historically is also the true face of war: for many years --- the most recent examples given in this film concern the recent wars ---- people who have reported to their superiors that they were suffering psychological impairment have been told to take a pill, and get back out there like a man.

This movie, produced by James Gandolfini, the actor, gave us soldiers, old and young, who recalled how their lives had been dominated ever since by what they had undergone of the field of battle. Men who, on returning home, simply could not sit down at the table and eat, and then get up and resume the normal lives they had led before. “It gets inside you,” said one old man, “and you can never get rid of it.” These men had lost their jobs, then their wives and families. One reported never having spoken to his sons for 25 years, so disgusted were they to have a father whose sickness could be classified as cowardice.

General George Patton was quoted as having slapped a mentally exhausted soldier and told his officers to get that lily-livered coward back into battle.

The story was told of one young man who, on returned from overseas duty, four months later was arrested for holding up and trying to rob a cab driver, an offence for which he was jailed for six years. Having given his all, everything he had, including his sanity, his mind, he was then jailed, his prospects of living a half-decent life ruined forever. And, said his family, the man who conducted this attack was not heir son, not the son they knew before he went to serve his country, a gentle boy who would never have done anything like that.

Part of the problem, as described by many participants, was that soldiers are taught to kill, and it is something they cannot forget when they return to what was once their normal life.

I remember reading once that though 50,000 Americans had been killed in the Vietnam war, more committed suicide after the war, traumatized beyond endurance by what they had seen, and been subjected to.

Headlines shown in the film indicated that from the first Great War, some 70,000 American soldiers were suffering from what was called then either shell-shock or combat fatigue.

Many soldiers testified to having had continuing nightmares throughout their lives, to being unable to sleep, to flirting with suicide as the only possible escape from the nightmares they had to live with.

I recall from when I was a young boy that I read a book written after the First War World by a New Zealander who was a conscientious objector to war. So brutalized was he by the military posture of forcing everybody to be a man, that when he continued with his determination not to enter the killing machine, he was finally literally tied by a rope and dragged up to the frontline by his heels, by his tormenting soldier guards.

That war, all war, is horrible and indefensible should be clear enough to everyone, including our leaders, and greater efforts should be made to avoid it.

To take only two of the current wars under way: the path to peace between the Palestinians and Israelis has been laid down and should be followed, except for the built-in suspicions of the leaders, mostly of the leaders of the side that finds itself in a position of physical and military superiority; and in Afghanistan, where an indigenous insurgency has arisen to resist the foreign invaders, among whom are numbered Canadians.

We should get out of there, and leave hem to sort out their own problems.

Furthermore, I have to add that the only thing Canada needs armed forces for is to act as peacekeepers whenever the world decides to intervene in one of the many local wars from which we are never free. Otherwise, that aside, I really believe that expenditure of billions of dollars on armies, navies and air forces is a colossal waste of money.

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