The Horrors of War

The Horrors of War 22

We can only imagine what it is like to be part of a war. I am luckily to have spent most of my life untouched by war. It is true that when I was in my late teens there was the Falklands War. My brother in law was sent off, as part of the “task force”. It was very surreal, Britain fighting Argentina, over some islands most people in Britain had never heard of. Thankfully my brother in law came back, despite sustaining an injury, to his eyes. He was no longer able to be a helicopter pilot due to his impaired eyesight, but at least he came back alive and was able to be a parent to his three young children. My father was a prisoner of war for almost the entire duration of the second world war. How much he was scarred from the this experience it is hard to calculate, he was reticent to speak about this, it was a part of his life he wanted set apart, conceal. The psychological collateral of war is enormous. The things soldiers and civilians drawn into a conflict see undoubtedly leave their mark and are imprinted on the minds of those who witness unimaginable horror before their eyes.

I was brought up on a diet of war films, that were essentially propaganda. The hero always survived or if not died heroically, but was killed in a wholesome way, a clean shot in the chest. They were war films without the gruesome reality of war, showing soldiers going about their duty, as they should. There must have been a few films that were realistic. It was a time when a boy wanted a toy gun, pretended to a soldier, without being aware of the true impact of war on he lives of those involved.

When “Searching for Private Ryan” came along, war films took a new direction. It is the start of the film for me that is the most meaningful, the rest of the film does not have its intensity. The film has been criticized for all its mistakes, inaccuracies and contradictions, put to one side all of this and the first half an hour of the film has a great pertinence.
Seeing the limbs of friends and comrades being blown off, bullets whizzing past you, the noise, men screaming in agony, men drowning, all this unimaginable carnage going on all around you, is as close as we can get to trying to understand what it is like…to a certain extent at least. Those who had been through the experience, World War II veterans, were of the opinion that the film was the most realistic depiction of combat they had ever seen. Some found it too realistic , veterans of D-Day and Vietnam left theaters rather than finish watching the opening scene depicting the Normandy invasion. The film even meant that visits to posttraumatic stress disorder counselors rose in number after the film’s release, and many counselors advised “‘more psychologically vulnerable'” veterans to avoid watching it.

Funnily enough the last in the series of “Blackadder” in which Rowan Atkinson stars as a captain in the horrific first world war, underlies the stupidity of war. Idiotic aristocratic generals sending young men in their prime to certain deaths, as it was sure they would be  massacred by machine gun fire. The sentiment in Blackadder influenced a passage in one of my stories called “Blind Shot”.

It is a story about a man who is blinded during a war. It is a story about paranoia. Without the man’s use of his eyes, his imagination begins to get hold. The man who is married has an affair while recovering in hospital with one of the nurses. The nurse reads him letters, supposedly sent by his wife, telling him she is going to have a baby, but the father is another man. The man is not only traumatized by the war but also is afraid of going back to his wife. Here is an excerpt in which an aristocratic General talks to the main character

It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but it proved to be
just another in a long list of bloody transactions by power-hungry
politicians, money-grubbing industrialists, and incompetent generals,
which led to pointless casualties. He’d barely arrived in the trenches
before being ordered by his commanding officer, a man more versed in
killing stags on a Scottish heath than military tactics, to send his
company of minimally trained adolescents to their deaths. He’d fared
luckier than most, or so he was told. The medics found him face down
in the mud, barely breathing, and dragged him back to friendly lines.
They’d patched up his flesh wounds and applied the usual
psychological salve to his fractured mind. The only thing they couldn’t
fix was his eyes. The gas had left him blind.
His unit, due to be issued gas masks, had been rushed to the front
without them in a moment of desperation. The general, drawing first
from a cigar wedged between his fat fingers and then from a flask of
brandy, had shared with his captain a few words of encouragement
before issuing a preposterous order: “They won’t need gas masks. The
young lads are fit and healthy. If they have their wits about them, they
should be able to dodge bullets or whatever is thrown in their
direction,” adding in a more menacing tone, “and if they don’t follow
their orders and do their duty, you’ll all be court-martialed and shot.
Better to die an unsung hero than live a coward!” he chortled,
dismissing the captain.

As Edwin Starr said..

War, huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, oh hoh, oh
War huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again y’all
War, huh good God
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go off to fight and lose their lives

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