Saturday, May 2, 2009

Biis Saladahii (Our Group of Soldiers)

"Joe, yestiddy ya saved my life, an I swore I'd pay ya back.
Here's my last pair o' dry socks."

A Comment Provokes a Post

The final comment I read on the thread for Habiiti Gawo Ga'an, Habi Do'atiil, was left by somebody posting as zipperupis.

Here's what he said:

I am just beginning to process my experiences in Haditha. Thank you for this... It is truly what I didn't do that haunts me. If only I could have just been a camera instead of a Marine.

I started on a response in the thread but decided to post this directly on its own.

One of the things that really works my nerves on a regular basis is this whole "new kind of war" bullshit.

War really hasn't changed all that much. The technoweenies are always coming up with stuff that will change the face of war. It never does.

The same Bill Mauldin that drew the very true cartoon up at the top also drew another that I wasn't able to find.

Willie and Joe are propped up against a wall, smoking luckies, and looking at a pilot type, young, bright and shiny, who is reacting in horror to a Stars and Stripes headline that says:

Guided Missle Technology Renders Airplanes Obsolete

Joe, or maybe it's Willie says to the young man:

Don't let it worry none Mac. I been obsolete fer hunnerds a years.

Those of us who have stood, fought, bled, and died in the line of battle share a lineage that goes far back into human history. Probably all the way back to good old Mog and Og the stone age guys who once said to each other "Dude, I got a great idea! We can dress alike and march around together!"

I have never seen any technology that will change the essential component of any war. It always comes down to the grunts. Guys who carry their shit in a sack and walk with their boots on the enemy's ground.

The weapons change. The folks who don't fight are always trying to figure new and improved ways for the guys that do to kill each other. Armor comes and goes. Guns get bigger, then they get smaller again.

It always comes down to finding a group that is willing to ruck up and walk within range of the other guy's stuff. Sometimes, history will tell us that what we did was a good thing. Sometimes we are allowed to actually accomplish shit. I started a hellaciously brilliant bar fight in Saigon by telling a pilot "Pilots make rubble. Grunts make history." We fought, then we all got drunk together.

The best, and maybe the only advice I can give you is this. Having been in battle, you know exactly who you are. Nothing about yourself will ever be hidden from you. Learn it. Face it. Take it all, the good and the bad, the sublime, the ridiculous, the noble, the craven, the beautiful and petty. Take it all. It's all you.

Don't rationalize or excuse. If you did wrong, accept that. It's OK. There's a stele in Afghanistan that was put up by Alexander's troops to mark a mass grave of their brothers. A Flag Sergeant, known only as "Stephanos" who was the holder of an Athenian prize for poetry wrote the words that are still there.


In the company of soldiers
I have no need to explain myself
In the company of soldiers
everybody understands.

In the company of soldiers,
I don't have to pretend to be the person I'm not
Or strike that pose, however well-intended, that is expected
by those who have not known me under arms.

In the company of soldiers all my crimes are forgiven
I am safe
I am known
I am home
In the company of soldiers.

327 BCE

Forgiveness is something that we are told we should do. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. For me, with the full knowledge of what I've done, and those troubling things that I failed to do, it's not enough. Forgivenss is also not my job.

I'm looking for redemption.

I'm not religious. When I hear the bullshitter REMF's spouting their favorite bromide There are no atheists in foxholes. I tell them that right fucking there is exactly where I lost my faith. I looked at the carnage around me, the smoking rubble of Hue, the bloody knife ridge valley of the A Shau, and all those places where I watched myself change and watched them carry my brothers away and I decided that even if that God they were always talking about existed, I wasn't going to give it any worship. If their God was capable of calling what I saw "part of a perfect plan" then fuck that god. Fuck all gods.

I figure that if I continue to live my life as well as I can. If I do the best I can by my children and family, if I give freely back of what has been given to me. I'm not afraid to meet anybody's god.

When they spout their threats of hell I tell them, Fuck you. I been. Hell's doable.

There's a passage in Xenophon's Anabasis where the hoplites of the phalanx are gathered around a small fire. They are talking about the things that matter to them. The heroes of the past, the things that they themselves have done and know that they will do as they fight their way across Iraq, through Turkey and try to get themselves home.

One of them, a grizzled old veteran of the war between Sparta and Athens, now a mercenary Sergeant (and for the Greeks, officers and sergeants were elected postings) named Glyppus (probably a Spartan) says that he wants no part of the legendary heroes. He says that they don't know fear and that makes them dangerous to the men around them. In their quest for personal glory and acclaim they break the integrity of the line and the phalanx. Glyppus says that he wants men around him who feel fear, but know that there are things that matter more than fear.

One of the young soldiers asks the inevitable question "What matters more than fear?"

Glyppus says "Love."

Zipperupis, you filthy grunt jarhead.

I love ya.