Lately I’ve been pondering war. They’re political, they hurt like hell to think about– I’ve carried this morbid fascination with the topic since Modern World last year. That’s probably where this got started, learning about World War One and reading All Quiet On The Western Front. WWI was the last of the Romantic wars, trench warfare the disillusionment, the mass murder of innocence and honor. I have a book of WWI poetry sitting on my desk:
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
it is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
it is a spoke. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
–Charles Hamilton Sorley
–and that’s just one poem. This is the consequence of dividing soldiers in war from a bigger political agenda, I think, when even the people know not what they are fighting for. We see this again in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq. Why do we fight?
But that’s a digression– I’d like to focus on the act of war itself, fighting on a battlefield, fighting for your life. Today we hear about PTSD, flashbacks, blackout episodes in veterans, how they are unable to reintegrate into civilization. We don’t hear about that happening after World War Two, it was more of a post-Korea thing. Post-Vietnam thing. Apocalypse Now, Mr. Kurtz and the horror the horror, that was the first Art&Film movie I walked away from shaking and sobbing in fear and distress. Line that up side by side with Paul from All Quiet, the soldier he killed in a trench, and we see a theme. These men aren’t fighting for a greater cause, they’re fighting for their lives. They’re fighting to survive in a situation the Great Civilization dumped them in, and they’re coming out– fast as new cars in an assembly line– disappointed. Disillusioned– the great lie of politics and society, we make it so much more than it actually is, Governor Smoke and President Mirrors. This is the type of hopelessness that spreads, a pervasive undercurrent of thought already worming through the American consciousness, the great distrust in power. Watergate just made it official.
Bringing it back home, I’ve found a similar morbid fascination with Absurdist writings– maybe it’s related, maybe it’s not. All I know is I get the same big swallow in my throat, breathing hard the wrong way down my esophagus so my stomach gets bloated on emptiness. Let’s go. We can’t. Why not? We’re waiting for Godot. Ah! This hilarious sadness for something we’ve blown way out of proportions, we care so deeply for and mourn its lost– it’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. Civilization is a method for bookkeeping, its entire purpose to ordain and streamline modes of interaction between humans, and we’ve let the plaque build up in guise of Romanticism. We’re festering. We’re self-destructing. What the hell, hero, America, you weren’t supposed to let these ideals get out of hand. You weren’t supposed to idly stand by and believe anything with a federal stamp of approval over it. How little we want to care, it’s crass. It’s utterly, completely absurd.