War is HELL!

Last Wednesday, a long-time friend of mine picked me up at my home. The two of us went for breakfast at a local restaurant. We weren’t seated in our booth longer than 2-minutes before a heated discussion began taking place two booths in front of ours.

Two younger men—much younger than either me or my friend . . . mid to late 20s, we estimated—began to get into a heated discussion over a movie titled American Sniper.

I’m not going into the nitty-gritty of the movie. For those who have no idea what the movie’s about, they may click on the link above; or simply type “American Sniper” into a laptop or smart-phone browser.

I did not see the movie in its entirety, but given my own combat experiences during Viet Nam and viewing multiple clips of the flick in question, I’ve grasped its secondary social objective.

And I say “secondary” objective because, like all movie productions, its main objective was raking in as much profit as possible.

At any rate, my point in bringing this up is to emphasize a moral disconnect between those who think the movie depicted the actions of a national hero and those who think otherwise—and sometimes quite LOUDLY.

I won’t take sides on this movie. I understand both sides relative to what it’s about. And make no mistake about it; there are two valid but diametrically opposed interpretations as to what it’s describing, but, either way, both sides possess relative degrees of validity.

I served two combat tours in Viet Nam, and I didn’t volunteer for either of them. I thought that the whole premise of our combat involvement in Viet Nam was a bogus reason for sending American troops to war; it was politics at best.

At no time did I think that I was doing anything patriotic for my country; I was fighting to stay alive, and to protect my fellow combatants. It had nothing to do with defending America.

Real combat is a lot different than “movie” combat. No matter how realistic film directors try to make it look to viewers who remain tucked safely inside a movie theater or in front of their TV sets, real combat veterans know better.

During my combat tours, I experienced some of the most violent fire-fights possible (virtually hand-to-hand combat much of the time).

But combatant mind-sets vary. Today’s military is ALL volunteer. This was not the case during the nation’s dally in Viet Nam. And while people were perfectly free to voluntarily join the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, each of those military branches had the authority to draft however many people they needed.

Situational mindsets aside, all combatants do whatever they have to do to survive. It’s a terrifying experience, and snipers are a necessary part of the scenario . . . on both sides.

Snipers KILL people . . . INTENTIONALLY; it’s what they do! And yes, innocent people die in the process. But while your average American sniper isn’t fond of pulling the trigger on innocents, most of the time it’s virtually impossible to tell who’s actually innocent; nor is there time to debate the matter.

During WWII, Ernie Pyle became one of this country’s most notable war correspondents. Actually, many people gladly crowned him THE greatest war correspondent. Here’s an image of him; he was killed by a Japanese sniper.

Sometimes it’s just impossible to put some emotions into words, and mortal combat has to rank in the top two. It takes immense courage to overcome crippling fear, and words are inadequate in describing it.

Combat changes its participants, too. Most of us get over it and get on with our lives. Others adjust to it by learning to justify everything they do as a patriotic duty in service to their country and their fellow combatants. And still others simply never get over it at all.

And while combat is certainly about the dead and wounded, horrible wounds and their associated pain, bullets, IEDs, fire, noise, and—quite often—sheer bedlam, it’s mostly about what happens in a combatant’s guts and mind during the lulls.

Horror almost always manages to elude a definitive aura at the time we experience it. But afterwards (for some, long afterwards) the mind decides to collect its payment.

My combat days are long past—over 50-years ago. And while the nightmares have almost completely subsided, I still occasionally (even into my mid 70s) bolt upright in my bed, sweating profusely with my heart pounding in my head. And for one more brief moment, I’m right back in that jungle hell-hole.

So I would suggest that, unless they’ve actually been there, people need to keep the self-righteous moralizing (pro AND con) to themselves.

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