Final Post

3 12 2009

When I first started this blog I had trouble decided what I wanted my topic to be (I changed it at least three times). However, I feel like change was a good topic to decide on. Change allowed me to look into many different aspects; almost everything in war changes.

I think the most profound change I have seen is in the lives of those involved with war. So many of the soldiers we read about seem to have become completely different people postwar. So many people are left with the feeling that even though they survived war, they were still dead because of it.

This loss of life, as it was prewar, is evident in many of the characters/authors we’ve read about. Vera Brittain, a young nurse who was never quite the same after the death of her fiance, Vladek Spiegleman, a old man who cannot let go of his son, his wife, his past, Billy Pilgrim, who is continually circling his life and time traveling, and Tim O’Brien who is a 43 year old (sic) writer who is still writing about Vietnam even though decades have gone by, represent everyone who has undergone an irreversible change in war. To find the casulities of war no counting or speculation is need, it should be apparent: the exact amount of those sent to war. Everyone’s prewar-self dies in war, whether they rise from the ashes or not is irrelevant; no one comes out of war as the same person that went in.

I think that these dramatic changes have made me come to one conclusion, it may seem cliched (especially after the last year’s campaigns) but what we need is change. We as a society have accepted war over and over again.  letting the notion of pride and honor justify what war does to both sides, just how much damage war truly does. We cannot just accept that war happens, has always happened and will always happen. It will only change if we change it. I do not believe war is human nature; I believe that war can be changed.


War, Inc.

12 11 2009

We are reading Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, and it intrigued my curiosity of fictional war stories. I decided to search for fictional stories about the Iraq War. I came across a movie called War, Inc. It also use satire to make a statement about war. It is set in the future and is about a completely privatized war. The war going on takes place in Turaqistan which is a fictional country created for the movie. “Tamerlane” is a company that is profiting from the war and therefore encouraging it to continue. While Saughterhouse Five incorporates unrealistic elements such as aliens, War, Inc. uses outlandish commercialism that is hard to believe would be accepted.  The Tamerlane company has gone so far as to hiring private “soldiers,” who are actually more like hit men, who kill people who are interfering with Tamerlane profits. The vast privitization that occurs in this film could be reflecting on the privatization that has already occurred in war, such as Blackwater.  The movie overall was speaking to Americans, asking why are we truly at war? And begging the comparison of the fictional commercialization and the actual commercialization taking place.
While  War, Inc, specifically addresses Americans, Slaughterhouse Five is speaking to humanity as a whole.  When Billy Pilgrim is with the Tralfamadorians, discussing how they will not stop the end of the universe, they say ,

“That’s the one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.”

The Tralfamadorians are the embodiment of “So it goes.” They accept everything as it happens, but this isn’t Vonnegut’s message. Similar to the satire in War, Inc. he is trying to show just how ridiculous this point of view is. He doesn’t believe in being passive. He references Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt, and says

“People aren’t supposed to look back” (28).

But he does. He creates a meta-fiction that is a “children’s crusade,” a protest to the Vietnam War. If he truly believed that things cannot be changed, then what would have been the point of looking back?  There is always hope for change, but first the problems must be recognized. These fictional war stories are another means of protest; another means of change.

Letters Vs. Blogs

5 11 2009

On Tuesday, my class discussed the reading we had read from Since You Went Away  a compilation of letters sent to soldiers in World War II. The letters are  all from women: wives, girlfriends, immediate family members, friends, etc. Comparing these letters with the blogs of army families made me think about the changes communication has undergone. Soldiers mostly communicate through blogs, emails, and phone and video calls; the hard written letter is a dying breed. But has some of the personal connection been lost in the technological transition? Letters evoke more of the senses which stimulate a connection. Holding a letter has a physical quality emails, blogs, phone and video calls all lack. You can hold a letter, see the qualities of a loved on in his or her handwriting which all brings a soldier closer to home. The text in a blog or email can be changes in color or font, but those colors and fonts are always pre-generated and does not capture ones personality the way handwriting can.   A letter is a part of someone poured out on to a page; a little piece of ones mind sent to someone else. To me letters are so much more personal than blogs or emails.
Milblogs brought me to the blog of the Yllescas Family. In the blog I read Dena, wife of Rob, a soldier who died of injuries, says something that stood out. She said,

“‘This was the last time Rob called home and I heard his voice.”  For the life of me, I can’t remember what we talked about that day.  I’m sure it was the “same old same old” but I just wish I could remember exactly the conversation.’

The last connection she had with her husband is gone. It is faded away in her memory. While it may be a consolation to have been able to hear his voice, if she had letters she could hold on that last conversation. It would be tangible; she could have those last few moments with him forever.

The new forms of communication bring people together instantly and let soldier and civilian actually see each other, but is this connection worth the lost of tangible remains of a conversation?  Perhaps blogs and emails will be saved like letters have been, but I feel that the personable connection letters maintain is lost in technology.


My Comments

29 10 2009

The Importance of Storytelling

29 10 2009

Storytelling is an important part of war.  I came across an article that reinforces this point. “Turning Swords to Pens, and Warriors to Writers” is an article from “The New York Times” that talks about a group of famous writers who are working with veterans to cultivate their writing skills.  The Writer’s Guild of America has set up

“a free weekend workshop… to which those schooled in war, some of them wounded, came to learn craft from writers for screen, stage and the publishing world.”

Participants range from Vietnam to Iraqi veterans. These “warriors”  who have teamed up with “writers” at this workshop all have different reasons for writing, but share a common goal: for their stories to be heard. We have recently been reading about Primo Levi’s desire to share his story and this article seemed to parallel with this.  In Survival in Auschwitz Levi talks about this reoccurring dream that he and many others have had while in Auschwitz. It was a dream in which Levi is telling of his experience in Auschwitz to his sister and friends but they do not listen to him. Levi asks,

“Why is the pain of every day translated so constantly into our dreams, in the ever-repeated scene of the unlistened-to story” (42).

Throughout Levi’s narrative there is an underlying theme of the importance of storytelling. He starts off with a Yiddish storyteller who represents an escape. He then transfers to a universal dream that represents the subconscious urge to tell a story. And next he himself becomes a storyteller sharing a story as he recants Dante’s “Canto of Ulysses.”  In “Turning Swords to Pens, and Warriors to Writers” Ms. Lumet, a screenwriter, jokes that “since Homer” people have been writing about war. The methods of storytelling today may changed but the passion remains the same. From a orally relayed legends all the way to blogs war stories have been prominent. Today the confinements of storytelling are relenting. Military personal have access to blog sites like in which they are being encouraged to share their stories. New technology like blogs and workshops like the one set up by Writer’s Guild of America are making sure that no ones stories go unheard.

The Horror, The Horror! – Joseph Conrad

19 10 2009
I generally like to believe that all humans are inherently good. However, reading and seeing accounts from the Holocaust make that statement hard to stand by. I can’t even begin to imagine being a part of the Nazi regime and encouraging or engaging in the atrocities that took place, but yet many did. It is easy to just imagine the Nazis as cruel soulless beings that are far from being human.  However, this is not true. They were just as human, in the most literal sense, as I am. “All There is to Know About Adolph Eichmann”, by Leonardo Cohen, builds on notion of the Nazi humanity.
EYES – Medium
HAIR – Medium
WEIGHT – Medium
HEIGHT – Medium
What did you expect?
Oversize incisors?
Green saliva?
Cohen stresses that even a man capable of horrendous crimes is not a monster, not a demon, but a man. Everyone involved in the reign of the Nazi party had a family, a life, but still were involved in brutally murdering millions. It is a concept that is completely unrealistic to me. Even more perplexing is the complacent behavior of German civilians. The Alfred Hitchcock documentary on the Holocaust really highlights this idea. The film cuts directly from a comfortable vacation home to the morbid death camps, two drastically polar worlds that in reality were merely miles away. It is easy for me to simply image all of these people as pure evil, but that is not the reality of it. A truly humanizing moment was when they brought German citizens, who had blatantly ignored the death camps, in to witness the burial of the dead. A sense of remorse became evident on their faces. This does not undermine the weight of the situation or excuse it in anyway, but it merely attempts to explain how this disaster could occur. The Milgram strives for the same purpose. It began as a response to the crimes  of the Nazi party, commencing only a few months after Eichmann’s trial. Milgram says, in “The Perils of Obedience”,
“Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”
Milgram’s experiment helps me to understand how the destructive force ideals of the Nazis could spread so quickly and be so effective, even amongst “regular people”.
The Taliban draws parallels to the Nazis. They inflict death and injury upon innocent people and have used propaganda and a nations economic depression to their advantage. They have extensive influence in the media and have began to recruit those who are most desperate. They have even turned to recruiting children. An article from “Stars and Stripes”, opens with the story of a six year old boy who had been instructed to perform a suicide bombing and goes on to explain that,
“By targeting children in impoverished villages, Taliban fighters and their cohorts have used promises of jobs, money, education and simply food to lure young boys to neighboring Pakistan for indoctrination and training as insurgent suicide bombers”
The insurgent group’s demonstrations are similar to the unimaginable actions of the Nazis. It is hard for me to understand how they justify killing innocent people and it is easy for me to view them in a sub humanistic manner. However, while the notion of luring children to take part in suicide bombings seems insidiously inhumane, it is none the less being orchestrated by humans. Part of ending the insurgent behavior is attempting to understanding it.
War has the power to change the human intent and morals. Humanity is not black and white. Everyone has the potential to do immense good, but also the potential to create inexorable evil.

“Memory fingers in their hair of murderers”

7 10 2009

In this post I would like to further look into the idea of lost innocence, but focus on the changes derived from subjection to violence.

In “The Ghosts May Laugh”, by Stuart D. Lee, Jenkins and Lewis debate what will happen to the dead bodies accumulating in France. Lewis suggest to send them all to an island. Jenkins responds,

Yes. You know I quite like that. An island of the dead, for the dead. And t hose of us who survive could ask to live there. At least we would be with our own then, and not have to mix with any dreadful civilians (34).

What stands out to me the most is the notion that “ we would be with our own”; the idea that the war has changed them so much that they are no longer synonymous with those who have not been to war. Not only do they feel they are connected to civilians, but they go as far as to feel more at home with dead soldiers.

“The Ghost May Laugh” highlights the coping methods the different characters chose to embrace. Jenkins falls to alcoholism, Lewis to didacticism and practical denial, and Jones to complete cynicism and nihilism.

Those whose defense mechanisms failed are expressed in “Mental Cases”, by Wilfred Owen. Their methods of coping were not strong enough to keep up the image of normalcy in such a brutal environment. I am going to included the poem in its entirety in order to capture it’s premise accurately.

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, – but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands’ palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

– These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lings that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable, and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.
– Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
– Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

These soldiers are haunted by the memories of war and these apparitions are true in the case of soldiers and civilians alike. If the effects of being subjected to violence so drastically alters the psyche of an adult soldier or nurse, imagine the developmental repercussions a child will acquire. An article from states,

Children who live in Afghanistan are particularly affected every day by a multitude of war time stressors which increase the likelihood of developing PTSD: trauma, child labor, and family and military violence. On a daily basis they are first-hand witnesses to the bombings, abuse, and the general upheaval of their home life and society as a result of war, including the effects of long-term poverty and familial turmoil.

This article really stood out to me because it is not only considering the psychological needs of children involved in war, but even the children of “the enemy”.

What are the repercussions of their subjection to war? What will they turn to in attempts to cope? If these children are left to cope it may hold dire consequences. Injustice and violence often breed anger and perpetuate problems we currently face.

  • “Afghani children suffering from post-traumatic stress.” – Science News, Technology, Physics, Nanotechnology, Space Science, Earth Science, Medicine. 23 June 2009. Web. 07 Oct. 2009.
  • Lee, Stuart D. Ghost May Laugh. 2005. MS. <> Royal British Legion. Web. 7 Oct. 2009.
  • Owen, Wilfred. “Mental Cases.” World War One British Poets Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others (Dover Thrift Editions). Minneapolis: Dover Publications, 1997. 22-23. Print.