by Doctor Science
An absolutely not-to-be-missed discussion is taking place in the comments to Ta-Nehesi Coates' post, "The Great Trauma Of Your Generation". TNC front-pages a comment on Shelby Foote:
While other celebrated [the Japanese surrender] in the streets, Foote was devastated that World War II was over. According to Tony Horowitz, he had "missed the great trauma of his own generation's adolescence."So when Foote protests that he "certainly would have fought," when he speaks movingly of how "life would have been intolerable if you hadn't," when he romanticizes the combat and the killing, I can't help but think of the angry young man, disgraced for insubordination, too deeply shamed to return home, and ultimately denied the chance to redeem his honor on the field of battle.
The "War" side of the Standard of Ur, c. 2500 B.C.E. This is why we can't have nice things.
And then he includes a letter from a reader who talks about hir own father, who graduated from high school in 1946:
I always had the feeling he in some perverse way regretted the ending of the big war because it meant he had not been able to participate in the Great Event of his generation. He went into the Foreign Service where he spent his life in service of his career.Below the post, commenter after commenter chimes in, describing how the experience of fighting or not fighting changed their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. Almost all of the men who had been in active war zones refused to talk honestly about their experiences, and most never talked about it at all except with fellow vets. The upshot is that many families -- maybe even most -- have a mystery, a hole in their center: the men's experiences *changed* them, but they can't or won't say how.
I have some of his readers from high school and books from college. In the margins and the front and back are decently done drawings of various aircraft used in the war and individual soldiers outfitted in the war making kit of the day. I can imagine him daydreaming of the glory of the fight, itching to get into it which leads me to believe that romanticizing war is a definitively human problem, a failure of imagination or refusal to acknowledge reality that generation after generation makes.
I wonder how these dynamics played out in Germany and in the then-USSR -- soldiers' families in those areas experienced WWII directly, so the men's experiences would have been much less of a mystery, their trauma was part of a society-wide trauma. Not Talking About It is the consensus Japanese approach to dealing with WWII, so I don't know if there, too, the traumatic experiences of soldiers and civilians allowed a common ground.
Peter Paul Rubens, "Allegory of War" (1628). The woman in the center is a classical figure, as are the fallen around her. The setting -- the cannons, flags, and soldiers -- are those of The 80 Years War between Spain and the Netherlands.
But TNC's commenters also emphasize how few soldiers were part of "the tip of the spear", the actual fighting force, in WWII or Vietnam or Korea -- much less today -- and how common that experience is. They talk about men who were shattered by combat, ones who ate their hearts out because they never had a chance to see combat and be part of such a defining experience, ones who "missed the action" and were forever grateful for missing it.
I'm not going to pull any comments out, because you should read them all. Or talk here about how these things played out in your family.