I listen to and read a lot of history; it is fascinating to me, but it also helps me see the world with a little clearer lens.
And one of the things I am seeing more clearly is the horror of war. Veterans come home with memories burned into their souls, as one veteran said, and they never go away.
What shook me was a documentary on the Civil War I was watching. Yes, we know that there was a bad war and people died, but the depth of the horror, and the breadth, eludes us. When I heard the narrator describe how it was bad for people in the Civil War to be killed, but even worse for them to be taken to a hospital, I shuddered.
There was no sterile technique. There was no anesthesia, or if there was, it was highly ineffective. Doctors didn’t wash their hands between taking care of different patients. Men were as likely to die from painful infection as they were from actually being shot.
Bodies of dead soldiers were left in the fields in the Civil War; even in the World Wars, dead bodies and horses often lay in fields, rotting in the sun. In World War I, I read that soldiers often stood for days in the trenches in water, so long that their skin began to come off their feet. In World War II, men often wore shoes that did not fit. In the Civil War, African-American soldiers often had no shoes at all.
The more I read about war, the more I shudder. We so romanticize it. What did Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like after the atomic bombs were dropped? A witness who was there said that the people were screaming, little children wailing, saying, “It’s hot! It’s hot!” Some of the people were so badly burned that this witness, a reporter and photographer, said he could not tell who was male and who was female. One account I read contained this description:
“A huge fireball formed in the sky. Directly beneath it is Matsuyama township. Together with the flash came the heat rays and blast, which instantly destroyed everything on earth, and those in the area fell unconscious and were crushed to death. Then they were blown up in the air and hurled back to the ground. The roaring flames burned those caught under the structures who were crying or groaning for help. When the fire burnt itself out, there appeared a completely changed, vast, colorless world that made you think it was the end of life on earth. In a heap of ashes lay the debris of the disaster and charred trees, presenting a gruesome scene. The whole city became extinct. Citizens who were in Matsuyama township, the hypocenter, were all killed instantly, excepting a child who was in an air-raid shelter.” (http://www.gensuikin.org/english/photo.html)
We are quick to talk about the “bravery” of the men and women who fight in these wars, but we at home really have no idea. We hear wonderful, patriotic music; we see men and women in uniform and say we are proud of them…but what they have seen, we cannot even begin to imagine. It is easier to see a returning soldier hug and kiss his girlfriend than it is to take the time to read about and study what war does.
As war rages in Syria and in other places in the world, I shudder. I shudder to think that there are people, in quest of power, who want a war; they think, I suppose, that war is a sign of strength, but all it is is an exercise in human cruelty. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich criticized President Barack Obama because he apologized for the fact that Korans were burned in Afghanistan. Better an apology, a sign of respect for other people, than an arrogance which only feeds those hungry for war. The leaders of Pakistan and Iran seem to be hungry for war. It’s a scary thought.
The more I read, the more I want and need to read. It makes me wonder what this nation, this world, would be like if there had never been wars. It would seem that, given the horror of war, we in this country and in the world have a lot of men and women who are mentally ill, stressed beyond repair from the ravages of war and the horror they have seen. Post-traumatic stress syndrome might be causing post-war problems in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. We don’t come close to honoring and taking care of these men and women, our veterans, who have seen what no human eyes ought to see.
That cannot be a good thing. War is not something to be romanticized. War is to be hated and avoided.
A candid observation …