April 24, 2005

If Mr Saddam says

Two excerpts about war. I was struck by the quite different ways they pay tribute, you might say, to the same idea: life. Life in times of death.

The first, from Tobias Wolff's Vietnam memoir In Pharaoh's Army. These lines are about Wolff's training as a paratrooper, before he shipped out to Vietnam.

    The planes were C-130 turboprops. The prop blast was tremendous, and you jumped right into it. It caught you and shot you back feetfirst spinning like a bullet. You could see the earth and sky whirling around your boots like painted sections on a top. Then the chute snapped open and stopped you cold, driving your nuts into your belly if you didn't have the harness set right, snatching you hard even if you did. The pain was welcome, considering the alternative. It was life itself grabbing hold of you. You couldn't help but laugh -- some of us howled. The harness creaked as you swung back and forth under the luminous white dome of the silk. Other chutes bloomed in the distance. The air was full of men, most quiet, some yelling and working their risers to keep from banging into each other. The world was laid out at your feet: checkered fields, shining streams and ponds, cute little houses. For a time you belonged to the air, weightless and free; then the earth took you back. You could feel it happen. One moment you were floating, the next you were falling -- not a pleasant change. The ground, abstractly picturesque from on high, got hard-looking and particular. There were trees, boulders, power lines. It seemed personal, even vengeful, the way these things rushed up at you. If you were lucky you landed in the drop zone and made a good rolling fall, then quick-released your parachute before it could drag you and break your neck. As you gathered in the silk you looked up and watched the next stick of troopers make the leap, and the sight was so mysterious and beautiful it was impossible not to feel love for this life. It seemed, at such a moment, the only possible life, and these men the only possible friends.


The second is from Michael Kelly's book about the first Gulf War, Martyr's Day. (Kelly was an "embedded" journalist in the second Gulf War, and died in Iraq in April 2003). This is a passage about meeting the soldier son (Samir) of his driver in Baghdad (the driver himself a long-serving officer), only days before the war began.

    "I am concerned about the poison gas," Samir said. "They say the Americans will use gas." He went out of the room and came back with his new gas mask and his tool for neutralizing gas, a plastic syringe filled with atropine. "Everybody has them," he said. "They say they work very well, so I am hopeful."

    He did not seem hopeful. He stared at the floor and twiddled the gas mask in his hands. "I will die. Fight and die." He gave vent to a deep sigh. "What can I do? It is my country. My house. My blood. I must fight."

    "Yes," said his father. "If war comes here, we fight. In the meantime, what can we do? We cannot stay scared in our houses. We work, and eat and sleep and make love. That is life. And if Mr. Saddam says we die, we die."


wise donkey said...

ironic and tragic.

Quizman said...

This is a spurious comparison. The number of congressmen who have actually served in the military is quite large. Are you now saying that they should've forced their children into the military?

Dilip D'Souza said...

I would agree with Quizman that politicians who call for war must not necessarily have sent their kids into war too.

But then I would agree with Sriram too, when he points out that the greatest hawks are those who have never been in war, whereas those who have actually fought are often wariest of going into another war.