Most people have heard of Major Dick Winters if for no other reason than his role in the epic HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. His exploits with Easy Company in World War 2 have become legendary and his competence as an officer makes us enlisted grunts all weak in the knees for an officer such as he. His gallantry and service to this nation are beyond reproach. But would it surprise you that this proven warrior asked not to be deployed to Korea when called back to active duty. He had seen enough of war and had no desire to return. After a brief stint training others for the war, Major Dick Winters resigned his commission and went on to live the quiet civilian life until he was made famous by Steven Ambrose’s famed book. Robert E. Lee once said, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” And that has led me to question for those of us who fought in the Global Wars on Terrorism (GWOT) as to whether not it was terrible enough to prevent the next.
Experiences May Vary
I might not be the best one to bring forward this question as my time in 2003 Iraq as a Marine grunt was somewhat benign. But out of all the people who happen to run a blog titled Unprecedented Mediocrity, I seemed to be the best fit so I’m asking it. I couldn’t classify my time in war as terrible. I saw death and was in fact shot at by the enemy on rare occasions. But thanks to some poor Company level planning, I was actually shot at by friendly forces as well. And due to the limited combat I experienced, I honestly couldn’t tell you whether I was shot at by more Iraqis or Americans during the war. They all missed, so it’s cool either way.
I actually think the most terrible thing I experienced might have been the bathroom situation you see above. If you have ever sat down to relieve yourself over the smoldering scent of burned diesel and feces, you know what I’m talking about here. But experiences vary. If you were one of the Marines kicking in doors throughout the streets of Fallujah, you certainly got a better glimpse of terrible than I. Fighting it out in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan certainly could introduce one to terrible. IEDs are in fact terrible. But I’m not sure it is the kind of terrible of which Robert E. Lee spoke.
A Little Terrible and a Lot of Fondness
So when I talk about whether war was terrible enough, I’m really speaking on a global scale along the line of which Robert E. Lee referenced and the bulk of history has always proven to be the case. There have been perhaps a million plus Veterans to cycle through the wars of the past 13 years and you would be hard pressed to convince me that the majority of them would describe this war as terrible. Those who never left the Forward Operating Bases still served a vital role with distinction and honor, but don’t come home talking to me about your 1,000-yard stare or use the word terrible to describe your war because a couple of mortars landed inside the wire while you were playing Xbox. The POGs or REMFs who had to scramble as the Germans pushed through at the Battle of the Bulge can call it terrible all they want.
But even for those of us who lived outside of the wire, our experiences are often more dictated by the date and time of our deployment than the war itself. Mine was benign, but yours might have had a healthy dose of terrible. But even if yours was terrible, was it 5,000 Vietnamese throwing themselves on the wire in a human wave assault terrible? Was it surrounded by a hundred thousand Chinese in the Frozen Chosen Reservoir terrible? Was it watching the landing ramp drop on your Higgins boat and seeing the heads in front of you explode terrible? Firing a drone missile from Pensacola might be difficult, but taking a B-17s over Nazi Europe amidst heavy flak and the Luftwaffe is absolutely terrible.
I’m not making light of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan of which I was a part. However, I’m of the opinion that there is a key reason it is important for us GWOT Veterans to acknowledge whether or not we got heavy doses of all the parts that grow a fondness for war and just minor doses of the parts that make it so terrible.
The GWOT Generation Will Send the Next to War
To me, it is really that simple. My Grandfather served in World War 2 and I can remember him showing me the purple marks on his hand and arm where metal still rests. My father was the Vietnam generation, but by his own admission, he chose the submarine service because they looked like they were the most laid back and far from combat. And here I am with a 1-year-old son wondering what war I will send him to. My grandfather died a few months after I returned from Iraq and he worried about me more than any according to family because the war he knew was inexplicably more terrible than the one I actually endured. Experiences vary, but few men, most assuredly some but few, of the GWOT wars can look Dick Winters of Easy Company in the eye and say, I feel you bro.
Is it possible my fellow GWOT Veterans, that as we rise to positions of power and influence that we will send our sons and daughters to a truly terrible war because we failed to recognize that we had but a glimpse of one. We all miss the war in some fashion, that much is universal. We miss the camaraderie, sense of purpose, and thrill of combat. But we dominated the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps we just flirted with the true nature of war whereas previous generations saw her in all her ghastly glory.
Our service is just as honorable, but if we don’t ask ourselves the hard questions about what we experienced we might be proving Robert E. Lee’s axiom true in the worst way. For if we don’t believe war to be terrible, we might be too quick to send our sons and daughters headlong into it without considering the terrible history of war. Were the GWOT wars terrible enough? Mine wasn’t and if you are not 100% certain yours was, then history and the future demands you stop and take stock.
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