What a War Is.
By: Elaina Russell
“I appeal for cessation of hostilities, not because you are too exhausted to fight, but because war is bad in essence.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Anyone with a connection to the military has, at some point, the realization of what war is. We realize that our close friends and our family could be affected by it. At night, before we go to bed, we wonder if our family will still be with us tomorrow. We wonder, if in a week, they’ll be in a different country fighting a war in which they have no say. The not knowing is the worst part, the not understanding how a war might affect them, might change their whole personality, might make them into an entirely different person. Yet, at the same time, how can we can be expected to realize that they will change, when we hardly know what a war is?
A war is never moral. It does not encourage virtue. If a war seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of the war you feel achieved, in the sense that you have finished the battle, then you have been made the victim of a lie. There is no reasoning behind a war, there is no sense in killing our brothers and sisters in God just to satisfy the needs of the wealthy politicians for whom we are pawns. Rather, a war is hatred, it is greed, and it is in the most epic sense a betrayal of the gifts which God has given us.
War is pride. War tears apart families. It takes away opportunities. It forces the Harvard boy to become a solider. It makes wives into widows. It takes boyfriends from girlfriends, girlfriends from boyfriends; fathers from families (O’Brien Chapter 9.) The war forces kids to grow up too soon, mothers to grow old quicker. War is the mud at the bottom of a bog, it grabs ahold to your legs and pulls down deeper and deeper with each step, “and with each step one would have to pull up hard to break the hold.” (O’Brien 158.)
War is lies. War is killing a man out of a sense of duty, but not danger. War is being told that as a soldier it was your duty to kill, that you should stop trying to figure out the purpose of it, but rather think about the fact that the man would have killed you just as fast. To be asked, “You want to trade places with him? Turn it all upside down — you want that? I mean, be honest.” (O’Brien 120.)
For First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, war was carrying a girl named Martha’s letter and pictures and memories with him across Vietnam; it was knowing that if he got home she would be the same person from the pictures, not knowing if he would be, but loving her anyways. For Rat Kiley war was stories. It was writing a letter to his friend’s sister, and never getting one back.
The journey home, after war, never ends. You always carry it with you, you’re always still ‘at war’. The people you love are either gone, or think you to be too different than when you left; they don’t understand what it’s like to fight in a war that has no purpose. After war is a monster in it of itself, it is a continual uphill struggle to be absorbed back into the social norms of society. After war is men staying silent about what they’ve experienced, no one wants to hear about the terribleness, only the good intentions. For some, after war is drowning in the memories, it is trying to conform and failing. It was like this for Norman Bowker. Norman survived the war but died fighting the battle. He died at home, the very place he was defending.
War is not beautiful. War is not justifiable. War is never over, it is never won. War is bad, and war is wrong.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. 4th Estate, 2019.