Sunday, October 21, 2007

"Killing" the myth

Sometimes I regret my stubborn refusal to connect my television to the cable outlet. I worried Ken Burns’ 7-part documentary “The War” would stir a patriotic nostalgia for the last "good war". As an antiwar activist I felt I was shirking a responsibility to analyze and debate the effects it may have on the public’s mood about George Bush’s war in Iraq.

In August I read a Cape Cod Times column by Sean Gonsalves that seemed to express a similar anxiety: “One soldier's story I hope is represented in Burns' project is the kind offered by WWII vet Edward W. Wood Jr. in a book titled Worshipping the Myths of World War II: Reflections on America's Dedication to War.

I finally found the book during a visit to the lower 48. A few weeks past before I found the time to begin reading it, but it only took Part 1 – The First Myth – “The Good War” to understand why it impressed Gonsalves so much.

At least to this point, Wood doesn’t deliver a litany of facts as an intellectual challenge to the myth. Instead, he took me on a journey to his philosophical conviction intensely grounded in his brief combat experience and the severe wounds he suffered.

He doesn’t pretend to have been engaged in an objective study of his subject. But it’s not a case of selective research either, of fixing the facts to fit the argument. Rather, he gives the impression that he’s being led by his soul’s intuitive sense of purpose, as if his entire life was supposed to be dedicated to revealing to us all what war really means. “It is time, I think, to deal with what the word “killing” really means in combat”, he tells me.

It is this word that does the work for him. It appears so often in the text, in so many variant forms yet always revealing the same repulsive ugliness that it seeps into the core of my being. His mission is clear. He’s not intending to be savvy and tactful at all.

Once in his grip, my thoughts were transformed. I was no longer the curious reader in search of evidence to add to the layers already accumulated that support my anti-war position. I became fixated on killing just as he intended. The word war itself lost its abstract identity as an armed conflict between states. Death’s whisper gave into the loud blast of gunfire and explosions leaving the landscape in my mind a virtual killing field littered with bodies, in some cases, “blown into small parts by artillery fire”.

I don’t ever want to know firsthand “what the word “killing” really means in combat”, but Wood made me feel like I’ve tried to cheat by imagining I was intelligent and passionate in my antiwar views. I realized it’s his time to talk about killing with a force that goes beyond merely disturbing, and it was my time to listen whether I liked it or not.

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by Rich in Juneau