“The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. “
a Spartan King, quoted by Thucydides
My eldest daughter wrote a paper for a class that was leading to her Master’s in History. What better source than her own family? The title was “From Protester to Soldier: An Oral History”.
I was vaguely aware of her intentions, at least I think so. It was several years ago when she taped a four hour interview. She later told me that it took eight hours to transcribe it to written form, and then she was only able to quote about a third of what was said. She probably could have edited it down even further. She kept putting in stories that were interesting, but only tangential to the point of the essay.
The stories were part of the family lore so I can see why she had to include them.
As I said, this was almost four years ago so I barely remember the interview, and if she gave me the final paper, well, I don’t remember that at all. I don’t think she intentionally withheld showing me, her life was very busy, and she was eight months pregnant. All excellent reasons.
We were talking about it the other day, and she said she would forward the final paper once she found it.
I read it this morning and I was stunned. Of course I though it was brilliant. My daughter is brilliant, all of my five children are brilliant. It is quite another thing to read a paper based upon my life, with citations and quotes!
And beyond the factual data, there was an analysis that broke down the process of a moral shift in my thinking and beliefs. How did I shift from a Pacifist (active protestor) to a professional soldier?
Without even looking at the data, it would be reasonable to question whether either of those labels were correct. They may be accurate on the surface but perhaps neither one was felt very deeply. I am reminded that before uniforms were standard, soldiers would go into battle with different colored armbands. After the fighting began, one would look around to see how things were going, and if necessary you could always go into your pocket to put on the other armband. Everybody went to war with two armbands.
Was my pacifist nature deeply felt? Yes, it looked that way. I laid down on railroad tracks to stop the troop trains. My body wasn’t cut in half, I never really paid the price. I was tear gassed, I felt the baton’s, I was shoved through a plate glass window. But I bare no scars, not even emotional ones.
I knew people were dying on both sides of the war. I knew what war was, I saw it on television, and I was against it. Sorta.
There was still a part of me that was covered up. I made a choice to take the high road, and bury the berserker that was within. We all want to be better versions of ourselves. Part of that process is to see all the parts, particularly those parts that shouldn’t see the light of the day.
The army wanted the berserker. Fixing a bayonet to the end of a M-16, and using it as a short spear, a stabbing weapon in close quarters, is not a civilized process. In fact, someone looked at this and removed it from the basic training process. It was still there when I went through. I recall quite vividly the human dummy that I had to eviscerate with several thrusts, all the while emitting a primal scream. I’m pretty sure we didn’t ask the dummy to surrender.
Without getting too deep into the psychology, I think it is safe to say that my pacifist convictions were strong, but it was much easier to let out the berserker. I’m often reminded that we don’t have to practice to be uncivil.
What did the army use to break down my convictions? Again, one must look at the real strength not the surface appearance.
I think for me it was the “band of brothers”. I didn’t fight for some national ideal. I didn’t really fear the Communist Red Menace, I fought for my friend next to me, I fought for the platoon. I had a free ticket to get out and go home, I didn’t use it. I couldn’t leave, because they had to stay.
My daughter’s paper points this out fairly clearly even though the family lore stories tend to crowd it out. Looking at this forty-five years later is still amazing.