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writing for godot

War Is Hell

Written by Thomas Magstadt   
Sunday, 25 November 2012 03:15
I shared an article RSN featured on November 24 on my Facebook page, but not without some reservations. The article, "Suicide Drones, Inside the New Army Arsenal" appeared in Wired, the magazine (see Noah Shachtman, "Suicide Drones, Mini Blimps and 3D Printers: Inside the New Army Arsenal", November 21). For anybody who wants to know more about the latest sci-fi weapons (robots, drones, sensors) the military is developing and deploying, it's essential reading. But there was one observation that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

Shachtman writes: "Most American soldiers used to live and fight from massive bases, complete with all sorts of creature comforts and heavy defenses. Today's troops don't have it so good." Really? So this uncritical, technology-admiring writer of a story that would have been science-fiction in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam thinks that yesterday's troops had it "so good"?!!

Now even allowing for the tendency of many reporters to get co-opted and "go native" and to take liberties with language and logic, the idea that soldiers in combat were somehow safer or in a better place in the past is, well, just plain stupid. To make invidious comparisons of any kind is to diminish the sacrifices of yesterday's troops. As a nation, we do enough of that – pretending our Vietnam vets didn't exist after Vietnam, for example – without any help from journalists and the mass media.

Although it happened nearly a century ago, one of the most lethal wars in modern history was World War I, in which millions died in the mud and blood of trench warfare that, even in retrospect, was utterly senseless. Neither side advanced than a few kilometers on the Western front in a killing zone memorialized in Birdsong, a book by Sebastian Faulks published in 1933 and still one that ought to be required reading for anyone who endeavors to understand – much less write about – war or the weapons of war.

But, of course, even World War I did not qualify as the bloodiest war in US history at the time. The US entered that war to make the world safe for democracy, in President Wilson's famous phrase but did not become a formal participant until April, 1917, a postponement that spared the lives of countless "doughboys" (members of the American Expeditionary Forces). And without dishonoring the sacrifices they made in the last 18 months of that war, one cannot fail to single out the Civil War – one of the least senseless wars in US history and the most lethal.

"Today's troops don't have it so good." Tell that to my neighbor many years ago who came back from Vietnam at the tender young age of 18 without his legs (no lie). Writing about the technology of war is one thing; knowing about war is quite another.

General William Tecumseh Sherman said it all a long time ago: War is hell. Always has been, always will be. That's all you need to know; but you're not likely to know it if you're looking at the world through infrared goggles.

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