April 10, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

Playing Soldier

"He's right, Joe. When we ain't fightin' we should ack like sojers."

Bill Mauldin cartoon caption

Every time that North Korea is mentioned on the television news, we are shown a clip of a mass of goose-stepping, rifle carrying, North Korean soldiers parading. This is supposed to frighten the public. Well it doesn't frighten me any more than the River Dance troupe doing Irish dances frightens me. Why not? Because those marching puppets aren't real combat soldiers; they are dance performers.

Bill Mauldin wrote about the difference between real combat soldiers and the other kind. He described an infantry outfit that had one group of non-coms (non commissioned officers: sergeants, corporals etc.) when they were fighting and, when they weren't fighting, they were replaced with a different set of non-coms who were more suited to garrison life, which consists of clean pressed uniforms, marching, saluting, obeying orders and saying "Yes, sir."

Real combat soldiers, the ones who fight, are an unshaven, dirty, rough bunch. They don't have time to keep their shoes shined or their pants pressed or to shave. Guerrilla fighters don't even have uniforms.

What most civilians don't understand is what a soldier in combat is and does. That nice young man who you see kissing his wife good-bye, when he goes into combat becomes a ruthless killer. His business is to kill or capture the enemy. If he is not a skilled killer, he is more likely to become a corpse. When he goes home, he becomes, once again, the nice person that he was before he learned to kill. A rare few, like Timothy McVeigh, remain killers.

When combat veterans talk nostalgically about their military days, what they are probably recalling is the camaraderie of those who get shot at. Men in combat can get to be very close to each other; closer even than brothers. The word here is "love," although men rarely use that word when referring to their feelings about another man. There is a special kind of intimacy among men in combat. When a man's buddy is killed, it is a tremendous loss. With that loss comes rage at the enemy.

When a pilot has his plane disabled and he parachutes down, he might fall into the hands of the enemy, military or civilians. Those civilians might be the very people he has just bombed or strafed. The military will probably take him prisoner. The civilians may be so enraged that they might tear him apart. That a suicide bomber is willing to give his life to kill his enemies is, I suspect, more a matter of his rage rather than his religious beliefs.

What many people don't understand is that every time that an army kills a civilian or destroys his home, a child may have seen this and he is, from then on, angry and sworn to vengeance. That is where suicide bombers and terrorists come from. I think that it is less a matter of religion than it is of raw anger.

The biblical adage that as you sow, so shall you reap, is as true today as it was when it was written. Unfortunately, the leaders of some nations don't understand this; or maybe they just don't care.

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