Transformation?

       Although I have never served in any branch of the military, I have several very close friends who are either enlisted in the military currently or wake up every morning finding themselves living another day in the life of a military wife.  I remember getting a phone call from one of my best friends [she is a military wife] early last year, regarding her husband who had recently deployed to Iraq for 15 months.  She was distraught over something he had posted on a homepage describing his transition from a normal, peaceful outlook on military life to a war-devoted, thoughtless product of the military. 

      I could never begin to understand the thoughts that must run through the mind of a soldier at war.  I have never even travelled overseas, let alone for the purpose of leaving my family behind for months at a time so that I can gamble with my life.  Perhaps this isn’t what it feels like for all soldiers: I actually have several friends who recently came back from deployment to Iraq and they said it wasn’t so bad: “Just like any other job,” I remember hearing from one of them.  Maybe they were in a safer area.  However, the transformation seems inevitable for some.

      Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth includes excerpts from letters she receives from her fiance whose presence the War has robbed her of.  In one particular letter, Roland–unbeknownst to himself at the time–exposes the transformation that has taken place within himself because of his awful experiences:

      “I wonder if your metamorphosis has been as complete as my own. I feel a barbarian, a wild man of the woods, stiff, narrowed, practical, an incipient martinet perhaps–not at all the kind of person who would be associated with prizes on Speech Day, or poetry, or dilettante classicism.” (216)

Roland seems to be subconsciously saying that his talent for writing would be of no use to him now; undecipherable to those whom he used to impress with his wordly ways.  The poetic, well-versed Roland of yesterday had transformed into the war-torn, mechanical existence of today.  Although this was certainly upsetting to his distressed lover–to imagine him this way, so lifeless–it may have been necessary to him to keep him moving and to help him handle what the war was putting him through.

     In a post by Zachary-Scott Singley, he describes a similar inside-outside look at himself:

      “In my head are swirling memories and thoughts, things that I cover up with my charisma and my freakishly large ego. . . Go ahead all of you who have read my blog and decided that I am someone you’d like to meet, tell me how wrong I am, or how I’m a good person, but you are not me, you don’t really know what is in my head or what my eyes have seen.”

      Just as Roland had grown tired of Vera’s poetic tributes to his wonder and presence, owning up to the reality of what he had so tragically become, Singley expresses frustration over the true identity his experiences with war have given him.  Their realizations are bitter, and unkind to themselves and those who see them.  However, they also seem to convey a sort of humbleness that is admirable.  The guilt that seems to be tearing away at them in understandable.  Although commending them for their honesty with themselves seems to be the polar opposite of what they are trying to accomplish with their words, it is difficult not to.

Works Cited

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth.  New York: Penguin Group, 1933. (pp. 216)

Singley, Zachary-Scott. “EYES.” gocomics.tyepad.com. 29 January 2009. A Soldier’s Thoughts. 9 February, 2009. <http://gocomics.typepad.com/the_sandbox/>

The Threat Remains the Same…

      The threat of being recalled to active duty is something that remains omnipresent for many military veterans today.  A deadly ailment may eradicate and allow one of its sufferers a period of remission, but the possibility of return will always be there.  Those who have served in the military, even those who have already been deployed to the welcoming dangers of war, face the same difficulties having faith in their futures as everything can easily be lost to a recall to active duty/deployment.

      Alex Horton, an Army infantryman, discusses the effect that this threat has had on the life of his best friend Steve in his 2 February 2009 post, “Best of Friends.” Horton explains the risk that he and his friend took upon the completion of their active duty: bypassing the option of joining the Reserve or the Guard, opting for the IRR and hoping to be one of the lucky ones who would not receive orders for individual reactivation and deployment to Iraq.  Horton’s best friend was not that lucky.  Instead, he was one of the individuals whose attempt at starting a new chapter in life was stopped dead in its tracks by a single brown envelope.  Horton explains his feelings toward this disheartening selection process:

      “There is no warning that a former soldier is about to be recalled. There is no way of knowing that the       game of Russian Roulette is over and your brains are splattered all over the wall. There is only an unassuming brown envelope left on the front porch to say what is already known: Uncle Sam doesn’t run out of bullets.” (paragraph 7).

       Russian Roulette.  I imagine this is what it must feel like to any soldier who faces the possibility of returning to war. There’s more than one way for a soldier to dodge a bullet.  Even outside of the literal meaning of avoiding being shot while at war, some enlisted in the military may not be deployed to war during their active duty.  But what about those who have already been separated from their families at home, their friends, their past lives. . . only to return home finally with an unending fog around them threatening a repeat of historical horror. 

      Horton’s post reminds me of Robert Graves’ “To Lucasta on Going to the War–For the Fourth Time.”  A few lines in particular make this connection:

      “Lucasta, when to France your man/Returns his fourth time, hating war,/Yet laughs as calmly as he can/And flings an oath, but says no more,/That is not courage, that’s not fear–/Lucasta he’s a Fusilier. . .”

      These men returning to active duty courtesy of the IRR are not trying to be heroes.  They are not running from a civilian life or out of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  They are simply replying to a request for them to return to active duty.  This request is quite rhetorical in the sense that there is only one response.  This game of Russian Roulette that these soldiers are playing can be connected to succeeding lines in Graves’ poem:

      “. . . But he must be stout-hearted,/Must sit and stake with quiet breath,/Playing at cards with Death.”

      Whether playing Russian Roulette in the Iraq war, or playing cards with death in World War I, the constant threat of return to war does not seem to cease for any soldier.

Works Cited

Graves, Robert. “To Lucasta on Going to the War–For the Fourth Time.” World War One British Poets. Ed. Candace Ward. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1997. (pp.  39-40)

Horton, Alex. “Best of Friends.” Army Of Dude.Blogspot. Posted 2 February 2009.  Visited 9 February, 2009.  <http://armyofdude.blogspot.com/>