Globalization and Military
My grandpa always used to talk about his days as a naval officer on the pacific on the U.S.S Columbia. He talked about the one time he took shrapnel during a kamikaze attack and mentioned the time one of his best friends was killed in battle. Every time he talked about his experience in the navy he had a spark in his eyes even when his health was not in its peak, and as a little kid I didn’t understand why. When I was ten he passed away and my family took his framed photo of the U.S.S Columbia. My mom hung it up in the living room and I saw it every day as I left for school. My memories in school consisted of daydreaming about serving on a naval ship, fighting in a war, and saving my fellow soldiers from an incoming insurgency. I told my parents I aspired to be a naval officer on a battle ship, but as I have grown up, I have developed a much more nuanced view of war, and a clearer perspective on how my grandfather’s experience was when he was in the military.
My idea of war when I was ten, was certainly different from what my grandpa experienced. In my imagination, it was more of the comic-book movie than any of the stories my grandpa told me. It was what any typical ten-year-old thought of war, a fantastical glorification that was probably as far from the truth as it could have been. In my head, I would wake up in my bunk and go to my made up designated battle station and I would fight an enemy with no face.
There would be some inexplicable explosions, some carriers and battle ships would go down, and some planes would fall into the water. Then I would wake up in the security of a dull middle school class.
My grandpa always talked about how positive of an experience fighting in war had been. He talked about the life-long bonds he made with his fellow soldiers and how it was a way out of his impoverished neighborhood in Kensington, Philadelphia. He never talked about horrors of war, and I am not sure if it was to protect young ears or to maybe not relive what he went through. Once he mentioned about his friend dying in battle, but he never told the distinct details of the occurrence.
In my adolescence, I had a short-sided view of the world just like my peers. The severity of war was miniscule to me. I did not understand the finality of the event. As I have grown I have realized there is small-scale tragedies in large scale military conflicts. Mothers and fathers lost their sons, wives lost their husbands, and children grew up without a dad or mom. Not to mention the civilian causalities in World War II that numbered in the tens of millions. Entire generations were close to near annihilation in a period of six years. The calamity of the war never registered in my head as I envisioned the battleships firing their non-consequential artillery at one another in my day dreams. Middle-school level history text books only discussed war on face value, like military tactics and profiles about important generals and government officials. They never talked about the strife of common people fighting for their country’s freedom. The history classes made me have an urge to learn about people like my grandpa and how they experienced the war.
History classes, I think, are meant to be boring. It feels as though the curriculum’s purpose is to make sure students do not look further into certain subjects that are being taught. I do not think people are able understand the consequences of real world events through a list of facts or a couple of paragraphs that show a broader view of what happened. In America, we do not live in war time. Because of this, we do not know the consequences for war. We can sit around and talk about it or read about it, but how is a lay-person supposed to understand tragic outcome of military confrontations?
I simply think we cannot. And we most definitely cannot if we just read a textbook or watch a couple news segments. But I think people can get a grasp of real war experience if they read memoirs or watch documentaries from the ground. For example, a letter from the Battle of Verdun, one of the most devastating battles of World War I reads as follows “Anyone who has not seen these fields of carnage will never be able to imagine it. When one arrives here the shells are raining down everywhere with each step one takes but in spite of this it is necessary for everyone to go forward. One has to go out of one's way not to pass over a corpse lying at the bottom of the communication trench. Farther on, there are many wounded to tend, others who are carried back on stretchers to the rear. Some are screaming, others are pleading. One sees some who don't have legs, others without any heads, who have been left for several weeks on the ground”. The soldier starts off with “no one will be able to imagine it”. It is impossible to imagine a battle of this magnitude in one’s mind, but I think that one can get close if they read from primary sources like this letter.
The soldiers who witnessed Verdun called it a meat grinder. The meat grinder was the name for the density at which artillery shells hit the ground. The shells fell at such a rate that it seemed as though, artillery walls were crashing down. According to memoirs after the war the tactical strategy for general Erich von Falkenhayn, was to immobilize the French military by making them suffer as many casualties as possible. So essentially Falkenhayn wanted to bait the French army into a human meat grinder so that the army would collapse. At the end of the battle the French were victorious anyways, I leads one to believe that all of that killing was all for naught.
When I learned about World War I in grade school, the teacher would give a lesson for an hour three times in a week. So the how is a student supposed to learn everything about World War I one in three hours? Mostly the lesson involved memorizing a list of names and facts that school children would forget as soon as they would finish a quiz or test on the subject. And I am not saying that school children should learn about human meat grinders but they should learn about the buildup of tragic conflicts and the brutal outcomes that follow. I think a teacher could have gone over the events building up to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and make that a lesson plan for a week. The fact that a group one person, Gavrilo Princip, triggered a series of events that resulted in two World Wars and millions upon millions of human casualties goes over people’s heads. And most people do not know why this Bosnian nationalist assassinated Franz Ferdinand, I think a teacher might be able to have a whole class on just that.
It is easy to make history interesting, a teacher only needs to put a human face on the events. If the students have something to relate to, they are more likely to be intrigued by history. A perfect example of this Anne Frank, A kid about the age I was when I was learning about World War I.
The Diary of Anne Frank was required reading in seventh grade. Anne Frank was a twelve-year-old Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. I started reading about the holocaust, and other horrific war crimes. I read about the savagery taken part during the battle of Verdun during World War I, where soldiers drowned in artillery craters filled with toxic waste. After learning about these tragedies, I knew my grandfather did not tell me the true nature of war. For the first time, I got a different perspective about the hardship of war other than my grand pop’s story-telling of comradely and escapism. It opened my eyes to a new reality, and the glorification of war disappeared in my mind.
The infamous dictator of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic”. This quote in retrospect is eerie as Stalin is responsible for the death of millions of his own people. When one reads the quote without the context of the man’s actions, it reveals a truth. As time goes by people regard a death of a historical figure, like John F. Kennedy or Princess Diana, as a horrific event, but if I look at the death toll of the Black Plague and the Civil War as merely a number I may just see a calculation. The warning I get from this saying is that people do not consider just how many people are affected by wide scale military conflict. For example, the Mongol Conquests are responsible for the deaths of between 20 million and 50 million. As I look at the situation in North Korea today, Kim Jong Un has not experienced a war on his soil. The Korean War occurred before he was born. Donald Trump has never experienced war. I am not sure they can grasp the consequence that may come out of their actions.
Former governor of Minnesota and Navy Seal, Jesse Ventura calls people in authority who have not been in the military but support a war “chicken hawks”. He criticizes people like Dick Cheney and Hillary Clinton as such. He also calls out news stations like MSNBC and FOX for unabashingly supporting the wars. Many news stations purged anchors who questioned the war on terror. I think the reason for this is that wars are good for ratings, and news stations treat as if it is a sporting event. Just a couple weeks ago Brian Williams was talking about the missile strike in Syria. He called the weapons “beautiful”. People may judge whether are not the strike was a good idea, but to glorify a weapon of destruction is absurd.
What I am most worried about is sovereign states that have nuclear weapons, such as our own. The United States to this day is the only nation to use nuclear weapons for actually warfare. Oppenheimer, one of the creators of the weapon, quoted the Bhagavata saying “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”. That event set off a reaction and now there are more than enough nuclear weapons to erase human history from the earth. Nuclear weapons have been extremely close to being used again, thankfully cooler heads prevailed.
As I have grown and learned more about why countries decide to get involved military conflicts I have realized it is dependent on alliances, resources, and power. The decision by a government body to go to war is significant. When world leaders decide to send troops, it always dawns on me how monumental of a decision it is to such a significant amount of people. World War II was largely renowned as a noble act for the United States to get involved, and I believe it most certainly was honorable. Throughout the course of human history there have been innumerable conflicts for a multitude of reasons, and some of those reasons were not so honorable.
I think it is hard for people to truly realize the needlessness of war and the causal effects it brings upon the world. When you flip on CNN or FOX news, they talk about the Syrian civil war like it’s a casual board game. There may be a car bomb or a Russian air strike, and the news channels make the event into a numbers game. Although I think the news media should do a better job of covering instances of war, it is hard to blame them for not being able to explain the damage down on a more interpersonal level. The reason for this is that most people have never experienced war on a first-hand perspective. In my case, I only had my grandfather’s war stories, and an onslaught of articles and books.
Hopefully I will never have to experience war, but to get a better grasp of the subject I like to listen, watch, and read about firsthand experiences. One example is a documentary called “White Helmets”. The documentary follows volunteers in Aleppo, who rescue people from wreckage made by airstrikes and bombings. The most startling thing to watch is when volunteers see a Russian fighter jet flying across the sky. The volunteers immediately sound the alarm and jump into their large passenger van and go to the bombing sight. They would try to save as many people as they could but they would inevitably recover lifeless bodies from the rubble.
I also listened to Dan Carlin’s podcast called “Hardcore History”. Overall, the podcast covers various events throughout history, so inevitably it covers a large number of wars. He primarily uses first-hand accounts like journals and quotes from the soldiers or the civilians that were in anyway involved in a military conflict. Many of these first-hand accounts describe people who are frightened and are trying to survive, like the individuals at the Battle of Verdun. These experiences from regular people are what is missing from our educational textbooks and the news media.
When I was a kid I revered my grandfather to a God-like status, but as I become more of an adult I am truly beginning to admire him as man who put his life on the line because he felt his country needed him. For someone who does not understand the brutality of combat, I will never understand the life of a service man, but I will always hold them to high regard. I believe being in the military was a positive in his, but for most people involved in military conflicts is can cause horrific tragedies. As I have grown up, I have developed a much more nuanced view of war, and a clearer perspective on how my grandfather’s experience was when he was in the military.
Einsiedel, O. (Director). (2016). The White Helmets [Motion picture on Stream Online]. United Kingdom: Netflix
Carlin, D. (2013, October 23). Hardcore History (The Blueprint for Armageddon) [Audio blog post]. Retrieved March 31, 2017, from dancarlin.com
Miscamble, W. D. (2011). The most controversial decision: Truman, the atomic bombs, and the defeat of Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press
The Great War Society: Relevance Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.
Neelakantan, Shailaja. "When the Father of the Atomic Bomb Quoted the Bhagwad Gita - Times of India." The Times of India. India, 27 May 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.