Who is this man?The dusty kaki coloured shirt framing a tanned face and the blanched periwinkle blue of the sky in behind the camel brown tent all suggest a war. But, which one? Perhaps it doesn’t matter as much as we might think...
This man is novelist, Tim O’Brien, during his service in Vietnam, lasting from 1969-70. I am currently in the midst of reading his most critically acclaimed novel, “The Things They Carried,” which, like this photograph, presents an aspect of war that is both exotic and mundane, and provides ideas about war that are specific to Vietnam, and yet seem to describe every notable battle in our history.
Now if anyone’s wanting to get a better understanding of what it is to be a soldier, or what war itself is - this is the book for you. I’m finding O’Brien’s aptitude at documenting the raw experiences of a soldier invaluable to my inquiry, particularly in his descriptions of what happens to morality in war. This particular passage deals with how we tend to generalise about war, but when one is actually in war, the lines blur, absolutes don’t exist and the moral code one can live by in normal society breaks down as it makes way for necessity, and survival. It reads,
“War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead. […] You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the harmonies of sound and shape and proportion, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination of rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rocket's red glare. […] You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not […] any battle or bombing or raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference – a powerful, implacable beauty – and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly.”
I found this quote incredibly powerful and highly relevant to my own philosophy of war. I have a feeling too, that at a certain point, my Tom and George, (my great-grandfathers) would have come to this observation during their service - that when everyday is lived with no thought for the next, and when enemies are seen perishing in the dirt beside you - the distinction between good and evil and beauty and ugliness becomes a little harder to make out.
Alors, pour parler d'autres choses le mois dernier, comme plus de l’autre jeune ambassadeurs, j’ai assisté le service d’ANZAC à Glenfield - c’etait un service touchant, et maintenant je partirai vous avec des photos de la jour.
A bientôt, and thanks for reading!
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Last modified on Saturday, 24 May 2014 16:33