There’s a thorn in the side of most who ever pulled a trigger for Uncle Sam: a specific type of self-proclaimed “military fan.” You know the ones. . . quick to whip out some quote about men and war; smiling quaint, as if admiring a kindergartener’s achievements in basic math? Those ones. Oh how they gloss over the icky parts, and Oh how they sit content in the rosy patches within the idea. Take the beaten-to-death quote by Orwell, for instance, with his iconic reference to “rough men.”
Okay, fair enough. The final image is crystal clear; a soldier kills a bad guy so a citizen the soldier protects can live peacefully. Honorable. True in numerous cases throughout history—but linger a moment longer and a disconnect can be observed. What genuinely makes this protector “rough” is rarely examined. Why the disinterest? If, after all, rough men are allowing them to lap up their freedom (and comfort), isn’t it reasonable they’d at least be curious who these rough men are, and wouldn’t seeing what “rough” is be a good place to start?
Now I wouldn’t care or even pose the question if we lived in a society that was blatantly turned off by the roughness. If that were the case, a reasonable answer would be, “they don’t want to think about what makes one rough, it makes them squeamish, uneasy, and even terrified.” But the reality of the situation makes that answer an immediate fiction. The American citizenry—from a safe distance—is utterly obsessed with the roughness. Various muddy races marketed as some step toward warriorhood, SF beards and “Infidel” T-shirts at the CrossFit box, tattoos. . . #OMG the tattoos, a veteran mechanic holds a big rifle with baby-polished arms and the people jump from their peaceful beds to salivate and claw at the image.
So it will be out there, and for the permanent record. . . lets take a brief, honest tour of the real roughness; not the approved for television version. The following may shock some to the core, whereas others will undoubtedly cry out a grateful “finally, someone fucking said it!”
Rough men may use profane language (often in public), and don’t give damn if you think their joke is sexist or racist. . . or that you’re offended. They train for months. . . sometimes years, with the high hopes of blowing another man’s head clean off his shoulders. . . rough men are not forced to do it. . . some really, really want to do it. Rough men may hide the GoPro in their pile of dirty laundry, to of course later show the other rough men their righteous sexual conquests. Rough men may have run-ins with the law, puke on your lawn, punch-out your shit-talking boyfriend (or girlfriend, for that matter), and damn sure not toss and turn every time they hurt someone else’s mind, body, or spirit.
And guess what . . . . . . They still do the heroic shit!
Look to this immortalized quote:
Although ol’ El was specifically referring to Marines, this is not limited to the Marine Corps whatsoever. This speaks equally of the brother gunslingers and smoke-poppers who went to the other recruiting offices in that strip mall.
The bottom line is this; the distant on-lookers, and occasionally sloppy imitators, don’t really want to know what rough means – at all. But this demographic is only one side of the coin.
On the other side things are equally hilarious. The lion’s share of the US population simply can’t relate to its warrior class. It is now common place for well-intentioned souls to immediately thank a service member (active or veteran) with that lemon-sucked look of sheer pity. What horrors we must have gone through! How awful it must be for us to see Iraq in its current state of chaos! You soldier = you victim. My ears pick it up often, as if torturing me to hear yet again that my generation, my warrior class, isn’t truly seen as fierce practitioners, or for fucks sake. . . even “tough”. Rather we are broken. . . haunted by the things we saw, the things we did, the things we . . . had to do.
Before I roll out my old kit and take to the street, I must include the following; there is possibly a benign explanation for all of this, although it is arguably just as frustrating. The current American populace knows little about the history of American warfare. Don’t even ask a random sidewalk-walker a question about WWI. Korea? Wait, we were in Iraq in the ’90s? The only two they’re connected with on any aggregate cultural level are WWII and Vietnam (mainly due to the entertainment industries decades-spanning presentation of these wars). Both wars are extremely important in the explanation for current sentiments regarding GWOT veterans.
WWII was a bona fide triumph, a government was defeated, our nation prospered—basking in post-war ambiance, and there was no doubt that the WWII veteran served for a higher, noble purpose. Fast forward a few decades and the national honey moon has been impaled by a punji stick. Vietnam; riddled with political push/pull factors, obscurity of objective, and ultimately—the notorious reputation of the crazed veteran emerged. The suicidal, booze-fueled, PTSD maniac—lost in his own world, scarred from a pointless war.
Which of these two wars do you think the GWOT aligns with more—especially in the eyes of the portion of our civilian population that has never heard of Kyle Lamb, or of Restrepo, or of the Triangle of Death ?
We are the new Vietnam veterans. . . at least in the eyes of the Cross-fitting Infidels and the lemon-suckers sleeping peacefully in their beds. Yet, where our fathers in this twisted chain dealt with open hostility, the slings and arrows we dodge, or suffer, are the lethal combination of utter indifference, and a form of pity inspired by rampant cultural surges demanding one to be politically correct.
Every war shares one universal jewel; the courage of men performing in combat. It is the most horrific and chaotic thing a person can encounter, and from it comes possibly the highest virtues there are to know. Past this lone jewel, however, the GWOT only has one detail worth writing about. No, not the WMDs, or the dubious democratic elections—but an explanation for the fact that for over a decade an all-volunteer military populated two simultaneous wars. Why this small portion of US citizens chose to go to war, many of whom did so several times—is the only real attractive feature to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The history books may or may not say it, but it is said here.
And there is an explanation, arc welded on the faces and sleeves of the rough men. War is the antithesis of the modern American sentiment; wailing out over the paper cuts and high-tailing it the other direction. We come from a nation of pussies, and by the American standard, it was a window into a vanquished world. The world of our grandfather’s war, the world we grew up reading about—ogling over on the silver screen, as men with blue faces and green kilts bludgeoned and slashed—and the world which our contemporary institutions have gone to every length to blot out. In war, there is no 10th place trophy, no room for how offended you are by one’s crude humor, in war the person you are means everything—and the person you appear to be, or the class you came from, melts away the moment you are asked to prove yourself to your brothers, in whatever dire form that takes.