One of the many reasons that I loved reading David Rose’s book, “No Joy,” was its intentional destruction of the civilian’s image of the American warfighter. Combat is harsh and cruel, and it takes harsh and cruel men to win. This flies in the face of every TV special and music video which paints US service members only as nice, honorable, and (for lack of a better term) white-knight-ish. This is also the reason why the Punisher is my favorite comic book character, and why “Generation Kill” will always hold a warm spot in my olive drab little heart.
When looking at the iconoclasm of the combat arms warrior, one has to ask why it is even necessary. Why do so many of us feel the need to show how sick, perverted, devious, and even evil we can be? Why destroy the pure, beautiful image our public has of us? Why not allow the public to continue their white-washed worship, oblivious in their adoration of our apparently “superior moral” values and noble character?
They want to think of us as good, kind people. No matter how rough a warrior may be, our modern times tries its best to say, “But he’s still a really nice guy,” or, “He’s just a cuddly teddy bear once you get to know him.” Our society wants kindness to be its warriors’ greatest personality trait, because the alternative is absolutely terrifying.
What if a man could be both kind and terrible?
What if Nazis in the 1940’s were able to be decent men sometimes, and commit infamous atrocities others?
Is every member of the Taliban an awful father to his children, or are some capable of love as well as evil?
Is every Antifa protester a terrible husband in addition to a piece of shit protester, or are some of them fun people when they aren’t throwing rocks at police?
Is every infantryman in the US Army or Marine Corps only a stone-cold killer or a kind and loving human being?
This could be distressing to many readers, when we are so content with painting everyone with such a broad brush; good or evil, with no one in between.
A good man in our Army may have been forced to do bad things to survive in war, but he was fighting for our country, and that brush covers a multitude of sins in the wide eyes of the public.
A Nazi may have done good deeds for his entire life, but he put on that uniform with that emblem, and he is therefore evil to his core.
The public uses the broad brush for their opinions because most cannot bear the thought that each man may have both good and evil at work in him. It’s that idea that they themselves might have a bit of the fallen in their souls that causes their consternation, and therefore widens their brush.
The common man wants to believe that he is good. We all tell ourselves those little tales so we can believe we are decent human beings. We ignore our sins and magnify those of our fellow man, screaming about the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignore a plank in our own.
The presence of the warrior in the midst of the peaceful is an uncomfortable experience for many people, especially when those people have spent their entire lives in relative safety and comfort. The presence of a professional soldier is either a reminder that each of us has a bit of the savage in our souls, or a reminder of what could happen to the weak without the warrior. The notion that each of us has what it takes to be a killer is a wrecking ball to the painted mirrors in which we view ourselves.
Realistically, it is hard to deny that there are those in our society who have less savagery and violence in them than Ghandi smoking a bong. To those, it is probably blood-chilling that wolves travel their same streets, shop their same stories, sit in their classrooms. Those walking fetuses (feti?) who have declared themselves too evolved for violence must be nervous when reminded that all they have done is evolve themselves straight to the bottom of the food chain.
Today’s veterans, on the other hand, have lately tended to magnify this savage side with glee. Jokes about violence are told to coworkers. Stories of slaughter are calmly relayed to family, or we just laugh with callous humor in theaters when one of the main characters of a movie is gruesomely dismembered. Our GWOT generation tends to revel in this side because it makes civilians uncomfortable.
I recall a story from a friend of mine who was out with his squad at a restaurant. As the waitress came to take their orders, she happened to notice the tattoo sleeve of one of my buddy’s squad mates.
She stuttered, “Sir…sir, are…are those dead babies tattooed on your arms?!”
“Why do you have dead babies tattooed on your arms?!”
“Because I fucking hate babies.”
Who laughed at that story? I know I did, civilized humor be damned.
Our generation is like those guys who try and corrupt the good church girl, just so we can remind the rest of civilized humanity that they’re no better than us. We shock and awe those around us for a variety of reasons, many of them selfish in nature. I suspect that part of us wants to remind our fellow man that the survival instinct for savagery is ever present, a dark gift in each of our souls.
We are a smoky mirror reflecting the ignored darkness of humanity.