24 March, 2007

Innocence and War

There are many reasons I'm so serious about supporting our military men and women, why I feel it's a moral obligation. It's not just a sense of "they have suffered for me," though that is certainly part of it. What really pulls on me and compels a response is the warfighter's loss of innocence due to actions taken on my behalf. In a powerful essay, former soldier Brian Mockenhaupt explains:

But war twists and shifts the landmarks by which we navigate our lives, casting light on darkened areas that for many people remain forever unexplored. And once those darkened spaces are lit, they become part of us.

One former Marine friend has told me that he still habitually runs mental threat assessments (and plans countermeasures) on every person he encounters. He also once described his training and wartime experience as discovering, harnessing and ultimately mastering the beast inside him that we all have, one that lies dormant unless awakened by experience or intent. And Lex has written of the obsession a pilot finds in the violence of bombing runs. More recently, a soldier still on the ground in Iraq wrote of "war cocaine."

Mockenhaupt continues:
At a party several years ago, long before the Army, I listened to a friend who had served several years in the Marines tell a woman that if she carried a pistol for a day, just tucked in her waistband and out of sight, she would feel different. She would see the world differently, for better or worse. Guns empower. She disagreed and he shrugged. No use arguing the point; he was just offering a little piece of truth. He was right, of course. And that's just the beginning.

That reminds me of my first (and so far, only) experience with a loaded weapon. It was a lot of fun, especially since I seem to have a bit of natural skill with it. It packed a certain frisson, but so deadly serious. My instructor-friend talked as if I would someday carry a weapon of my own, but I'm not eager to do so. It's not only a tremendous responsibility that I doubt I'm up to, but I also think I'm afraid of liking that sense of power a little too much. Apparently that's only a pale shadow of what the soldier feels:
But I also peered through the scope waiting for someone to do something wrong, so I could shoot him. When you pick up a weapon with the intent of killing, you step onto a very strange and serious playing field. Every morning someone wakes wanting to kill you. When you walk down the street, they are waiting, and you want to kill them, too. That's not bloodthirsty; that's just the trade you've learned.

That's a trade and a playing field, and a part of myself I don't think I have it in me to face. And if I do, I'd rather not be forced to acknowledge its existence. And so I am beyond grateful there are those who willingly search it out. One reason I feel compelled to support our veterans is the gift they give of themselves; in many ways, they lose their innocence so that I can keep mine.

UPDATE: After email discussions with Grim, I see I may not have been clear. Here I am using innocence in it's fundamental sense: a lack of knowledge. Perhaps ignorance would've been a better choice of word.

Grim wrote to me, in part:

You don't have any innocence to lose; what you describe is not learned but natural behavior... The instinct to kill and to war is as natural a behavior as resides in mankind...

What you have is the illusion of innocence. That is to say, the evil itself is embedded in you. The sense that you are "clean" because you go about from day to day neither killing nor thinking of killing is an illusion; you simply haven't hit the right stimuli.

I agree. He also pointed out a post of his on related aspects of the subject at Winds of Change.