Sunday, April 3, 2016
Sick at heart...........................
It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: "Men, up to now you've been good, clean, American boys with an American's love for sportsmanship and fair play. We're here to change that. Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the World. From now on you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry Rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes. Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill, do you understand?"
His talk was greeted with nervous laughter and general agreement that he was right. "Didn't Hitler and Tojo say the Americans were a bunch of softies? Ha! They'll find out." And of course, Germany and Japan did find out: a toughened up democracy poured forth a scalding fury that could not be stopped. It was a war of reason against barbarism, supposedly, with the issues at stake on such a high that most of our feverish fighters had not idea why they were fighting - other than the enemy was a bunch of bastards. A new kind of war, with all destruction, all killing approved. Germans would ask, "Why are you Americans fighting us?" "I don't know, but we're sure beating the hell out of you," was the stock reply.
A lot of people relished the idea of total war: it had a modern ring to it, in keeping with our spectacular technology. To them it was like a football game: "Give 'em the axe, the axe, the axe..." Three small-town merchants' wives, middle-aged and plump, gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking home from Camp Atterbury. "Did you kill a lot of them Germans?" asked the driver, making cheerful small talk. I told her I didn't know. This was taken for modesty. As I was getting out of the car, one of the ladies patted me on the shoulder in a motherly fashion: " I'll bet you'd like to get over and kill some of theme dirty Japs now, wouldn't you?" We exchanged knowing winks. I didn't tell those simple souls that I had been captured after a week at the front, and more to the point, what I knew and thought about killing dirty Germans, about total war. The reason for my being sick at heart then and now has to do with an incident that received cursory treatment in the American newspapers. In February, 1945, Dresden, Germany was destroyed, and with it over on hundred thousand human beings. I was there. Not many know how tough America got.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Armageddon in Retrospect