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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Caricatures of war

<ry used to be a foreign concept to me. I mean, as an American it is almost impossible not to be aware of its presence. They have commercials full of the flags of our fathers, political campaigns are centered around it, and war heroes are given their 15 minutes of fame. But my thoughts of the military used to be caricatures. On the one hand, there are the images “masculine” courage and brotherhood I’ve seen in movies about the Revolutionary War and the two World Wars. On the other hand, there are the politicized messages in the other extreme: the bloody bayonets of the Civil War, the rat infested trenches of World War I, the college students protesting the draft during the Vietnam War, and the dusty, shell-shocked soldiers and civilians of the Iraq War. So yes, I was given an idea by the media, activists and our government what the military is about. However, their positive and negative constructions of this institution forgets those who fight these wars. These are the people these images are created around. However, they are used by both sides for their own gain. Those who are using them to stop future wars are still using them.

My twin brother is in the Army, and there are times I am sick to my stomach knowing he could be deployed. I will never get used to thinking of my brother, that little boy who loved digging in the dirt and pretending to be an archaeologist, as someone whose job is to fight. Whose job is, to put it bluntly, to kill. Throughout the election, I was disgusted by the candidates’ appeals to military families and the patriotic rhetoric surrounding the military. Yes, they might have been praising their selflessness, but they were not admitting what they were trained to do. It is so easy to hide behind patriotism and think of the enemy as just bad guys from a movie, but that is not the reality. In reality, they are people just like you and me, and we train young men and women to kill them…and we as a country do not even have the courage to talk about it. Before the end of those war movies where the man runs off the ship to kiss his wife who has been waiting faithfully for his return, there must be blood. Cities and homes must be destroyed, economies ruined, and governments disbanded. Families on both sides must lose members. Cemeteries, gun factories and patriotism are the only things that grow. Because once you start the dirty business of war, there is no clean way of ending it. As my brother once told me, “there isn’t room to protect people’s sensibilities…what we are trained to do is sad business.”

In video games, you can kill as many characters as you want, and there are no consequences. Those you kill all have the same names and faces…villain #1, villain #2, etc. There is even a “no blood mode,” further distancing players from the violence. In war however, there is no safe mode, and you sure as heck cannot start over. Those who fight our wars for us face unimaginable horrors, but they are unimaginable because our war machine and the images it shows us make sure we do not think about it too much. If we did, then I think it would be much harder to send our children, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters off to war.

It is not wonder, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 11-20% of Iraq War veterans have experienced PTSD; not only have they gone to war, but the society they return to refuses to acknowledge the horrors they have both faced and been responsible for. Those who do are generally anti-war and, in my opinion, tend to villainize veterans rather than the institutions who create and benefit from war. Many veterans are from lower-income and lower-levels of educational backgrounds, face disability, poverty, and homelessness upon returning home. The little help they are given is from the highly dysfunctional Department of Veteran Affairs. The general public may be sympathetic to their struggles, but with veteran’s PTSD being caused by the R-rated, not-safe-for-children reality of war, their sympathy is for the idea rather than the reality. We do not want to disrupt this image, because once we do, war will become something that makes America bad, not great. It will make us the bad guys in a story that relies on us being the the civilized ones, bringing democracy to dictatorships worldwide. This unsanitized, morally complicated war is something we have been taught to fear, even though it is very much a part of our country’s reality. Americans are like children, being fed this myth by their politicians. Like parents, their excuse is that we cannot deal with the truth. Because once this truth is revealed, war will no longer be a game. The caricatures will become people, the deaths final and the fear real. However, I think we owe this honesty to the victims of war, both in and outside America. Hopefully this honestly will change our idea of war, which is the only way to stop the war machine.

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