Friday, July 28, 2006

Books

Realization
What would I do without books? Yes, I can find instant information on the Internet and I like that, but it's not the kind of information you get from books. Yes, you can open up and download a hell of a lot of books off the Internet, but like the King of all Bloggers once said, there is nothing like holding ahard-bound, typeset, referenced, indexed, illustrated BOOK and reading from it. So much better than reading off a screen. I find reading off a screen very difficult because of the distractions that surround me on the screen as I read. Like a temptation to check my email; I especially like people saying they're paying me money and an occasional love note, which my ego craves, so I'm constantly checking my email. 'Nuff said.

"'Nuff" reminded me: remember the "snuff film" scare of the eighties? The only snuff films I've ever seen are those horrible homemade videos coming out of Baghdad these days--yeah, young girls getting blown away, but, yeah some of them get raped first--even little baby girls could be subject to having their lives snuffed out on video, since, haven't you noticed from the cop shows on teevee, the video camera is one of the most popular-ever popular toys ever invented and everybody and his damn dog and that dog's fleas have one-- and now they come within cell phones--and you know especially Middle Easterners love video cameras. Plus, I'm pretty certain the US Army videos all its actions. I'm pretty sure the US Army, too, watches Arab television. I heard a journalist-type on a teevee show say he had just been living in Cairo and he said Cairo got over 300 television channels, the same television we see here (Fox Fool News, CNoNews, NBC, MSGNBC, Rupert Murdoch's Sky--you get the picture) but more importantly, he emphasized, they get what we can't get, all of the Arab channels (Al Jareez, etc.--I don't know them all; there's at least five or six Arab television networks) and he said the Arab world sees videos on those channels that are taken while autrocities are happening. He said Arab television shows bodies blown apart; close ups of heads blown off people; blood, body parts, brains blown out; families massacred; and of course the famous beheadings. And he's right, that's something we Amuricans are too precious to see. Our Amurican soldiers see it full in the face and that's why they come back so F-ed up and suicidal, or in need of strong fixes to wipe the onsite snuff films that keep showing in the theaters of their young developing minds out. Can you imagine seeing those movies night after night? Can you imagine being the subjects of those movies? It's not acting.

We're spoiled in that everything is acted out for us. And as a result, we tsk-tsk and boo hoo a little bit about it, but down deep we know it's acted out and therefore really ain't real. Like to me a still photo isn't real--as in those photos from Abu Ghraib. Though I know they're real and depict what really happened to these poor buggers, they don't move so they have no life. I mean with videos, when you see and hear a dude or woman or child getting tortured you feel it; you know it's real. See what I mean? You don't have to use your imagination in a real on-the-spot video of an autrocity.

A recent movie on the horrors the innocent poor souls are suffering in that U.S. embarrassment hellhole now called Gitmo didn't show the actual films that must exist of the many tortures that go on down there but instead had actors act out the mean stuff. It's not the same. Watching actors blow each other the hell away, have sex, then blow another several dozen human beings away is thrilling but we know it isn't real so as soon as the show is over we move on to our next favorite program. Just like this sudden popularity (they're fading now because they are getting all the same and based on a lot of "scientific coincidence") of endless numbers of CSI-type shows, where the forensics people are the most important people there are at a crime scene--oh yeah--and they all carry guns and get to shoot and kill perpetrators and, oh yeah, they get shot at and sometimes hit themselves--oh yeah, sure--but anyway, all of these shows now show grumpy old half-baked coroners, though one or two have women coroners, cutting into dead bodies, you've seen them, they show the saw cutting through flesh to expose internal organs, blood and guts, but, oh, yeah, somebody may gag at it, but you know really, it ain't real--and I don't want'a know a man or woman who's not a doctor who gets their kicks watching live operations like they show on some cable channels.

Oh we Amuricans love watching killing, but only acted-out killing. We are protected by our moral overseers from having to have our vision spoiled and our stomachs turned by real videos from real autrocities in Baghdad (27 died today after a car bomb went off in the middle of the city). If we saw what real killing was like we'd either become psychopathic maniacs or we'd come to our senses and demand an end to all war and the love of killing, though, watch out, killing may be instinctual in us; we are carnivorous; at least I admit I'm a wolf in human clothing, which means I go for fresh, raw, hot-bloody meats, though, now that I'm older, I do love 'em barbecued and maybe served with some grilled onions, with maybe some garlic bread on the side--some really good barbecue sauce; I love steamed veggies, too, so you can throw some of them in the stew, but instinctually, I can't wait to sink my carnivorous teeth into some juicy fresh caught and KILLED meat. Hell, at one time, most of us ate each other, way back in the good-old-ancient times when man didn't know he wasn't supposed to eat his own kind, just like now he doesn't seem to know he's not supposed to kill his own kind.

What I'm driving at, it's about time, is that if you wanna learn about war in a serious manner, read about it in books, and I'll give you one great one to start with. It's Paul Fussell's masterpiece called The Great War. Fussell has meticulously gathered together descriptions of the war especially by poets (Wilfred Owens; Sigfried Sassoon; Rupert Brooke, et al) and literary people a lot of whom were killed in the war. Here's a wonderful site that has all the poets who died in WWI along with examples of their work. Great site:

http://www.sonnets.org/wwi.htm

And why not a little sample of some writing about real war from a guy who wrote these in the trenches as he fought for the Brits in those scarred and seared fields of France, eventually, yes, to be buried in those fields once called battlefields then called Elysian Fields, his notebook of poems flapping in the bloody winds from his bloodsoaked jacket pocket--Wilfred Owens--he's a winner; a poet in the midst of war:

On Seeing a Piece of Our Artillery Brought into Action

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great gun towering towards Heaven, about to curse;
Sway steep against them, and for years rehearse
Huge imprecations like a blasting charm!
Reach at that Arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse;
Spend our resentment, cannon,--yea, disburse
Our gold in shapes of flame, our breaths in storm.

Yet, for men's sakes whom thy vast malison
Must wither innocent of enmity,
Be not withdrawn, dark arm, thy spoilure done,
Safe to the bosom of our prosperity.
But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!

Wilfred Owens was killed by machine gun fire in France in 1918, one week before the armistice.

The Great War by Paul Fussell. A very scary book if you can live through it; it's war showing directly in your narrative eyes.

Second Looey thegrowlingwolf
My basic training in the U.S. Army ended at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Artillery School, in the merry month of March, which was already steamy hot in those western hills of Oklahoma's Washita Mountains. Since my hometown Guard unit was a highly decorated artillery unit from WWII, I was destined for the artillery when I signed up--I avoided conscription. My Guard unit had battle flags from several Philippine campaigns, Corregidor, and eventually Japan-- a lot of my hometown older brothers from the same artillery unit were on the Bataan Death March, one, a son of a redheaded plumber in my hometown who drove a red Terraplane truck he'd made to look like a fire engine and with whom my family was very close to his family and when this son came back home after surviving the Bataan Death March, I was there at this big dinner they gave for him, and he had married an Australian girl on his way back home, he was a handsome man, and they met at a dance one night and married the next day and my brother, a Marine in that war, told me confidentially--he was already an adult talking to his kid brother--she married this poor bastard to get to America and have American kids by a war hero, looking for money. "I saw those Australian women when I was in Melbourne; they practically sucked your nuts off they were so anxious to get to the U.S." "War brides" these women were called.

Anyway, at that dinner, me, a little wiseass irritating kid, shut the hell up around this haunting guy. Wow, he was scary gaunt and had huge black circles around his eyes, was thin as a rail, and pale as a white ghost, and suddenly he made one thing quite clear, he did not want to talk about the war. You know some gossipy types, they can't hold their tongues, and it happened, one of his aunts ask him boldy after the food had been served. He suddenly got some blood in his face, and the blackness lessened around his eyes, and his eyes were dialated wide-open like a cat's at night, and then he shot fire out his nostrils and started shouting, "Fuck this, fuck this food," and then pointing his finger at each guest, he hollered, "And fuck you, and you, and you," and then turning to his wife, he said "and fuck all of you...." looking down his nose at her. Then came the finale, the maddest outburst, and he turned his blazing eyes right at me, a little kid, and he bellowed "And fuck you, too"--I'm serious he said it looking directly at me, a little F-ing kid who thought of war as something to play--"You're a Jap...you're a Kraut...and I'm a Marine....BLOOEY, you're dead, Jap...ack-ack-ack-ack, I blasted ya, ya Kraut SOB!" That was the war to me, but not to this guy. I shivered me timbers for minutes after that look. I didn't at that time really know to use the word "fuck" that way and thought about it sexually though I couldn't figure out if he was going to have sex with all of us, though it logically dawned on me how he used the word when he slammed over his plate full of food, started crying like a baby, and then literally exploded from the room. Then I knew he'd put a curse on us all by saying "fuck all of you." It wasn't sexual at all, I deduced. He'd fucking cursed us, that's what he'd done.

Mustering Out
So that day at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when I ended my basic training in artillery, that morning at reveille, the old man (the captain, Captain Black, a blackman, who I'll never forget), congratulated us on finishing basic training and then he blah-blahed on for a hunk of minutes--I wasn't listening, I was anticipating my muster pay and then hitting the highway home--if the old man hurried, I could be home by midnight and back in my own bed for the first time in 7 months.

Finally, he dismissed the troopers except he called out all the OCS officers, of which I was one. An OCS officer was a dude who was an officer candidate not a real officer. Several of us volunteered to be shipped down to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where we went through two weeks of holy ridiculous Mickey Mouse hell, which didn't bother me since I knew I would have great privileges over my peers when I got back to Fort Sill and started the serious artillery training. I would be an OCS officer with an insignia and gold looey bars (first looeys wear silver bars--it's army logic) but phony anyway, and certainly treated that way by the real 2nd looeys of my outfit.

After OCS training, my first assignment was as an officer in charge of an eight-inch howitzer that was one of 4 in my training battery set up out on the long-range firing range at Cache, Oklahoma, in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Washita Mountains, under orders from a battery command post.

I sat behind Company B howitzer with a radio operator and with a radio receiver in my ear. When the orders were called down, they first call the azimuth settings (the angle of the howitzer barrel to the ground), which I shout out to the gunnery sergeant who operates the barrel control wheel that raises the barrel up to the proper azimuth and is then locked, locking the barrel in place so the breech can be opened and a shell shoved in and the damn thing fired and the shell sent flying toward the target area. My gunnery sergeant was a crackerjack with the azimuth and sitings readings but one day during a drill he missed locking the wheel with the barrel at a fairly high angle. The barrel may have weighed a couple a thousand pounds--it was a long gun, and when that wheel didn't lock, that barrel came ramming straight down unchecked, causing the wheel to spin and the knob on the wheel, a solid metal bar grip, came up and caught him right under the chin. The blow knocked his steel pot off his head and raised him up, tossed him out, and splatted him down on his ass right in the middle of a fine old Oklahoma mud puddle. The wheel broke his jaw.

We fired in sequences, so it went, "Gun #1 ready," and the #1 gun officer would called back, "#1 gun ready, sir," and then you get "Fire #1 gun," and the officer than hollered, "FIRE," and a corporel would pull the lanyard and the huge old veteran piece would burp in a billowing of crap-smelly powdery smoke and then explode a shell hellfire fast out that long barrel and it was capable, with the right settings, of whistle-sailing 25 miles at a target, plus capable of making direct hits at that target if the gunnery sergeant is fast and adjusts the azimuth as the forward observer (the poor second looey whose up ahead with a radio operator, up a tree probably with binoculars observing the target just in front of him over in enemy territory) calls back the adjustments to be made, maybe 4 or 5 until finally you get a direct hit. Then would follow as rapidly as possible #2 gun, then #3 gun, then #4 gun, boom, boom, boom, boom. What a rhythmic firing pattern we could get going with those old guns.

We'd go out in the early morning and fire ordered missions all day, sometimes waiting 2 hours between firings, when we'd either read or sleep. Me, I was reading Hemingway at that time; A Farewell to Arms, a really haunting love story going on during WWI--another side of the sadness of war.

So when I graduated artillery school, I was qualified to be commissioned a second looey, an artillery operations expert, with the possibility I could be assigned to the regular army as an officer and off I'd go to....

By the time we got our muster pay, the company clerk would have tacked all our orders up on the area bulletin board--no one was ever told where they were going, except home for a furlough if you were regular army and home for Guard duty if you were not a commissioned lieutenant. And that's why the captain had called out us OCS looeys. He was hustling us.

"Boys," he said, "I'm putting your orders up on the board after muster; we need officers in IndoChina...."--they weren't using "VietNam" in the army yet, at least in my company, but we all knew when they said, "Laos, Cambodia, IndoChina, Saigon, Cam Rahn Bay, DaNang," they meant VietNam.

I had never thought about having to go to Nam when I first got to basic training, not even after learning how to shoot rifles and machine guns and Browning automatics and going through the various physical tests, like crawling under barb-wire fences while some old vets were shooting machine gun fire over your head, or jumping over logs, swinging on ropes, climbing up rope ladders, all kinds of physical shit like that, and learning how to bayonette an enemy, you know, use the bayonette attached on the end of your rifle a certain way that you would gut your enemy in hand-to-hand combat, which is when you get close enough to the enemy to use your bayonette. In hand-to-hand, you'd cock your rifle back on your hip with your bayonette pointed directly at the oncoming enemy. Then when the enemy was close enough you raised your rifle out slightly and then with a downward lunge you drive the point of the bayonette deep into the enemy's belly, and then you simply raise the bayonette with an upward motion and then quickly extract it from the now ripped open gut and cock it ready for the next enemy soldier attacking.

The enemy was called a "gook" when I was in the army, which refers to the slanted eyes of IndoChinese people--they were all gooks, men, women, and children. You never heard an army guy say, "Oh, I'm going to shoot that VietNamese gentleman right between the eyes" or "Hell, I hand grenaded that charming old VietNamese grandmother--lobbed it right in her lap."

So, the old man hustled us OCSers with a bonus join-up offer--"Hell, boys, you'll only be used in training; you'll probably see no action; this war'll be over by Christmas anyway, boys, so what'a ya say?" Nope. I turned him down.

After muster I ran out to the bulletin board to check my orders. The list was crammed all over that board; there were hundreds of names on it some poor clerk typist had had to type out like a racehorse all night, getting the orders cut, numbered, and issued. The first name I saw was our company drummer, a black teenager from Philadelphia--Jeez, he was headed for Fort Ord, California; he was a Specialist now, a corporel, which meant at Fort Ord they'd get him ready for the Big Picture--"Next stop," as Country Joe sang, "VietNam." God, there were a lot of my army friends headed for Ord; I'd never realized they were regular army, the Toothless Pollock from Milwaukee, still a recruit, was headed for Ord. Damn, even the psyche major from the University of Wisconsin grad school was heading for Ord. God-damn, there was one of my homeys, a guy I'd played golf with in high school, going to Ord.

And then there was me. My orders: report to National Guard in my hometown to await transfer to US Army Reserves and to be subject to call to duty as a commissioned 2nd lieutenant at any given moment and until then follow normal routine of Reserve meetings 3 times a month at a National Guard unit wherever I lived and to be assigned for two-weeks of active duty starting in the immediate summer of that year.

Whew. I was being sent home. I did not know how lucky I was. To this day I don't. I never went to Nam, I'll tell you that. Nope. I never went to one god-damn Guard meeting either, though that summer I did go to summer camp at Fort Hood, Texas, with my hometown unit, though by then I was carrying a US Army Reserve serial number, ID, and designated a 2nd looey, I might add, and therefore I didn't have to participate in the Guard's stuff if I didn't want to; I could kibbitz around the Provost Marshall's quarters and drink PM whiskey, shoot the breeze with the real officers, go to the Officer's Club at the main post, have access to a jeep--except what I did was ride with the tech sergeant who made the ice and beer run everyday outside the post over into Waco where while they were filling the truck with blocks of ice and bags of crushed ice--it was summer in the middle of Texas--110 in the shade, so they needed a hell of a lot of ice, me and the sarge would go over to the Circle Tavern and drink cold ones, then lumber back to the loaded truck and then cowboy on back to the fort, drunk as Lords, plus a hell of a lot of pints and half pints of booze for the troopers who paid this guy 3 bucks a half pint and 5 bucks a pint for what he was paying a buck and a buck-fifty for. Oh the army is full of rackets.

All the while, the majority of the guys I went through basic training with were doing time out at Fort Ord, though by the end of the summer some of them were surely already over in Nam, and by the time I got married and moved to New Orleans and got reassigned to a Control Group, which meant I didn't have to do dick shit unless they needed me, I'm sure a large number of those guys were dead.

I remember reading the paper one night in front of pinon log fire in my artist studio fireplace, my wife showering just off the kitchen in the makeshift shower the artist who owned the studio had put in, an inobtrusive metal box with a plastic curtain that kept the water from splashing into the kitchen, me glancing over at her marvelous shaped body I could see through the clear plastic curtain every now and then, I was smoking a pipe, my Malamute was sleeping at my feet, I was sipping on a glass of Ezra Brooks, and I started reading the newspaper and then I saw an article that said the day before in Nam, an American artillery unit had been hit by friendly fire killing 40 U.S. soldiers. That word "artillery" hit me between the eyes. That would have been me. Except, as a second looey, I would have been a forward observer. There's an old saying in the artillery, "The first to see the enemy is the forward observer and the first the enemy sees is the forward observer." Another joke around artillerymen is that a second looey's lifespan in the army is about one day after combat starts.

I like most Americans alive today haven't ever tasted of battle. I have rubbed shoulders however with a lot of young peers who I'm sure tasted of battle deeply. I'm afraid to go down to Washington and check out that Nam Memorial down there. I've saved all these years a list of names and addresses of the guys I came to hang with the most during my 7 months in the regular army--they're listed on army stationary I got at Fort Leonard Wood and they show a trooper slamming a shell into the breech of a 1o4mm howitzer out in a war zone--there is a smile on his face. I look at those names and I see them as they were when they wrote their names on that paper and there on that paper those names I see are of guys who, as far as I'm concerned, are still alive. The bright Tom from Wisconsin. The chemist, Dick [yes, we teased him about his name and especially since his surname fit it like a glove, if you catch my drift], from Indiana. The tall handsome guy who wanted to be pro golfer from Oklahoma. The trumpet player from Fond du Lac. Or big tall Richard who wanted to be a Chicago politician. Or a guy I really got along with, a future surgeon then from East Lansing. Or little Johnny Hank (that's hillbilly for John Henry) the Arkansas traveller. Or big smilin' Jerry who made Marlboro cigarettes back in Richmond.

I, unlike most Americans, don't care to know whether these guys were killed in Nam or not. A couple of them on there, too, a couple of brilliant brilliant Jewish lawyers from Chicago, I called 'em Leopold and Loeb, I hope to never find out especially if those great sons of bitches got killed overthere as much as they hated and cursed the army and tried so hard to get out of it, even refusing to go to inspections on Saturday mornings on religious grounds. Such a shame if the army got them killed. And that drummer. The happiest man I ever met in spite of his color, his having grown up having to fight some other boy every day since he was 5, having been cut, having been shot once, having been falsely accused of robbery and being thrown in the Philly hoosegow for adults when he was 13. What a shame if he went to Nam and had to play his drum with the flag bearer as they led a charge up over a hill and into the face of glory and never came back.

I don't wanna know; would you?

thegrowlingwolf
for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

language said...

No, I don't think I would. Great stories, as always. And I read that Fussell book many years ago and never forgot it. People love to believe all kinds of bullshit about war, and the ones who really know usually don't want to talk about it. And so it goes.