Counting the Dead, Again
The Battle of the Bulge ended 69 years ago yesterday and I had a buddy in the movie made 20 years after the battle. Great battle, great film. True, he only had a bit part, but that included one line up there on that big Cinerama screen, just him and one of the movie’s stars. A couple of years later, he and I were in Vietnam doing pretty much what he had playacted in the movie – trying to keep alive. But what is keeping alive?
The battle’s anniversary made me turn to some casual reading in an outdated copy of the Congressional Research Service report to Congress “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics.” That’s when I realized how hard the bitterness of my war had made me. And I don’t mind. Not a bit.
Yeah, yeah, you want the apologetic preface, so here it is: Only someone who’s been on the wrong end of a muzzle in the chaos of combat can understand what the “casual” reading of the numbers of war wounded and dead really means.
Because there is nothing casual about seeing that a single digit on a long, long list is a man or woman, a father or mother, a brother or sister, a son, a daughter torn to pieces.
“Torn to pieces” is another phrase like “casual.” It barely describes what a lot of 5.56mm bullets can do to a human being, or what used to be a human being. Just a handful of 7.62mm can do the same but less efficiently.
Still, there’s nothing like an old-fashioned 30-caliber machinegun round or those great honking 50-cal cartridges big as sausages and manufactured to shoot down Japanese Zeroes and German Messerschmitts but in my war we used them against people.
Better still, how about fifty pounds of steel and powder in a 105mm howitzer round? Or the locomotives fired from an eight inch gun or the freight trains that come out of a 175mm cannon?
Yeah, if you want to casually tear some human beings to pieces, get yourself a one-seventy-five. That will do the job, I guarantee.
But, fine as was all our ammunition in those grand days of the Vietnam war, they were not that efficient at killing. Oh, the weapons were good and the rounds were solid. But the guys firing them weren’t so good.
I don’t mean we – and I’m one of those who fired the big guns – weren’t well-trained and didn’t try damn hard to kill a lot of those other people. But we just weren’t very good at it.
The proof is right there in the history books – if we’d been better, we would’ve won the war.
Sure, you can win any war you want if you are willing to kill enough people to win it. The country – the good old U.S. of A. – certainly was willing to give that a try. To kill enough people, I mean.
At least Americans felt that way up to some point around 1968 when the war in Vietnam taught us that combat is about the casual tearing to pieces of people who don’t mean a thing to us except they are in our way to go do something else.
And maybe that isn’t a good enough reason after all to kill them.
There are good reasons to go to war and add to an update edition of “Lists and Statistics.” December 7 is the best reason of all.
But there are bad reasons to go to war, and I think the reason my generation was sent to war – and I volunteered to go – is the worst of all:
No, make that willful stupidity. We were willfully, stupidly ready to march off to fight without bothering to ask, Do I really have to kill all these people?
Or maybe ask, a bit less stupidly, Do all those people really want to kill me?
Makes me wonder if the payback for being stupid when you’re young is to be bitter when you’re old.
If so, then what will become of you, young man, young woman, so chirpy and full of spunk and looking around eager for a war to fight, when you find yourself on the anniversary of some great battle glancing at your own “Lists and Statistics,” and too many of your buddies are there on the list?
(c) 2014 Steven Hardesty
Image source: Photo on p. 1 of “TAB D – The US Army in December 1944,” Battlebook: The Battle of the Bulge, Senior Leader Staff Ride, United States Army, Europe, undated.http://www.forgottenwarstories.com/2014/05/01/253/http://www.forgottenwarstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WW2-arty2-Battlebook.jpghttp://www.forgottenwarstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WW2-arty2-Battlebook-300x272.jpgOp-Edvietnam war,world war IIThe Battle of the Bulge ended 69 years ago yesterday and I had a buddy in the movie made 20 years after the battle. Great battle, great film. True, he only had a bit part, but that included one line up there on that big Cinerama screen, just him...stevenhardestySteven Hardestyforgottenwarstories@gmail.comAdministratorForgotten War Stories