The battle’s won, the child is lost.
General Hofstadder is used to the phrase, ‘Mission Accomplished‘ but today, all accomplishments seem trivial to him. He is now the father of a martyr. The General knew this would happen one day, but today! The war has come to an end, but for the world. For those involved, post-war trauma is the real war. He always believed that peace could be established only through war. Now, he realizes that the morbid reality is a far cry from the truth. He remembers the golden words of Plato, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. He now desires an end – resolute and final. He understands that his duty will not allow him to put the gun down. He decides. The next moment, he pulls the trigger. Sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the gun down.
This is not the story of a man, but of men & women who served their country, the ones who didn’t return & those who passed away before their stories could be told.
This year marks the centenary of World War I. It was this war that saw archdukes assassinated, modern weapons manufactured, empires fallen, maps redrawn; it saw economic super powers battle it out on European soil, while its effects ripple across the globe. The war left unprecedented results. Ability to learn from mistakes is the peculiarity of the human. But history is the proof of his inability. At this midnight, while I’m squinting at the monitor screen to pen down my thoughts, innocent citizens of Gaza are evacuating their homes in fear of rockets that have already decimated half their city. While those who have lost their homes, their near-ones, they now have lost all hopes of an armistice. The ceasefire truce fails faster than it is agreed upon. Missile makes no distinction; age is not an issue. The shrills of a woman who is scouring the debris for her lost child and the incessant wailing of a slovenly 5-year-old have all become dulcet tunes to the general populace. While a father weeps over a pile of flesh gathered from under the rubble, a kid is confused as to where his home is. In a video clip, while the paramedics are evacuating the house, half-demolished in air attack, a child comes out of his room, half asleep, “Mom, where are my slippers?” Next thing, he sees is a group of strangers carrying dead bodies from the wreckage. Who will answer as to where his mom is? All that the army answers is ‘mistakes happen’. While waiting for the missile to strike the refuge camp, a game of football helps these little kids cherish their childhood despite the ubiquitous chaos, and efface those haunting memories of hell, ephemerally. They stand teetering on the edge of sanity, whilst clinging to every strand of hope that may prevent them from falling over.
War is not a computer-generated missile striking a digital map. War is the colour of earth as it explodes with the sound of pleading, the smell of smoke, the sight of death & above all, fear.
Casualties recorded tell us little about the devastation that war creates. The aftermath of the war ruins the country economically & environmentally for decades. The repercussions of Agent Orange, defoliated by the US army in the Vietnam jungles, produce deformed children even now. USA, knowingly or unknowingly, committed an ecocide that victimizes the third generation of Vietnam to a horrifying extent.
However, it’s not just that the weak side suffers. If the weak side loses to weapons, the stronger side loses to guilt. Nancy Sherman, author of ‘The Untold War‘, writes, “Guilt is a part of the battlefield that often goes unrecognized”. A soldier’s mind passes through a psychological war. War is based on a simple principle- survival of the fittest, and emotions can ruin your chances to live. While returning from war, these soldiers feel survival guilt. While at war, they see their fellows dying in front of them & at the end they find themselves lucky & guilty. Holocaust survivors passed through the same feeling. The trauma of killing another human being lasts long. In some cases, the victims of this psychological disorder resort to suicide. When President Truman ordered the pilots to drop atom bombs, he knew little about its destructive capabilities. Holocaust followed. Later, out of guilt, Claude Eatherly, a hapless American pilot involved in air-bombing, attempted suicide. He suffered from schizophrenia and was even admitted to a mental hospital.
While the entire world mourns over the images of demolition, conflagration & the dance of death, only few know what it is like to be Inside the Smoke.
War does not determine who is right, only who is left.
(winner of article writing competition, PARAMARSH ’14)