Men & War

When I asked women friends for volunteers to beta-read this anthology, a dozen stepped forward. But one said she would not look at this section: “I’m opposed to war in all forms.”

I understand. Women are life’s creators and nurturers. An aversion to killing lives in most women, and many ridicule men’s penchant for war. But in the 1980s, England’s Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, went to war in the Falkland Islands, and India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered her troops to storm the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s preeminent holy site. In 1863, Harriet Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. And in 1429, Joan of Arc led her troops to battlefield triumph. Women have waged war.

A man may have to come to grips with combat, because it may figure in his life or death. He might have to fight for what is right or wrong, want to fight, or want to avoid fighting. But if a man lives in a country with a draft or obligatory military service, he will have to face his relationship to war, as did young American men during the War of Independence, Civil War, the World Wars, Vietnam and Korea. War was central to their thoughts and lives.

I read many war stories researching this anthology. Regardless of that, having never lived through battle, I’ll never understand it. Warrior-hood is a fraternity to which non-combatants do not belong.

Women ask, “Why do men fight?”

As it’s been said, we shouldn’t blame war on the warrior. A man usually goes to war because his country or cause sends him. Yes, some young men volunteer to fight, seem eager to wage these wars – the thrill of fighting, of protecting the tribe, of machismo and the warrior myth, live in them – but it is the leaders who send them.

Are there “good” wars and “bad” wars?

San Francisco columnist Herb Cain (and others) referred to World War II as “the last good war.” I suggested this to a Scottish veteran at Ranville, France, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1994.

He shot back, “Nae war is a good war, and naebody kens it like an auld Tommy. The Second World War was a necessary war; we had to drive the Nazis oot of Europe. But World War ii was no’ a good war. Ye’ll be remembering that, won’t ye, laddie?” 

Battle streams a flood of life-threatening initiations at fighting soldiers. Many return home drowning from their immersion in war’s trials. “Polish Day, Kennywood Park” is Don Narkevic’s story of a World War II vet, head barely above water, schooling a 12-year-old in dancing.

An extract from The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s collection of linked short stories about the Vietnam war, shows us what and whom soldiers bring into battle. It is the most anthologized title of the recent era, in part because O’Brien’s writing makes us keep reading.

John Crawford’s “No Crying in Baseball,” two stories nested inside a third, witnesses a soldier’s phone call home, telling his wife of his day in the Iraq war. In both O’Brien’s and Crawford’s pieces, we’ll see that a woman is central to a soldier’s life though she is thousands of miles away. We will witness a man’s need for a woman – not his desire – in these tales.

Victor Ayscough’s “My Vietnam” follows a pivotal afternoon in the writer’s relationship to the war. Finally, we’ll read Jonathan Gottschall’s essay on women’s culpability in men’s fights.

“I wis never mair alive than when I wis fightin’,” the Scottish veteran told me. The war writing here is similarly vibrant. But the alive role of men in war is also the most degrading they play. After reading this section, one woman said, “Poor men!”

I had to pass on that potential beta-reader because of her refusal to look at this section. Yes, most women are opposed to war, and cannot fathom why men fight. But as Warren Farrell wrote, “Understanding men requires understanding men’s relationship to the Three Ws: Women, Work, and War.” Here’s an opportunity to better understand men and war, and to read some brilliant writing. Please don’t skip this section.

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4 thoughts on “Men & War”

  1. I’ve been musing recently on a comment that an astrologer friend made. In the “family constellation” of our solar system Earth is sitting between Venus (Love) and Mars ( War) and the karma of our planet is that we are always going to be working with both – that in fact we need both – it is our destiny – our path on this planet. I thought about this again after reading this provocative essay. Conflict is our edge, love is our softness.

    1. “Conflict is our edge, love is our softness.” Love it. Thank you, Barbara. I know war is not easy for women, so I appreciate your reading this little essay and responding to it.
      Thank you.

  2. I have little patience for people who say they are opposed to war in all forms.
    They need to wake up. We fought for independence to control our own destiny and so future generations would be free to explore and discover our higher selves through the Arts. There will always be bullies like King George or Hitler. I say praise the fighting men and women who sacrifice for the greater good.

    1. Thank you, Brother Dave. As someone who served in Vietnam, your take on the this person’s opposition to war in all forms, is much appreciated.

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