When I asked women friends for volunteers to beta-read this anthology, a dozen stepped forward. But one said she would not read 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 they commonly ridicule men’s penchant for war. But 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 a Sikh holy temple. Less recently, Joan of Arc led her troops to battlefield triumph. Women can wage war.
Ultimately, a man must 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 he lives in a country with a draft or obligatory military service, he will have to face his relationship to war, as did the men of my generation, all of draft age during Vietnam. This war was central to our lives. I worried about the draft every day through college – in the end my number never came up – and have since sought out veterans to hear tales of the life I missed.
In researching this anthology, I found many war stories that fascinated me. Regardless of the number I’ve read or heard, I’ll never understand battle, having never lived it. Warrior-hood is a fraternity to which non-combatants do not belong.
Women ask, “Why do men fight?”
I don’t think we should blame war on the warrior. A man goes to war because his country’s leader 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 the leaders send them.
Are there “good” wars and “bad” wars?
Some call World War II “the last good war,” but one Scottish veteran I suggested this to at Ranville, France, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, angrily responded, “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. Here is “Polish Day, Kennywood Park,” Don Narkevic’s story of a troubled vet schooling a 12-year-old boy on dancing. Victor Ayscough’s “My Vietnam” witnesses a pivotal afternoon in the writer’s evasion of the draft.
In the printed book, but not here online for contractual reasons, are three more stories: an extract from Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried; John Crawford’s story, “No Crying in Baseball”; and Jonathan Gottschall’s essay, “What About Women?” In the battlefield stories, you will read that a woman is central to a soldier’s life though she is thousands of miles away. You will witness a man’s need for a woman – separate from his desire – in these tales.
“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 in The Myth of Male Power, “Understanding men requires understanding men’s relationship to the Three Ws: Women, Work, and War.” Here is an opportunity to better understand men and war, and to read some brilliant writing. Please don’t skip this section.