Last weekend the United States celebrated Memorial Day. This day traditionally has been recognized as a solemn day to pay tribute to the US soldiers who fought and died in our wars since the Revolutionary War. I was surprised to hear that that figure, those that died, was only 750,000 (approx,) men and women. And I say only because the people that we fought against lost so many more. At least particularly when we speak of the loses in our Asian Wars and others in our history. In the Vietnam conflict, 1.1 million NVA were killed and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers perished. In Korea, 1.5 million North Korean and Chinese soldiers were killed. In World War I a staggering 9.7 million soldiers from all participating nations including 126,000 US soldiers were killed. AND, a total of 950,000 civilians were killed as a direct result of war time activities. World War II, Japan saw 2.1 million soldiers killed and the civilian death rate was many times that.
When I have looked a film footage, especially of World War II which has been portrayed and chronicled in so many films, I still don’t think that the average person who has never seen wars fought of that magnitude, cannot image the carnage that the average soldier saw. The soldier sitting next to him blown to bits. He himself, being seriously wounded and watching the blood life drip out of his body. Body parts laying on the roadside alone because the rest of the body had been incinerated. Myself, I cannot image. My father who fought in Europe during the battle of the bulge, has divulged some of the maybe less horrific sights he had seen as a foot soldier with the 84th Infantry. But I presume there are many encounters that are locked inside of his 95 year old mind that he has never chosen to tell anyone and unfortunately he cannot dispel from his thoughts especially when the silence of the night allows our minds to wander and recall. My mother has recalled many a time that he has called out at night, probably remembering the horror of what he saw.
What I have always, and I want to say marveled at, but I know that is the absolute wrong choice of words. More like shocked at, is the damage to a country’s infrastructure caused by war. There has always been little regard for the civilian structures during war. Vietnamese villages, people’s homes, were torched. And yes I know it was because the NVA would use these villages as staging points for attacks and weapons accumulation and it was often difficult to tell who the enemy was. But still, somebody’s home was destroyed because of war. So many magnificent structures and their artifacts were destroyed to bombings, light and heavy artillery and fire. Some of these buildings were hundreds of years old and in the flash of the explosion of a bomb, they were gone. Roads, bridges, stores…gone. People’s livelihoods…gone. Innocent people, men, women and children…gone. For what, quite honestly I don’t know or understand.
If you take a broad look at why many and I may say most wars have been fought, I think the conclusion would be the accumulation of power and wealth and land. I’m not sure if there has ever been an altruistic reason for a war that I can think of. There have been “skirmishes” where a country may have attacked another for reasons related to that country’s treatment of it populace meaning their horrific human rights violations. But the country that was grossly mistreating its citizens did it to consolidate his or her power, gain more wealth or gain unrelenting control over its citizens. Going back to the Revolutionary War, the British throne did not want to give up its territory in America. World War I, a land and power grab. World War II, the same. Korea, yup. And on and on it goes. And yes I know it is a very simplistic view of why wars happen, but again, I do have a very hard time thinking of a war over time that was not for that very basic reason. I look back at the invading leaders of these invading countries and I think that in many if not most, the principal leader was not a military man, except in his own mind. Kaiser Wilhelm I, Germany WWI was not a professional military man. Hitler, not even close. Kim Il Sung of Korea was the dictatorial leader of North Korea. And on and on it goes. If a leader of a country who wants to “conquer the world” had fought on the lines in a truly horrific war, and seen the carnage first hand, would they want to engage their people in a war. If they saw the burned bodies, the dismembered bodies, the families separated by war, all of the spoils of war as we know it, would they want to engage their country in a war for, for the most part, for them to gain power and wealth, would they pull the trigger? Sadly, I think so. Dictators and oligarchs are full of narcissistic personalities. And that person, to be blunt, really does not give a crap about about anyone else but themselves. And then to help them lead there war, they hire more narcissists to help them in there quest. And these “aids” just want to protect what they have gotten (power, wealth) through their association with said leader. And if said leader suddenly develops an altruistic bent to their personality, they have no problem whacking that leader to protect their wealth and power. And the cycle goes on and on. How do we stop them. Sadly, I don’t have a clue because that person will always exist. I think I know a “leader” now, and I use that term VERY loosely, who appears to exhibit many of those same tendencies. Hummm!
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Sadly, wars seem to be a part of the human experience, mostly for the reasons you name. I think we do value power and wealth far too much, are too quick to think in terms of “them and us” and want to look for what we think will be a simple solution to a complex problem. And although we don’t like to admit it, humans also have a capacity for violence that raises its ugly head now and then. Great post!