May 3 2004
The man in the big white stone
Thoughts on a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns
By John Kaminski
I received this from Marty Cepielik, publisher of News of Polonia in Pasadena, California:
"I don't know if you saw this in the news but it really impressed me. Funny, our US Senate/House took two days off as they couldn't work.
"On the ABC evening news, it was reported tonight that, because of the dangers from Hurricane Isabelle approaching Washington DC, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment.
"They refused. "No way, Sir!"
"Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a serviceperson.
"The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930."
Once upon a time, not long ago, I did the monuments tour in Washington. It was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that really got me thinking. I lit a cigarette in the gray drizzle, surveying the puddles forming on the august granite quadrangle, in the shadow of the majestic Corinthian pillars of the museum nearby. Gazing at the mammoth cube of Colorado marble, I tried to think about the archetypal spirit of the mythical warrior resting inside it.
In the mist, closing my eyes, with as much compassion and respect as I could muster, I dared to say: "Hey buddy, how's it going?"
And in my reverie, maybe assisted by some helpful spirits nearby, I imagined I heard a raspy response: "Can't complain, man. We all do what we have to do." Then a pause. Then ... "I sure wish I could still smoke though."
The image of a grizzled, unshaven GI, battered helmet askew on his unkempt head, popped into my mind.
"So you were in World War II?" my thoughts guessed in the humid air.
"Hah," the voice shrugged. "I was in all the wars. From Thermopylae to My Lai, I was there. Everytime there was a bullet fired in anger, an arrow aimed from ambush, a club bludgeoning the teeth of someone you never met and would never meet again, I was there."
"You know the question everybody asks you," I said in my mind, projecting my thoughts toward the elegant monument. "Was it worth it?"
"No, it's never worth it. At the time it's happening, though, there’s really no choice to think whether it’s worth it or not. You get caught up in the inevitability of the thing, swept along, as it were. Then it becomes a matter of staying true to your buddies."
"What's it like to kill somebody in combat?"
"It's not a good thing, though for some people it's kind of a drug-induced high. I think the people who like killing don’t really like themselves. Killing others is like killing yourself, except you get to walk away, and they don’t.
“At that moment you fire the bullet, and someone drops, never to get up again, it makes you feel kind of immortal. I mean, to have that kind of power, to stop someone's life its tracks, it's kind of like a drug. Or at least until sometime later, days or months or years later, and your mind tricks you and you start seeing the faces of your children on the people you are shooting ... that kind of comes with the package."
"What's it like to be killed in combat?"
"It's funny. There's usually no pain, although sometimes there is and it's beyond anything you ever thought of at the dentist. But usually, unless you're blipped out instantaneously, there is this kind of calm. It's dazzling and boring at the same time. When you know you have about twenty seconds of life left, it's not the wound that you think about. It's where you came from, trivial moments of childhood that somehow foretold the end you are now confronting. And then, for a second or two, it's where you would have gone, what you would have done. And it's about those people who are close to you, that girl, that little boy, or your mom. She'll be so angry, you think. Then the dark shade comes down and you can go anywhere you want. But you can never talk to anybody again."
"Do you get time to ask the question 'Was I doing the right thing?"
"Not usually, unless you linger on. It's the wounded who have to deal that trip, those with legs blown off or made blind by some explosion in your face. Then you can really work up a case of resentment. The 'what-might-have-beens' are about the most painful injury that can happen in anybody's life. Regret is about the worst thing there is."
"Did you ever realize, in any of all those wars, that what you were doing, was probably an exercise in futility, a pre-arranged deal, a conflict set up by rich men to make money off the sale of armaments or to steal someone else's property. I mean, did you ever realize that the song-and-dance about patriotism or defending your country was just a cover story for some much larger economic crime?"
"Shee-it, every enlisted man who ever served in the military knows that from practically day one. You only need to look around you to see the injustice of the whole system, where rich kid junior officers too timid to poke their eyes out of their tent flaps order ragtags into harm's way without any thought of what will happen to them. Or, of how the equipment they give you may or may not work, and superiors don't really care about that, they only care that they don't their asses kicked by somebody of higher rank. If the enlisted men, the real soldiers, got to run wars, there wouldn't be any wars. The only reason there are wars at all is because the men who decide to make them are never the ones who have to fight them. Can you say Dick Cheney?
"Ha. Well put. Has it always been that way?"
"Yes. Hail Caesar! Onward Zachary Taylor! But at least they got out there and swung their swords on occasion."
"What do you think of all these stories about rapes by Americans in Iraq?
"Pfft. That's war. Happens every time. Nobody remembers the 1.9 million American rapes of German women after WW II. But the Krauts and Japs had set the standard by doing the the same. Depravity is not limited to one ethnic group, though it may be limited to the human race. You don’t see other animals doing this kind of crap."
"So, you're saying that's normal behavior for any soldier, any warrior in combat?"
"No way. A real soldier is like a wild animal. Totally controlled, utterly savage. He doesn’t kill unless he has to. The true soldier is about the most honorable person on the planet, even though he has been hired to kill for wimpy rich men who are afraid to fight. Still, there is the code of honor. A true soldier won't follow an illegal order, but you can tell how many true soldiers there are these days by the paltry number who refuse immoral commands.
“Just like the rest of the country, every country that ever was, people are afraid to stand out, to say what they really believe even though they know it's right to do so. In the service you can't do that either — or not easily anyway — because if your commander tells you to wipe out a village of women and children, and you don't do it, you get thrown in the brig. Maybe you'll get shot. But those who kill unnecessarily or rape women are just the kind of psychopaths who wind up in the military because they can’t find a job anywhere else."
"What do you think of our fearless warmaking presidential candidates today?"
"Same as every other day. They all think soldiers are little stickmen on a chessboard to be sacrificed for somebody's stock options. Based on what I've heard about Kerry, he did soldiers dirt by opposing what they were doing. They say he has lots of medals, but from the things I've heard, he's lucky he didn't get fragged in 'Nam. And Bush. What a pansy! He's a deserter, in time of war. He should have been shot. But he had a rich daddy, so they let him fly planes til cocaine got in the way.
“And he killed all those people in Texas whether they were innocent or not. Tied them down and killed them, then laughed about it. What he did flying onto that carrier saying the Iraq war was over was a disgrace. I'd like to see him a fistfight with the weakest person in the Iraqi army. Bush'd get his throat torn out, which would be a good thing for the world, though there are plenty of other strutting punks like him to take his place."
"As a soldier who fought for your country, you are honored for your sacrifice and your patriotism. Does that make you feel proud in the place you are in now?"
"I wish they would have honored my widow and my orphaned children instead of me. They never had much when I was alive and now have a lot less. I miss them. And patriotism. There is a difference between patriotism and esprit de corps. The former is used to lure halfwits like me into putting everything on the line for some reason which is never fully explained to us. But esprit de corps is one of the great things in life. You get to know who you real friends are when somebody steps in the way of a bullet meant for you.”
“What do you think about the people who come here to visit you?”
“I feel sorry for them, that they venerate a process that is so unnecessary. I appreciate their thoughts, like I appreciate your thoughts, but what happened to me, all those times on the battlefield, was completely unnecessary in all instances, and was caused by those who sought to make a profit by the deliberate manipulation of social forces and public opinion. I would advise people to remember that if they treated me as well in life and they have in death, neither one of us would have ever had to be in this sorry place.”
“And kids who want to be soldiers, what would you say to them?”
“Slit your belly open with a knife, just to see how it feels. Then imagine how someone else would feel if you did it to them. Then imagine how your mom would feel if it really happened to you.
“Especially if she found that the war you were fighting in was a total lie, and never had to happen? All wars are lies, you know. None of them ever had to happen.”
“So go be a soldier. Go be a fool. Kill somebody over nothing. Watch yourself die. Hell, they might put you in a monument like this one. And no one will ever remember your name.”
John Kaminski, an honorably discharged Navy veteran, is the author of America's Autopsy Report a collection of his Internet essays seen on hundreds of websites around the world, and also “The Day America Died: Why You Shouldn’t Believe the Official Story of What Happened on September 11, 2001,” a 48-page booklet written for those who insist on believing the government’s version of events. For more information about both, go to http://www.johnkaminski.com/