Once in awhile I read a book that hits me emotionally. Catch 22 hit me in a comedic way because I could relate to so much of the irony, redundancy, and ridiculousness of the story. It’s amazing to me how a book about a war that occurred 70 years ago can be so relevant to today’s military. After all, most of my military-related mental issues are a result of the monotonous bullshit that I had to deal with on a daily basis, as opposed to the result of the combat I was often involved in over my three years in Iraq as an infantryman.
Today, I finished reading All Quiet on the Western Front for the first time. This book hit me in a different way, in my heart. I won’t even begin to claim that I saw or did anything close to the things WWI, WWII, Korean, and Vietnam War infantryman dealt with on a daily basis, but the troubles with reintegrating into regular civilian society I’m sure are pretty universal among combat vets. The main reason for this post was to share a couple quotes from Remarque’s masterpiece which really hit home for me, and which I hope can help civilians understand the thoughts in combat veterans’ minds when we are thrust back into society. It’s been almost three years since I returned from my third and final tour in Iraq, and two and a half years since I left the Army, but these things still hold true. Even the relationship with my father has become more distant because I just feel like we can’t relate to each other. Even after coming home, I have lost men from my company. One platoon sergeant from my company, who had only one tour under his belt, randomly killed himself two years ago. Just last month, I received several text messages in an hour, asking if I had heard about our buddy who had got into a standoff with police and ultimately pulled the trigger on himself. Even at home, among friends and family, we are not safe from the war.
Anyway, I leave you with Erich Maria Remarque’s two most powerful paragraphs to my eyes.
“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our account? What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over? Through the years our business has been killing;- it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge is life limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come of us?”
“And men will not understand us – for the generation that grew up before us, though it has passed these years with us already had a home and a calling; now it will return to its old occupations, and the war will be forgotten – and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves, we will grow older, a few will adapt themselves, some others will merely submit, and most will be bewildered; – the years will pass by and in the end we shall fall into ruin.”