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War of the masses, the outcome, disastrous
Many of the victim family save they ashes
A million names on walls engraved in plaques
Those who went back, received penalties for the axe
Another heart is torn as close ones mourn
Those who stray, niggaz get slayed on the song
A couple of weeks ago, Don and Arnold sat down to discuss Arnold’s son’s predicament. He was avoiding the draft. The Vietnam War has been the background song of this past season, and I found myself enthralled by this conversation between Arnold and Don, talking about war, youth, and soldiering, topics I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.
Arnold: It doesn’t matter if goes to school, he’s 1A, his induction can be tomorrow, he’s on a damn list for the rest of his life.
Don: On some level you have to admire his idealism.
Arnold: You sound like Sylvia. But she doesn’t really buy his bullshit. You think she’s gonna let her baby rot in jail for a cause?
I don’t know what to do. What would you do?
Don: What I’d do with my kid? Or if it was me?
Arnold: You were in the service right?
Don: I was.
Arnold: You see action?
Don: It was very different. I wanted to go. I did when when I got there.
Arnold: That’s the trick. Kid’s 18, 19 years old they have no sense of their own mortality.
Don: Or anyone else’s. That’s why they make good soldiers.
Arnold: Well the Army paid for Med School. I served in a hospital in Pusan.
Don: We were very lucky.
Arnold: Lucky enough to live in this country. And service is a part of that bargain, sacrifice. We knew that.
Don: The war is wrong.
Arnold: I’ll tell you if there’s anyone that’s going to get it it’s going to be him. He’s soft.
Don: I’m sure he’s a good kid.
Arnold: The best.
CBS Sunday Morning ran a fantastic story today about Army photographer Charlie Haughey who served in Vietnam and packed away his photos from that infamous war in a shoebox for decades. Those images were recently pulled out and printed for display. They are really amazing.
Vietnam used to be a war I really didn’t want to know anything about. I was more curious about World War II and the heroes of that war. Lately, I’ve found myself reading more and more about Vietnam. Completely fascinated. It’s its own special time. There it is.
This haunting image was the one that left me frozen on my couch. There is something about the darkness of his face, the smoke, and the white eyes looking right back at me that captures something ancient about the infantry.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the special qualities that makes an infantryman an infantryman. A lot of it revolves around darkness, and letting go of your own humanity. It’s scary stuff. And this image comes close to exposing it.
I jumped back into Mass Effect today to play the Citadel DLC and was inspired by some of the things in this interview between a journalist and Admiral David Anderson. I’ve pulled out the parts I found the most interesting.
Whoever wrote this is spot on. For all of the military training we have, things often come down to instincts. Thousands of years of warfare there for us to study, to inform our training, but instinct is still the thing that sits there at the unforgiving minute, the last hundred yards.
And isn’t that the truth concerning the terrible burden of leadership? How horrible is it that we ask our military leaders to choose the mission over the men, and to carry that cross for the rest of their lives?
But then, is war not terrible? I love how Admiral Anderson makes that final statement. To me, it is a critique on war, and a warning to avoid it at all costs, because there truly are no winners, just better-off losers.
Journalist: Does the program make the man, or do you think you were born for this?
It is a bit of both I suppose. Every soldier reaches a point in their career, sometimes more than once, when they are asked to give more than they ever thought they could. That moment is the test. I’ve seen men and women almost sure to fail, persevere long past the point of breaking. That experience changes them. Others, with all the gifts and abilities, fail in that moment. Sometimes they pick themselves up and carry on, sometimes, they’re just done.
Journalist: Do you trust your intuition? Do you follow your heart or your mind?
No, I suppose if I were to be honest, I do trust my instincts. The problem is… war isn’t orderly. And the enemy is never predictable. Even the most experienced veteran is going to find themselves in situations they haven’t trained for. In those instances – and there is more than I’d like to admit – your instincts are the only thing keeping you alive. That, and the men and women you’re fighting aside.
Journalist: But soldiers are only as good as their leader, isn’t that true?
Yeah, a good leader can make an ‘ok’ squad great. And a bad leader, well, war tends to make examples of them.
Journalist: What makes a good leader then?
Hm… a good leader is someone who values the life of his men over the success of the mission, but understands that sometimes, the cost of failing a mission is higher than the cost of losing those men.
Journalist: That’s a terrible line to have to walk.
Yes it is. But war is a terrible thing.
Through one of the internet’s many rabbit holes, I came across this video from 1943 of Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ on the ‘Command Performance‘ program. She is introduced here by Bob Hope.
‘Over the Rainbow’ as a theme seems a universe away from ‘Courtesy of the Red White and Blue‘ so I dug a little further. ‘Over the Rainbow’ debuted in The Wizard of Oz in 1939. It came to be thought of as a symbol of the United States by US troops (Barnet, Nemerov, and Taylor, The Story Behind the Song). Their book makes it seem like it was the go-to anthem during World War II, much like Toby Keith’s song became popular in the years following the September 11th attacks. I haven’t been able to track down any more information on it, though.
‘Over the Rainbow’ would later be named the #1 song in a film of all time by the American Film Institute.
Despite being from New York, I enjoy watching television. I especially like local morning news shows. I miss the stupid-early ABC news team – Ken Rosato, Lori Stokes, Bill Evans, Lisa Colagrossi, Joe Nolan, Jamie Roth.
Columbus doesn’t have the best local news team. The stories aren’t all that interesting and the programming lacks the polish of New York.
But they have terrible/fantastic commercials!
Trust me. Every one of these is worth your time.
This boy has the moves.
“Gils.” Pronounced: “Gieews.”
A drive through gold shop.
Are you for real?
A little over a year ago I developed a little obsession with the ballet. I had just seen Black Swan, and left the theater in downtown London wanting to know more about the ballet and the lives of the dancers. I understood that the film was a work of fiction and overly dramatized, but I was drawn to the psychological drama, the monastic dedication to the craft, and the apparent isolation felt by the dancers. I was excited to learn more about the ballet, but couldn’t help but think that Black Swan might be to (some) dancers as The Hurt Locker was to (some) soldiers. That is, an overly dramatic account of a poorly understood segment of the population.
I started to look up reviews of Black Swan, particularly from dancers. Almost universally, dancers disliked the film for similar reasons some soldiers disliked The Hurt Locker: emphasizing popular stereotypes (aggressive, reckless soldier / psychologically distraught, anorexic dancer), errors in the details (wrong uniforms, unlikely TTPs / poor dancing, “ballerina-as-victim” motif). Both movies were critically acclaimed, and the attention that they received because of the Academy Awards raised the conversation concerning each of the films (The Hurt Locker won Best Picture in 2009 and Natalie Portman won Best Actress in 2010). Soldiers and veterans interviewed for whatever reason were often asked their opinion of The Hurt Locker. And some prominent veterans strongly raised their voice in opposition to the film. Dancers interviewed in newspapers and on morning television shows were often ambushed with the question of how they found Black Swan. I can only imagine what it must have been like for a dancer meeting someone at a party. “What did you think of Black Swan” probably is to dancers as “Did you kill anyone” is to veterans – the follow up question to learning ones’ unique profession.
Interested, I began to dig deeper. I saw the parallels of ballerinas and soldiers – especially infantrymen. A lot of my tougher friends who would be turned off by the ballet by default might not understand the athleticism required to dance. I was certainly oblivious to it. There was a scene in Black Swan, thought, that clicked for me. It was a montage scene where Nina (Portman) was preparing for her role, dancing, and at one point laying on an examination table being assisted by a doctor. Then, there was a scene of her taking a break, sipping water at a fountain and refilling her water bottle. It was at that point that ballet stopped being this airy, flirty thing to me and became a tough discipline that requires hard work and constant attention. It reminded me of so many sessions at the gym, early morning runs, or finishing a foot march and going straight to my canteen, trying to replenish myself before stepping off again.
Since I was in London, I signed up for the Royal Ballet’s ‘student standby’ program for students, which provides discount ballet tickets for students. I went to the ballet as often as I could, and began reading about it in newspapers and blogs. I looked for memoirs by dancers, finding Winter Season by Toni Bentley. Reading it, I made notes on the parallels:
“During the performance, things are cancelled, added or rearranged, according to the casualty level of the performance. If a dancer is injured, the ballet must be re-rehearsed for the understudy…” p. 32 (The mission must be accomplished, succession of command – PL, PSG, WSL, etc.)
“I saw Raging Bull yesterday and of course thought of the tragic sadness and frailty of those whose life is based on they physical – fighters and dancers.” p. 49
“But too often, meeting an ‘outside’ person involves the usual cross-examination: Where are you from? How long have you been dancing? What’s it like working with Balanchine? What did you dance tonight? We have a lot of jokes about pre-recording our answers. Of course people are curious (they’d better be!). We are unique, yet on a human-to-human level, this is very dull and finite in possibility. p. 55 (“What it like over there? Do you have to go back? No? Thank god. Did you ever kill anyone?)
“If you rehearse sloppy, you will dance sloppy. You rehearse how you will do it.” p. 60 (Train as you fight)
I exchanged emails with the author about these strange parallels. She, of course, demurred to the idea. Anytime someone on the “outside” compares their profession to that of soldiers or their arena as a battlefield or war zone, they attract the ire of veterans groups and political commentators (see Antre Rolle of the New York Giants, for example). As an “insider,” though, it is more appropriate, or at least more socially acceptable for me to make these kinds of connections.
On a physical level, I’m struck at importance of feet in both crafts. Dancers and soldiers alike spend a great deal of time finding the perfect shoe/boot and perform superstitious rituals to make their footwear fit as perfectly as possible. Dancers rough up the bottoms of their dance shoes, soldiers soak boots in water to break them in. Underneath, feet are rubbed, blistered, callused, and torn apart.
I’m not the only one who has made these connections. A new friend, Roman Baca, served as a Marine in Fallujah and is the founder of Exit 12 Dance Company. He’s a fellow with The Mission Continues and recently went back to Iraq to convene a dance workshop.
What this all tells me is that there is something here. There are these two communities out there, dancers and soldiers, who represent a tiny portion of the overall population, hold a unique and grossly misunderstood profession that is wildly stereotyped and exploited in the media, and who often struggle in transitioning from a profession that is largely based on physical prowess to something more sustainable afterwards. Nothing, though, ever compares to the thrill of of doing that job, be it dancing or fighting.
Where this goes, I’m not sure. But it’s been something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past year and getting it out there might inspire more thought.