Good morning dear reader.
There is a topic I’d like to write about this morning that is…not pleasant. War. When I say war we all usually have one that comes to mind. I usually think of Korea because of how the show M*A*S*H impacted me. I’m writing from the States, so I’ll be addressing the American wars on this subject.
My grandfather lied about his age to get into WWII and was later stationed on the USS New Jersey during the Korean War. My father was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam war.
I adore war movies. Saving Private Ryan, M*A*S*H, Fury, Monument Men. I just watched Platoon and Full Metal Jacket last month for the first time. I tried to watch Schindler’s List, but couldn’t get past the soldiers opening fire on the Jewish children in the hospital. Of course, I was fifteen at the time…I should try again. I love submarine films. Addicted to them. Hunt For The Red October, U-571, Das Boot, even Down Periscope.
Now, I know Hollywood does not replicate war perfectly, but I know—in the past five years—they’ve done their best to recreate it in honor of the vets. As a 35 year old woman who has never seen war, I respect the vets who fought in all wars and, as a viewer and fan of war movies, I am hunting for the perfect depiction of war. My goal is to understand it like those vets do. I know I never will, but I will forever try. I write about war in my book…a lot. I feel I owe it to them to depict it as close to reality as I can.
I’m rambling while I collect me thoughts so I will tell you what brought this topic up.
Yesterday afternoon while I was in with my therapist, my husband sat out in the waiting room. Two gentlemen were sitting in the room talking. One man was a Korean Veteran. The other was a Vietnam Veteran. They were comparing wars. Oh…how I wished I had heard this conversation myself. My husband explained that there were similarities between both vets, but few differences. They both agreed that the Korean War and Nam were “both shit fests of two different flavors.”
Both men had been drafted. Neither men wanted to be there and both men were forced by the government. Both men remember fighting only to survive. It wasn’t about “the good guys vs. the bad guys.” It was, kill anyone who tries to kill you and kill them before they kill you. Live. That was the mission. Not “Kill the comi’s.” Both men had witnessed a friend who had survived some incredible battles, only to die upon arriving State side.
“We just wanted to go home. We didn’t want to be there. No one did. We had all been drafted. We were civilians tossed into a jungle where we had to fight to survive. We saw some horrible shit I’ve spent my life trying to forget. When we got our papers we couldn’t believe we had made it. We were going home. But, the jungles didn’t kill us. Our brothers did.”
This quote is how I imagine the conversation as my husband relayed it back to me.
The Korean Vet told about his friend who was invincible. He took on three Chinese officers with swords in hand to hand combat and his friend killed them all with his bare hands. When he got to the States, he was stun in the throat by a bee. He was allergic.
The Vietnam Vet told about his friend. After surviving the jungles of Nam for two years, they arrived State side. His friend was shot in the head by an American citizen while exiting the plane. After being drafted, forced to fight to survive, dreaming of going back home for two years, his own brother, an American, killed him. He never got to step down on American soil.
That was the story I heard this morning that made me want to write to you. One of my favorite authors is Tolkien. I was one of those Lord of the Rings fans who watched all seven discs on the Making of The Lord of The Rings. It took me ten hours of viewing for seven days, but I did it. More than anything, I remember hearing about Tolkien’s life during World War I.
This is what I want to talk about. I had watched Forrest Gump, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Apocalypse Now. I was familiar with Nam. Korea was shown to me through M*A*S*H. I can not tell you how much I love that show. I own it on DVD and watch all 11 seasons every fall. M*A*S*H took place at the 4077, but most of their scripts were taken from the journals of an actual M*A*S*H unit. The events, the script, were not fiction. The surgeons really did warm their hands on the wounds of the dying. I had watched Saving Private Ryan, Das Boot, Life Is Beautiful, Fury, Monument Men, and U-571. I got to see World War II. But World War I had always escaped me. What was it?
In the Making of LOTR, they often spoke of Tolkien’s life during WWI. One quote stands out, and I am paraphrasing here. “Tolkien was devastated over the destruction on Nature and horses he saw from WWI and that is reflected in the Shire and Isengard.”
I didn’t understand. What happened in World War I?
If you’ve ever seen an episode of M*A*S*H from season 4 and on, you know Colonel Potter. That man’s love for horses…Potter served in the Calvary during WWI and spent all of the Korean War talking about his “Calvary Days.” I still cry when Radar gives him Sophie. I cry again when I see the Korean Calvary Man ride into camp on Sophie wearing his uniform. Even now, I’m tearing up. Such honor. Such…such great honor.
What is this World War I? What happened?
And then I watched War Horse.
What words can I use to tell you what I saw? When we think of war today, we think of machines and tanks and machine guns. We think of canons and mine fields. We think of jeep caravans. When we think of The Civil War, we think of soldiers lined up with their muskets.
I feel so stupid. It all was there. How blind was I? If I say New York City in 1910, we think of horse drawn carriages alongside the Model T horseless carriage. Why would war be any different?
World War I was the first war where we had machines. Guns, Canons, BIG guns that weighed in at two tons each…and no way to haul these guns by any means except the horse. Horses during World War I had two uses. Calvary…or machine. Calvary men were horse lovers like Colonel Potter. Tolkien should have served in the Calvary, but he was only 19. Tolkien was a horse lover who worked machines. I watched War Horse and I saw what Tolkien saw. I will never watch Lord of the Rings the same way again.
I saw horses, seven horses forced to haul the guns—the two ton guns—through the mud up hill until the horses died of exhaustion. I saw the horses beaten and whipped…I saw them drop dead, worn to the bones with use, then dragged to the side and dumped like fodder. I saw them withered and rotting with exhaustion from hauling around our machines. I saw forests stripped and cleared for miles to make way for the war. I understood. Isengard was World War I and the Shire is how Tolkien saw the world. It never made it to the movie, but The Scouring of the Shire…That was Tolkien’s depiction on WWI.
Most of the movie—War Horse—follows the life of a gorgeous stallion, a thoroughbred who starts off serving in the Calvary. There is an unspoken horror that threatens the horse right off, “put him on the machines,” you often hear, but someone always steps in. “No. We could use him here.” I didn’t understand. Not at first. What is “the machines.”
Half way through the film…oh, you see the machines. I wept. Of all the wars…World War I’s depiction has been the most neglected. I think this is because of the horrendous animal abuse that occurred. We see the Civil War in Gone With The Wind and Dances With Wolves and a million other re-enactments. But World War I…I understand Tolkien. I understand Colonel Potter.
I think…of all the movies I’ve seen, War Horse shows war…exactly as it is. In all it’s ugly horrific hell and for the record, Fury was a close second.