By John Cory
Friday 01 October 2004
Slogans -- that's war for most folks. War is Hell. Support The Troops. Uncle Sam Wants You. Yellow ribbons and
candlelight vigils. War.
Listen friend, war, is electric. It's a jangle of short-wired nerves; raw blue sparks that jump the gaps of politics and
twist the ignition key of survival. War is living fast, hard, and furious, life between the teeth. You are never so
alive as when you're about to die. War is a five-and-dime store of friction toys and cheap tin thrills. War, is all the
power of heaven accessed through the front door of hell.
War is a mad minute, sixty seconds of Godhood: let there be light in the rocket's red glare and the Zippo flame of razed
hootches. God is an amateur who took six days to create the earth, but a grunt with a radio and artillery and air
support is true holy power in a fiery obliteration of inhabitants and geography - all in less then six minutes.
War is weather. Sometimes so hot, you have to chew a hole in the heat and swallow, just to get a breath of fresh air.
And sweat that drips from the leaky faucet of your pores and into your eyes; sweat that scalds and blinds. So hot you
could have lunch with the Devil.
And there's the rain, day after day and night after night. Warm rain, muggy rain at first, slick oily droplets skidding
across your skin in a muddy film that never refreshes. Then night rain, dark rain with a chilly breeze that crawls
inside your fatigues and pools around your ankles and crotch, and quietly peels away the layers of your wrinkled soggy
War is solitaire. Humping, marching, moving or standing watch, a soldier packs a rucksack, weapon, ammo, and thoughts.
Always thoughts. The only retreat allowed in war is the retreat inside your own head. Eyes are on the terrain while
radar sensors process the physical world, clicking and categorizing shapes and shadows. But the mind is crowded with
another world and a cast of thousands. It's all there, living in the past and living in the future, while praying to
survive the present.
War is looking into a child's face, having to instantly decide whether friend or foe. Wondering what's in their smile or
in their hand. Constant suspicion. Constant sadness when you see them wounded and you wonder, was it your bullet that
made them an orphan or stole their limbs?
War is language of the numb and damned, anesthesia to protect the soul. Call them gooks or hajis or anything but people.
You don't kill people--you kill the enemy. Don't care why they are the enemy. If you care too much you will die in
pieces day by day.
Sweet Jesus, what the hell? Incoming! Incoming! Hit the dirt!
Voices scream as the show begins. It's rock-and-roll time; psychedelic funk explodes like a bad trip on cheap acid cut
with speed. The world goes slow-mo and real-time, all at once. Strangers in a strange land intent on killing one
another. Don't want to die in this dirt clod of a hellhole. Dust to dust is not for me.
Blip boom bang.
Light 'em up! Grease the bastards! Zap the mothers, now! Medic! Medic! Exclamation points galore: with bodies strewn
across the mud like so much broken furniture in the living room of violence.
Turn up the volume and bring it on. Lock and load is the rhythm of surviving one more minute, one more hour, one more
Never look down - never stop shooting - never stop. Not now. Move. Move. Move.
The more you move the closer to home you get. Buddy to buddy lay the fire down and carpet the joint with anything that
will kill them and preserve you.
The firefight is a cacophonous rock opera gone insane: smashed guitars, squealing amps that spit fire, and drummers
pounding on the audience.
Sulfur smoke curls up inside your nose and passes on the stench of cauterized flesh and amputation. Youth and innocence
are crumpled like discarded ticket stubs on stadium cement, but the band riots on and on. And then-
It's over. The plug is pulled. Silence.
Not, silence is golden, silence.
Silence of the dead and doomed: cutting silence that slices tomorrow into shards of guilty relief and hope. One day down
- another day to go.
There are no politics in war. Politics is the luxury of the safe-at-home. War is a lottery of survival.
There is no morality in war. Morality is the privilege of those judging from the distance. War is only death and
destruction, regardless of which scripture is quoted.
War is the tool of small-minded scoundrels who worship the death of others on the altar of their greed. War is the
cemetery of futures promised.
War is eternity jammed into frantic minutes that will fill a lifetime with dreams and nightmares.
John Cory is a Vietnam veteran. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V device, 1969 - 1970.