My stepfather was a Marine in Vietnam, as my grandfather had been in World War II. He left for war under the watchful eyes of the Greatest Generation, fought, and came home much as my grandfather had decades before, but their lives turned out very differently. My grandfather went on to become a scholar, diplomat, and a family man, and made it an even 90 years to die in peace. My stepfather was a good man and father, but suffered from chronic post traumatic stress symptoms and substance dependency for the rest of his life, surviving into his 50's only to succumb to an Agent Orange-style leukemia.
The stories I heard growing up make this a less-distinct comparison, however. Raised mostly by my grandfather, he spoke in his (few) darker moments of rancid jungles, snakes, bodies torn by bamboo and metal, friends hoarding body parts as trophies, and a starving enemy in dead men's uniforms, sneaking in chow lines to steal or blow themselves to pieces. Heavy stuff, but not unlike retellings of the Vietnam era or the Asian Wars of our century.
As Patton put it, "battle is an orgy of disorder," guaranteeing little good comes to anyone involved. To hand it to Homer, however, "men grow tired of sleep, love, singing and dancing sooner than war," and I'm afraid that's what gets me most. War fascinates me, it always has, and thanks to that my son has developed a taste for its mythology, even if people like us have no appreciation of how awful it is.
Maybe I watched too much TV as a kid or I'm trying to earn approval from the ghosts in my head, I can't say, but war rivets my attention. I get immersed in its games, and am always pondering models of strategy, tactics, and logistics. War is really a muse for me, possibly my most inspirational -- nothing's pushed my buttons like it since early childhood. I get this is a historical, human fascination, but can't shake how unhealthy it feels.
If I learned anything from my Grandfather's experiences, however, passing between between war and peace is (or should be) not unlike death and birth. In his day folks understood this, for whatever reason, and that was the essence of his stories -- over there things were wrong, but it wasn't reality as any sane person knew it. Back home, thank God, they could live again.
I wonder if that's the big thing somebody missed in my stepfather's time: We forgot war isn't part of the real world, even though real people go from one to the other and need understanding to adjust. As bad as this sounds, perhaps every generation has to renew these lessons to protect those which follow. Whether or not we accept war as a given, I hope we grow to accept its nature so warriors safely return to our world when the time is right.