I Wonder: Can We Learn Faster?
I’ve always had a mild, sort of quirky, interest in the ending of WWII. Recently I finished the 600 page tome The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson which discusses, in mind numbing detail, the last 19 months of WWII in Europe from D-day (6/6/1944) to the surrender of Germany (5/7/1945). In this quite amazing book the reader learns every bridge captured by which allied commander and unit and which German general surrendered in which tiny town. More than once when towns are captured at night we learn the color of the German commander’s pajamas! From early in this book I became aware that I was, among other things, really trying to learn about some of the experiences which my father endured but of which he never spoke. He was part of the Nova Scotia Highlanders in WWII. A force known by the Germans as “The Angels from Hell” because of their fierce fighting, bagpipes and kilts. All my father would tell me is that he drove a supply truck. I think he felt significant shame that he did not directly see combat. I tried to ask him more and was firmly silenced.
Perhaps as witness to my own gluttony for this sort of thing I am now reading another equally long history of the war in the pacific. (After 1200 pages of war I am ready for another topic.)
In the epilogue of The Guns at Last Light I read of the way several European nations made deep and lasting commitments to cemeteries for thousands of American soldiers. Patricia O’Malley an American woman who was a year old when her father was killed in Normandy visited her father’s grave. She saw her father’s headstone above Omaha Beach for the first time in the mid-2000s and wrote
“I cried for the joy of being there and the sadness of my father’s death. I cried for all the times I needed a father and never had one. I cried for all the words I had wanted to say and wanted to hear but had not. I cried and cried.”
Tears flowed from my soul as I read these words. The tears were for Patricia, her father and our world. The loss, the enormous loss, the carnage, the millions slaughtered. Tears flowed from gratitude that our fathers and grandfathers protected us from the horrific evil that was spreading across the world. They were a generation of protectors. Tears flowed as I wondered if we were protecting the world as well. As rage, hate and misogyny spreads across OUR country I wonder how to protect my grandchildren. The rage and hate feel very similar to the evil that spread in that time. The rage and hate of fascism feels very close.
Now we hear about suicide bombers then they were kamikazes. People blowing themselves up with the intent of slaughtering others for the reward of eternal bliss. And actually accomplishing very little. The Kamikazes brought the world exactly to the point we are right now. That is simply what all war does. The contemporary version, the suicide bombers, bring nothing more. I wonder why they existed then and now. And the hate, rage and fury spreading through our country will lead us only down a path of destruction.
I wonder why there does not seem to be an FDR or an Eisenhower in our leadership. I wonder how to respond to a politician with his own version of fascism.
Lieutenant Hershel Horton a twenty nine year old American officer was wounded in the Pacific and wrote in his diary before he died six days later “I lay here in this terrible place, wondering not why God has forsaken me, but rather why he is making me suffer.” I wonder why the suffering not only goes on but seems to intensify. I wonder why we don’t learn from war.
The best way, the only real way, to honor the memory of those who protected us is to learn faster. And I wonder if we can.