The death toll during World War I surmounted fifteen million. The second World War erased the lives of fifty-five million, nearly five million of which were civilian Jews exterminated throughout Hitler's tyranny. Nine million died during the Russian Revolution, and twenty million more died during the reign of Stalin. Almost sixty thousand American soldiers died during a small phase of the Vietnam conflict, a small phase that was eventually abandoned as a failure. Yet such numbers, relied on by every modern media source, are only mathematical representations. While striving to paint an honest portrait of war for those on the home front, for those distanced by land and generations, body counts succeed only at numbing the reality of death. They reduce human suffering to cold statistics (White). However, human suffering has been reduced to ideals far more pathetic than cold statistics for far longer than statistics have even been a common practice of describing war. Death means almost nothing in the modern era. It has been accepted to the point of expectation, and war has become only another means by which to fulfill the promise of finite life. Nations abuse death tolls for political defenses and political attacks, numbers that lie and erase the moral fiber of proper respect for those soldiers and civilians alike sacrificed in the name of the progress of freedom and democracy. Beyond numbers, death is such a common occurrence that soldiers, breathing it and tasting it day to night and year to year forget that it is not inevitable, a phenomenon explored by Joseph Heller in his book Catch-22. Death has become a tool, an object, not a means within itself, but a means to an end result molded in the hands of time and civilization. And war, its greatest ally, with its death tolls and body counts, its endless thirst for blood blurred in the minds of its very victims, the men and the women in uniform and the men and the women hoping and pray and trying to remember the men and the women in uniform in the midst of an easier path, the path to forgetting; war bleeds death in its most carnal form, that of innocent forfeiture.
[...] This is the real catch-22 of the life of a soldier: accepting and expecting death is a mental fortification that is the embodiment of the military's desired warrior, yet refusing to allow such pointless sacrifice, bargaining in the midst of life and death to remember that bodies were once human and that humanity should be fought for more patiently than victory, is the embodiment of the hero, the embodiment of the warrior that exists in epic poetry. Soldiers become heroes when they become less efficient fighters, when they remember their humanity and the humanity of others both living and dead. [...]
[...] Joseph Heller explores this natural inclination to accept and dismiss death quickly and efficiently in his book Catch-22: he presents the honest portrait of an American bomber squadron that has embraced its own inevitable demise to the point of consciously awaiting it. “'I used to get a big kick out of saving people's lives. Now I wonder what the hell's the point, since they all have to die anyway'” (Heller 119). Dr. Stubbs no longer wishes to fight a losing battle in the medical tent. [...]
[...] Not only are they frequently misinterpreted to benefit one side over the other, they are often relied on too heavily to arrive at conclusions and to formulate the ranking system of evil that is, in many ways, incomplete when based on body counts alone. As mentioned above, Hitler killed over five million Jews and homosexuals alone in his concentration camps, ordering the Nazi party to purify the German people. He killed many more during the blood purge, and can be seen as even more monstrous when World War II in its entirety is attributed to his insatiable thirst for power. [...]
[...] Lieutenant Coombs and Kraft die in a plane over Ferrara, and Yossarian feels rather guilty for it does happen during his bomb run, during a second pass that should never have been needed if he had taken his medication on the first pass. He feels guilty about Kraft, but he cannot even recall the face of Lieutenant Coombs. His slight guilt over directly causing the deaths of two men, evaporates whenever he returns to his tent to find the nameless body on his floor, the body of a boy barely out of his teens. [...]
[...] They expect it, and in such it is hoped that they will perform without regard for their lives. They will perform miracle acts of bravery. They will be valiant. They will lay their lives down before tanks and before their country, because they are immune to death, they are unafraid. They are resigned, like Dr. Stubbs, to the eventual death of everyone and everything. So they wait, and do what they can in the time being to make the time pass quicker. [...]
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