The image of a soldier is that of a stereotype. He barely passed high school or did not pass at all. He laughed at the idea of college, he laughed at the price. He works every weekday and drinks every weekend. Bosses and police officers have no reasons to give him a second chance. One more screw up and you're out, his father threatens year in and year out, until the threats and his father blur into the background of a life he no longer wishes to live. Maybe one day while bagging groceries, or serving a hamburger at the local stand, he notices a man in a uniform. He notices how proud the man looks, how strong, how brave: he pictures how brave he would look in uniform. A few letters, a few phone calls, and he is enlisted. It was my one-way ticket out of Hell, he says years later, to a wife who does not know him, to children who do not miss him. And he comes back ten years later from someone else's war with only one leg and the bravery he was never strong enough to forsake, to a Hell he was never meant to escape. He must have been desperate, for he chose the path of war. Because that is the military, right? The path to war?
[...] He hears word of a mutinied division on the French front, a group of thirteen men who have decided to not fight anymore. Thirteen men who have found in themselves the power to stop World War simply by putting down their guns and refusing to continue. The Germans across the battlefield are forced to do the same: with no one to shoot at and no one to shoot back, the entire ordeal seems rather purpose. In a sense, the division is successful. [...]
[...] And while there is a settled difference between those drafted and those serving willingly, as a case study of modern warfare from a volunteer service perspective, it is the fact that during World War not all men, even European, were forced onto the battlefield against their wills. They chose their fates, for whatever reasons: whether to serve their country, their homes, their race, or their own personal desperation, they chose war. Yet even in this novel, a novel experienced solely on the battlefield, a novel experiences solely alongside men who know that, once they win the war, they will have nothing left, and who honestly wish to never win the war, not every man is self-destructive; not every man seeks that which he can never benefit from. [...]
[...] The group commander is not the only war-hungry man willing to risk his life and the lives of his men to complete a mission or keep the war alive. There is also an officer who is fed up with the commissioned life. It would seem that military men, in search of a career and responsibility, would desire such a position. But he cannot stand the bunks instead of ditches, the headquarters instead of gun stations. He cannot stand how distanced he is from the war he enlisted to fight. [...]
[...] They focus on World War II, Vietnam, Korea: they focus on the horror of young, innocent men dying for causes they do not believe in. The few military movies that look beyond war, look at the preparation for war. Scenes from boot camp; scenes of delinquent youth being given a chance at life by preparing to give up their lives. Movies about JAG lawyers defending Marines who have killed; movies about Marines hunting fugitives who will kill. The public cannot be blamed for believing in such a distorted picture of military life, for they are never presented with an alternative. [...]
[...] But the war does not tame him; the military does not bestow on him the code of honor, the discipline of the warrior. The core values of the army, insisted since the beginning of time but falling on deaf ears, lies in the opinion of the public and the media, can never be found in criminals and can never be forced on criminals. He beats the runner to the verge of death, unconscious in a puddle of blood, in front of two other officers who knew the runner as a comrade. [...]
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