Avoid War casualities, don’t just sanctify them!
On October 7, 2001 the United States invaded Afghanistan with the objective of dismantling Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and denying it a safe base of operations by removing the Taliban government from power. America’s young men and women have achieved both.
Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan, however, Americans seem to have adopted a rather lofty view of the military and military engagements in general. We’re very quick to get all hyped-up during grandiose American flag ceremonies and jet flybys before football games. This is most likely because we want to show support for the young men and women who fight our battles but all of the hyperbole and grandiosity takes place within the safety of the continental United States, protected on both the east and west by the largest oceans on the planet.
It seems that at times we can forget that as of July 27, 2018, there have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths on the ground in the War in Afghanistan, America’s longest war. In addition 20,320 American service members have been wounded in action during the war.
In June of 1970, just as I was starting college, Catch 22, the movie, was released. The story centers on 28-year old Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier during World War II. Captain Yossarian is the central character of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22, on which the movie was based.
Captain Yossarian is paranoid, sensitive, sort of slutty, and extremely complicated. He’s also very clever, which is a bonus in a crazy world where you can’t trust anything, and every decision you make could be your last.
While most B-25 crews are rotated out after twenty-five missions, the minimum number of missions for Yossarian’s base is eventually raised to an unobtainable eighty; a figure resulting from the base commander’s, Colonel Cathcart’s, craving for publicity.
Compliance with this insane number of missions invokes “regulation 22” for which, as explained by Doc Daneeka, there’s a catch:
“An airman would have to be crazy to fly more missions, and if he were crazy he would be unfit to fly. Yet, if an airman would refuse to fly more missions, this would indicate that he was sane, which would mean that he would be fit to fly the missions.”
Throughout the story, Captain Yossarian’s main concern is the idea that people are trying to kill him, either directly (by attacking his plane) or indirectly (by forcing him to fly missions), and he goes to great lengths to stay alive not unlike most young people in combat. It’s quite different from the grandiose scenes portrayed on many football fields during halftime.
Captain Yossarian shows particular grief for the men that die during the story or those who appear to just disappear. His relationship with the enlisted gunner Snowden is vivid and is the story’s emotional center. When Snowden gets injured over Avignon, it is Yossarian who tries to help him, only to watch him die a gruesome death.
Yossarian refers to Snowden’s intestines, which spill out as Yossarian attempts to open his flak suit, as his “secret”. They are hidden inside his flak suit, though pierced by flak, until Yossarian rips open the suit.
Yossarian “reads” Snowden’s secret in his intestines, alluding to an ancient Roman practice of reading prophecies in the intestines of sacrificed animals. If man has been dehumanized by war, then Snowden was essentially made an animal in his death. Not to mention he was sacrificed for some supposed greater cause.
On April 1, 2009 General Colin Powell proclaimed what has become known as the “Powell doctrine” in which he called for the United States to exhaust all of it’s “political, economic, and diplomatic means”, which, only if all were futile, would result in committing men and women to combat.
General Powell asserted that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, to minimize casualties and end the conflict quickly, by forcing the opposing force to capitulate. Perhaps all of our flag waving and flybys during football games should be a reminder of how to avoid the sacrifice of our young men and women rather than sanctify it.