“War? Rumors of War?” “By John Guzlowski

Armentieres_after_Bombing,_May_1940_Art.IWMARTLD175

 

War? Rumors of War?     

 

     There’s been a lot of talk in the news about the possibility of war in Iran and the Middle East.  Some people are talking about why we need to go to war with Iran, and some are talking about why war with Iran is a mistake.  

     I’m tired of war.

     I’ve lived through the Korean war, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War, the war on Terror, the Afghan War, and the Iraq War. And this list doesn’t include all the little bitty wars I’ve lived through, like Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, and it doesn’t include all those other little bitty wars I’ve forgotten about and that only the dead remember.

     War is a terrible thing.  I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned from my mother and father and from writing about their lives and the experience of other Poles in World War II.

     In my poem “Landscape with Dead Horses,” I talk about the way the war began in Poland on September 1, 1939.  Here’s what I say:

War comes down like a hammer, heavy and hard
flattening the earth and killing the soft things:
horses and children, flowers and hope, love
and the smell of the farmers’ earth, the coolness
of the creek, the look of trees as they unfurl
their leaves in late March and early April.

     This is war for me.  This is the way I see war. There’s nothing pretty about war, nothing heroic, nothing epic or Homeric.  50 million civilians died in World War II. And you can bet that not one of those deaths was peaceful, not one was a death you would want to wish on your own mother or your father or your children.

     And what I hate to admit about war – but I have to – is that sometimes war is necessary.

     I’m glad that the US went to war against Hitler and dragged him and his soldiers and followers down and tried to bury every single one of them in an unmarked and unmourned grave.

     War, as I see it, was terrible and it was necessary, but the thing I can’t ever forget is that the Germans who fought for Hitler also thought the war was necessary and justified.

    That’s one of the problems with war.

     What brings us together finally – brings together those who don’t want war and those who want war – is that we all end up scratching our heads and grieving over the chaos and the loss.

 

About the Author: John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Rattle, North American Review, and other journals.  Echoes of Tattered Tongues, his memoir about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany, won the Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Award.  He is the author of the Hank and Marvin mystery novels and True Confessions, a memoir in poems.

 

More By John Guzlowski:

Language and Loss

From the Ashes: An Interview With John Guzlowski

 

Image Credit: Edward Bawden “Armentieres after Bombing, May 1940″ Public Domain

 

Carrying a Backpack of Sorrow….Soldiers on the Edge of Suicide

Jack Hirschman, 2006 Poet Laureate of San Francisco, with Iraq War vet, Jon Michael Turner

By Nadya Williams

More of our young soldiers are now killing themselves than are being killed in our wars in the Middle East. The sad statistics are at the end of this article, but the following poem by a 24-year-old former Marine, who slashed his wrists twice after four years of duty and two tours of combat, tells it all.

You fell off the seat as the handlebars turned

sharp left, throwing your body onto

the hot coals of Ramadi pavement,

intertwining your legs within your bicycle.

Lifeless eyes looking to the sky,

your neck muscles twitched turning your head

directly towards us. Nothing escaped your

lips except for the blood in the left corner

of your mouth that briefly moistened them

until the sand and dust dried them out.

The blood trail went behind the stone wall

where your body was placed, weighed down

by your blue bicycle and we laughed.

I used to fall asleep to the pictures and now

I can’t even bear to get a glimpse.

Excerpted from “The Bicycle” by Jon Michael Turner

The military “broke me down into a not-good person, wearing a huge mask,” Turner told the audience at his poetry reading in San Francisco’s Beat Museum, in North Beach. The March 12 event – on the birthday of ‘Beatnik’ literary icon Jack Kerouac – was organized by the venerable Jack Hirschman, San Francisco’s 2006 Poet Laureate, and by the local IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War). Jon read from his small, self-published book “Eat the Apple” and from several large pages of dark green hand-made paper – the product of The Combat Paper Book Project, where 125 vets, ranging from World War II through Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, shredded their uniforms to make books for their poetry.  “Poetry saved my life,” he said more than once.

The Burlington, Vermont native was accompanied by his father and step-mother on a coast to coast series of readings from the little book whose name comes from a play on the word “core.” The flyer for the evening reading stated:

“There’s a term ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,’” Turner says, ripping his medals off and flinging them to the ground. As the room explodes in applause he adds, “But there’s also the expression:

‘Eat the apple, f*ck the corps.

I don’t work for you no more!’”

Jon walks with a cane and was physically injured in battle, but only his poetry reveals his invisible wounds, as in these excerpts from “A Night in the Mind of Me – part 1”

The train hits you head on when you hear of another

friend whose life was just taken.

Pulling his cold lifeless body from the cooler,

unzipping the bag and seeing his forehead,

caved in like a cereal bowl from the sniper’s bullet

that touched his brain.

His skin was pale and cold.

It becomes difficult to sleep even after being

physically drained from patrols, post,

overwatches and carrying five hundred

sandbags up eighty feet of stairs after

each post cycle.

The psychiatrists still wonder why we

drink so heavy when we get home.

We need something to take us away

from the gunfire, explosions,

sand, nightmares and screams……….

I still can’t cry.

The tears build up but no weight is shed.

Anger kicks in and something else

becomes broken.

A cabinet

An empty bottle of liquor

A heart

A soul.

People still look away as we submit ourselves

to drugs and alcohol to suppress these

feelings of loneliness and sadness,

leading to self mutilation and

self destruction on the gift of a human body.

The ditch that we dug starts to cave in.


And from “A Night in the Mind of Me part 2:”

Laughter pours out from the house as if nothing

were the matter, when outside in a chair, underneath

a tree, next to the chickens, I sit,

engulfed in my own sorrows………

Resting on the ground is my glass,

half filled with water but I don’t have

enough courage to pick it up and smash it against

my skull so that everyone can watch blood

pool in the pockets where my collar

bones meet my dead weighted shoulders,…

Every time I’m up, something pulls me down,

whenever I relax, something stresses me out,

every time a smile tugs on my heart, an

iron fist crushes it, and I sit outside in a chair,

underneath a tree, next to the chickens,

away from the ones that I love so

that my disease won’t infect them.

Sorrow and self-pity should be detained,

thrown into an empty bottle and given to the

ocean so that the waves can wash away the pain.

One wonders why this slightly-built, sensitive young man joined the Marines in 2004 at the age of 18 (he was sent first to Haiti at the time of the US-backed February coup that ousted the populist and democratic President Jean-Bertrand Aristide). Jon explained that he came from a military family whose participation in every American conflict stretches back to the Revolutionary War. His father is clearly too young to have gone to Vietnam, but could have easily been in one or both of the Bushes’ wars. Jon’s big brother is also a soldier, ironically now in Haiti after the earthquake. Of the American military, Jon now writes in ”What May Come”:

tap, tap

That’s the sound of the man at your door,

I’m sorry but you won’t see your son alive anymore,

my name is Uncle Sam and I made your boy a whore.

And, from “Just Thoughts”

…………I often wonder

if this will be the rest of my life.

Schizophrenic, paranoid, anxious.

That guy that walks around the city center that

people steer their children away from.

“Mommy, who’s that man walking next

to the crazy guy?”

“Oh that’s just Uncle Sam sweetheart, he takes

the souls from young men so that

they have trouble sleeping at night”

“It takes the Courage and Strength of a Warrior to ask for Help” – we’ve all seen the ads, on billboards and busses, with the silhouette of a down-cast soldier against a back drop of the stars and stripes, and a 1-800 Help Line just for vets, provided by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. But “The Surge” in self-inflicted deaths continues, with 350 suicides of active duty personnel in 2009, compared to 340 combat deaths in Afghanistan, and 160 in Iraq during the same year – the highest active duty military suicide numbers since records began to be kept in 1980. And for every death, at least five serving personnel are hospitalized for attempting to take their life, according to the military’s own studies.

But these statistics do not include the far larger number of post-active duty veterans who kill themselves after discharge, or, like Jon Michael Turner, who make the attempt. A CBS study put the suicide rate among male veterans aged 20 to 24 at four times the national average. According to CNN, total combat deaths since 2001 (8+ years) in Afghanistan are now 1,016; since 2003 (7 years) in Iraq 4,390 – totaling 5,406 as of March 21, 2010. However the Veteran’s Administration estimates that 6,400 veterans take their own lives each year – an ever growing proportion of them from the recent Mid-East wars – with this figure widely disputed as being way too low. Multiply 6,400 by seven or eight years to compare the numbers of our young soldiers that are now killing themselves, to those being killed in our wars and occupations.

________

To buy “Eat the Apple,” contact Jon M. Turner, Seven Star Press, 4 Howard Street Suite 12, Burlington, VT 05401; E-mail: JT@greendoorstudio.net See also: www.IVAW.org (Iraq Veterans Against the War)

Nadya Williams is a free-lance journalist and a former study-tour coordinator for Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights and peace non-profit.  She is an active associate member of Veterans for Peace, San Francisco chapter, and is on the national board of the New York-based Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign.