War Fantasies

“So it goes”. Life, death, sex, massacre. It is easy to romanticize war because it is unreal to many of us. It is a jumbling of mangled emotions, too hollow to be taken seriously and too restive to be neglected. It is the modern tragedy of Don Quixote.

An old acquaintance of mine used to bug me on and on about his war fantasies (something I assume every guy would have to some extent sooner or later in his life). Not just any  fantasies – he was very particular in his taste – they were fantasies of himself overlooking the battlefield like something of a Roman god, with war cries booming chariots racing and shields clashing, a good old fashioned Battle of Actium in all its glory.

I dismissed his naiveté with outright albeit slightly unjustified contempt, knowing that war as it is cannot be as neat as they are described in history textbooks. Ironically, I would rather believe in the wars renditioned in fictions, because the war on a grand scale is simply a show, bereaved of its humanity and are therefore too easily exploited as senseless statistics for some military agenda, whereas it doesn’t do nearly as much justice to the individuals that actually die for the war, for something they are too confused to believe in. The battlefield in Iliad and Aeneid is epical, but even if they actually exist, I doubt that it would look very similar in the eyes of the warriors to the pictures in our illusions without the fancy CGIs. If contemporary military practice can be said to be somewhat organized and disciplined thanks to advanced technology, then conventional wars can be described as a scrambling at best.

Ideologies don’t fight the war. Fame, honor, freedom, none of it matters when you are facing the blood, the dead, the splitting din and clamor, the splattering earth. War is fought by crude, slipshod human instincts, governed by a single, almost mechanic force to carry on that precedes everything else, and there is no room for the glorious, only the basest human reflexes in its bare savagery. It is every soul for itself.

To love is to love in single-mindedness, without reason, without compassion, because in fiercely clinging on to it it would have been tantamount to the will to survive. It’s like in For Whom the Bell Tolls when Robert Jordan looks at Maria in her sleep and wishes for her a good night sleep because it is the only wedding ring he could ever afford her.

“I love you. I’ll wait for you. Come back. Come back to me.” In Atonement Robbie holds on to the letters from Cecilia at first with a sense of hope; and then when “the sight of a corpse becomes a banality”, he holds on to them with almost religious rigidity, when their love becomes almost a hallucination that he forces himself to remember.

“So it goes”, like in Slaughterhouse Five. Life, death, sex, massacre. It is easy to romanticize war because it is unreal to many of us. It is a jumbling of mangled emotions, too hollow to be taken seriously and too restive to be neglected. It is the modern tragedy of Don Quixote.

This is a girl’s war fantasy.