“I guess every generation is doomed to fight its war… suffer the loss of the same old illusions, and learn the same old lessons on its own.” Retired Lieutenant, Phillip Caputo, wrote these immortal words in his account of his service in the Vietnam War, in his book A Rumor of War.
My personal interest in military history has taken me to study the Vietnam War in-depth. From the tragic account of Ron Kovic, to the beautifully crafted works by Tim O’Brien, the Vietnam War is a dark pit in the collective memory of the United States. I learned that soldiers of all wars share one experience in common, although that experience may differ. As one who has never been to war, it is almost impossible to write about all of this.
I was not sure how to write about today, it being Remembrance Day. The most difficult course of action would be to try to write about war. No book can prepare you to write about such a subjective topic. I have read the account of war and battle, studied the soldiers and the conditions, the causes and effects of the wars, spoken with veterans, viewed video of battles – nothing can compare to that real moment. Nothing comes close to that experience, or so I have learned. My mind cannot comprehend what it must be like to be shot at, shelled, or have to take another life. To end all sentience that a human being has; to stop the processes of the brain that make them human. You can read about the psychology of war, but nothing compares to that moment.
Today is only special by name. Everyday should be a day of remembrance and learning about the past. You do not have to believe that a certain war was right or wrong, nor should you. Today is a day to think about just how incomprehensible some experiences can be, and to ask yourself the great questions. Today is a day to think of the billions of humans affected by wars throughout history. Death knows no national barriers or patriotic values.
Everyday should be a day of reflection. We should look at how far we have come – our evolution as humans. Everyday we should be striving to end conflict. The Hegelian progression and unity in the face of a common enemy, does not – and should not – be about war. Those days have passed us. Our ‘common enemy’ is clearer than ever: the survival of our civilization. The future will hold that everyone understands the past, and reason and information is spread across the world, to all peoples.
We now have the means to cause our own extinction through certain methods of war. It is important to remember that we are on our own. We must realize that we are no different than every other species that has existed and currently exists on this small planet – extinction escapes no species. We will meet that end, but we have the knowledge and ability to live a bit longer. It is our ever pressing duty, not as historians, but as human beings, to ensure our survival by studying the past, to clear as much as the fog of the future that we can. Ecce homo may be true, but scientia potentia est. With knowledge, the fog of war grows ever clearer.
In the words of William Faulkner, “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.“