ARTICLE ABOUT WAR
by Jonah Begone
Written about 1992
I'll never know war. Let me be more exact: unless I want to, or unless there is enough of a national emergency to warrant drafting over-age veteran husbands and fathers with security clearances serving in the defense industry, I'll never know war.
Let me also qualify my statement when I say that it is unfortunately possible - in fact, probable - that my son will be involved in a war. [Nope. As of this date - June 2019 - my son is 35, past the age for the draft. But I now have grandsons. - Jonah] In this way I will certainly know war, but not personally. So, I can say "I'll never know war. " However, I have mixed emotions about this.
When I was adventureous, somewhat immature and eighteen, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I did this partly because I was patriotic, partly because I was trying to dodge what looked like an unavoidable college education, and partly because I was excited about the subject of war from my teenage readings about the Civil War. I picked the Marines because I wanted to be in an elite unit (I didn't know about Rodgers Rangers at the time); at least it was sold to me as being an elite unit. Unfortunately, the post-Watergate and Vietnam, drug-use society that made up much of the Corps in 1974 fell somewhat short of my expectations. I still remember being scoffed at and ridiculed when I answered other recruit's questions of why I joined by saying that I had an interest in the Civil War and wanted to experience conflict. Many of them, it turned out, had enlisted out of an inability to find gainful employment elsewhere. No kindred spirits there!
My four year tour of duty was generally pleasant and unremarkable, and I was always stationed at a base somewhere within a two or three hour drive from home. Because I sensed a trap in the initial battery of aptitude tests, I purposefully did poorly on the infantry-ish questions and well on everything else, and consequently was made an electrical technician (a case of having my sword beaten into oscilloscope probes). As a result, my military experience was much more like a nine-to-five civilian job than anything resembling the military.
I'm a little sorry that it turned out that way. In the intervening years since I was discharged I've discovered and tired of many interests and fads, but my adolescent interest in war has remained. It is with a little sadness that I admit to myself that unless I decide to become an Israeli citizen I'll never fully understand what Joseph Plumb Martin, Enoch T. Baker or Josiah Billings experienced in battle. And being an armchair historian or dressing up and playing soldier at reenactments is ultimately unsatisfying - the "glory" and "adventure" of real war appeals to me still. Obviously, I'm not as mature as I thought I was.
My life is much more precious to me now than it was when I enlisted. I now have my family to live for - really the most important and satisfying reason there is to live - and while I'm glad that I'll never know war, the thought of my son (or my daughter) being directly involved in one is nearly unbearable to me. Especially since the next war could very well be the last. As a result I'm very sensitive about what kind of message I'm giving my children by being involved in weekend reenactments.
Hearing somebody refer to my son as a "future drummer boy" or to my daughter as "a future vivandiere" gives me a real feeling of unease. By reenacting, I do not want to glorify war, or to make it attractive in any way: every bit of reading on the subject I've ever done and every reasoning brain cell in my head tells me that war is a tragic waste and an abomination; something to be avoided and resorted to only in the most extreme conditions of self-defense. I want to teach this to my children, but it gets hard when one of them sees me loading my rifle into the car and innocently asks if I'm going to shoot someone soon!
My realization of war for what it really is carries over into a distrust of saber-rattling politicians, standing professional armies, avid "Soldier-of-Fortune"-type gun collectors, law enforcement agencies and even overly-enthusiastic reenactors! By now you probably think I'm some sort of bleeding-heart liberal, or an aging rebellious student from the sixties. Well, I'm not. Politically, I fit into a hawkish conservative mold more than anything else, and I get alot of satisfaction from knowing that my field of employment has a direct result in improved defense for our country. I suppose the problem I have is one that I suspect many of you have from time to time: I often feel guilty about being a reenactor. The following incident gives one reason why:
One of my (unfortunately) most memorable reenactments was one I did in Utah. It was a "tactical" held in a small park, where the public completely surrounded the field of battle. They shouted encouragement, occasionally applauded, and generally had a lot of fun and got in the way (people in the West get much more involved with parades and events than here in the East). Whenever a reenactor took a particularily dramatic hit, the crowd would burst forth with sounds of enthusiastic approval - something I remember thinking was downright morbid.
An accident with a cannon occurred, resulting in a horrible maiming of a member of the cannon crew in full sight of the spectators. Our unit did what we could to get a paramedic and keep the curious at bay, and after the injured were taken to the hospital we were asked to wheel the offending cannon off the field. While we were doing so I recall some of the onlookers shouting things like, "take your guns and go home" and "go bring your war somewhere else!" Of course I was immediately angered by hearing those people turn on us in that way (one lingering reason you never hear me talk about how interested I am in educating the public), but I also felt a great deal of guilt. At the time it seemed my gruesome interest in war was being satisfied with my being allowed to observe some of its effects. The fact that it happened in what should have been a "country fair" setting made it all the more shocking, and since then I've always had this feeling that if you have a curiosity to experience something your wish will someday be fulfilled.
I recognize that this is just fatalistic thinking on my part and that there is no cause-and-effect relationship in reenacting, but it did prompt me to question why I was involved in a hobby that could legitimately be called a morbid fantasy. The doubts remain, but I probably won't act upon them, and you'll still see me at most of the good events in the years ahead, I think. This is partially due to my wife: after the accident she quickly talked me out of quitting reenacting based on that day's experience. I'm glad of that for I have enjoyed the reenactments I've attended since. I hope, however, that I can legimately say I'll never see war.