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This Isn't The Way War Is Supposed To Be

Sophomoric is a literal description of this opinion piece by a college student at the University of Connecticut, on how he's tired of the War On Terrorism, now that it's turning into a real war, in which young men like him are dying. I hope that the sheltered life and ignorance of history indicated by this editorial is the exception, and not the rule, for his generation.

War, for most of my life, has been antiseptic - - free of pain and worry.

For most of your life? You say that as though you didn't just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. As though, at the ripe old age of twenty or twenty one, you should have expected to see it all, and to know it all.

When bad guys come a-knockin', we go over, kick some butt and come on back in time for the Super Bowl. Going over to fight in a foreign war (excuse me, "police action") is nothing more than spending a semester abroad. U.S. troops don't die, we don't lose, we're the best! We're the Yankees of international warfare.

And now you're just Shocked, Shocked, to discover that real wars are not just a video game.

I don't know any of the lost souls; none of them come from Connecticut, or even New England. But one name struck me as I read the list. An Army soldier by the name of Pfc. Matthew A. Commons, of Boulder City, Nev. What struck me was not his name, or place of origin. What struck me was his age. He died serving his country at the age of 21.

Hate to break it to you, son, but in army life, twenty one is an old man, often a battle-scarred veteran.

One wonders if this guy's ever read any books about war, like The Red Badge of Courage, or any Hemingway, or even Catch-22. I suspect that they were shoved out of his curriculum for more politically-correct reading fare.

Perhaps it's a function of my age,

Gee, ya think?

or of the nature of this new conflict, but war no longer seems antiseptic to me. It's no longer anonymous soldiers being sent off to fight, it's my friends, family and co-workers. And unlike the Persian Gulf, our soldiers are starting to die..

So, what's your point? Now that American men are dying, it's time to call off the war? It's all right to drop bombs on people you don't know from thirty thousand feet, like a video game, but not to actually play "duck, duck, goose" in a mortar exchange, or engage in hand-to-hand combat?

And golly, some of your friends, family and coworkers might have to go off to die?

Here's a clue, son. I know it's tiresome to have to deal with the old fossils, but go talk to your grandparents, if they're still living, or someone of their generation, if not, and ask them what it was like after Pearl Harbor. When everyone enlisted. When the casualties weren't all reported in the New York Times, because there wouldn't have been enough newsprint and ink for it. When everyone knew someone who was injured, or killed, and the chronicling of their fate was featured in every home town newspaper, for weeks, upon months, upon years.

And no one whined about it, as you are here, because they knew that there was only one way to deal with the Hitlers and Tojos and Stalins of the world, and that if they didn't, the carnage would be even worse, and it wouldn't be just sons and brothers and fathers, but sisters and mothers and daughters, down to the babies.

How soon are military units sent to Iraq, North Korea or Somalia, as President Bush bolsters his approval ratings by pumping more and more money into defense spending? More importantly, what are we looking to accomplish? When will we be safe from terrorism? When we have recognized our foreign policy mistakes, or when we have bombed the very last militant off of the very last mountaintop?

We have recognized our foreign policy mistakes, son. Our foreign policy mistakes were to allow people like bin Laden to think that he could murder innocent people wholesale, and suffer no consequences, partly because we thought that cruise missiles could substitute for eyes and arms on the ground, giving rise to your previous video-game warfare fantasies. And yes, it will be over when we have removed the last terrorist (not militant) from the last mountaintop, or camp, or alley. And that's not going to happen overnight, but you're young--you'll probably see it happen.

For the sake of my friends, and for the sake of the families of the soldiers who have died, I hope the answer lies with the diplomat and not with the gun.

Hope has no power. To the degree that you should be hoping anything, though, you should be hoping that more people don't think as you do, and that others will be willing to take up the challenge, even if you are not, so that your children and grandchildren will have an opportunity to write asinine editorials like yours.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 10, 2002 12:34 PM
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A most excellent slapdown of a mewling idiot who doesn't realize that his right to mewl is protected by brave, YOUNG men who venture into harm's way as proud warriors. Where did this kid develop the idea that war is not about killing the enemy and breaking his things? Let him eat yogart, meditate, and wrinkle his tender brow about the existential dillema he confronts. Meanwhile, let our warriors wage war and WIN!

Posted by Rob Smith at March 10, 2002 02:01 PM

Fantastic job, Rand. Fantastic. He and I are about the same age but he sees war as a video game and I see it as real people dying to protect freedom.

Posted by Addison at March 10, 2002 02:01 PM

Sounds like someone who just saw First Bull Run. They were probably saying the same things back in 1861.

But someone should point out to this lad that most people who go into the military, who handle weapons, who jump out of planes and practice launching missiles, have at least the whisper of a notion that the day may come when they'll have to use these skills in combat. It's not like a press gang swept some teen-agers off the campus, thrust guns into their hands and marched them off to the front.

Hope they read this up at U of C.

Posted by Bill Peschel at March 10, 2002 02:14 PM

I'd add "All Quiet on the Western Front". A really excellent classic war novel that lacks the jerkiness and dialect of "Red Badge".

I work with a girl just like this kid. It becomes harder by the day not to choke the crassness and stupidity out of her.

It isn't just that they don't understand that sometimes men have to die to keep us free. They have no apperciation for the lives sacrificed on their behalf. And it goes beyond that, they scorn those who serve, which is what makes me angriest

Posted by Chris Hughes at March 10, 2002 02:26 PM

Great piece overall, but.... we were fighting Stalin in WWII? Who knew?

Posted by Paul Zrimsek at March 10, 2002 02:39 PM

Rather than reading the recommended fictional accounts of war, this useless little twit should read James Bradley's " Flags of Our Fathers", the story of Iwo Jima and the courage of the 17-19 year olds dying there.

Posted by Mikhal O'Dalaigh at March 10, 2002 02:43 PM

I wasn't just referring to WW II. I was referring to WW II and its aftermath (i.e., the history of the last sixty years). And of course, even during WW II, Patton would have been happy to keep the tanks rolling all the way toward our "allies" in Moscow, if Roosevelt (and Truman) had let him, and the men would certainly have followed.

Just because they were temporarily nominally our Allies, didn't mean that the Soviets weren't a threat to us as well, or that Stalin wasn't as bad as, or worse than, Hitler.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 10, 2002 02:45 PM

Ummm, no, we weren't fighting Stalin in WWII (though in retrospect that might've been a good coda to the war.) Instead, we fought him (through his proxies) in Korea.

There's a reason the Great Leader and Mao came to terms within a month of the old bastard's death.

Posted by Patrick Anders at March 10, 2002 02:46 PM

I just surpised this mewling child doesn't want all talk of war banned as "hate speech" because it hurts its little feelings.

I don't understand how someone so ignorant can be so arrogant as to think that he is qualified to lecture the rest of us. "Arrogant ignorance"-- a phrase that could be used to describe the anti-war left in general.

Posted by raoul ortega at March 10, 2002 02:48 PM

There are Anti-Idiotarians, and there are Idiotarians.

Posted by Aaron Dickey at March 10, 2002 03:11 PM

The editorialist seems to think no Americans died in the Gulf War ("unlike the Persian Gulf, our soldiers are starting to die"). Someone should tell him that 148 Americans died in combat, with almost as many non-combat deaths, during the Gulf War.

Posted by Joe at March 10, 2002 03:43 PM

I agree with your sentiment, Rand, but what is it about any of the war books that you mention that is not PC? Catch-22 is the ultimate hippie anti-War book. Red Badge of Courage is about the Civil War (I know that you know that!), so I don't really see PC as relevant. I'll give you Hemingway, who was as non-PC as they come. Just a nitpick, although picking on 20 year old college kids seems a bit brutal. I guess Fisk and Rall were quiet this weekend, eh?

Posted by paul orwin at March 10, 2002 03:54 PM

Dolt. Moron. Doofus. Was it a video game for the people we dropping high explosives on? This kid is the best argument in the world for bringing back the draft. My guess is he fully expects the blacks, Hispanics, rural Southern and Western whites, and working class urban whites who did the fighting in Vietnam to pull their weight again in this war and let him get on with important stuff like moving up to a six figure job on Wall Street. Arghhh! Pardon me while I go outside and scream in rage. As for books, dont forget James Jones' From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line, and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, a book Mailer wrote before celebrity lobotomized him.

Posted by akakyakakyevich at March 10, 2002 04:17 PM

When I was twenty-one, I had been wearing Army green (with variations as dictated by the commanding officer) for nearly three years. And I didn't have time to worry about "foreign policy mistakes"; I had a job to do. It's disheartening to see people who apparently learned everything they know about war from Edwin Starr.

Posted by CGHill at March 10, 2002 05:10 PM

When I say "more PC," I mean books that don't talk about war at all.

As for "picking on a twenty-year old college kid," puh-leeeze, Paul.

"Brutal"? If this is what constitutes brutal, then the poor sap really has led a sheltered life. He wanted to publish his opinions. When you do that, you should expect people to challenge them--not claim victimhood.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 10, 2002 05:38 PM

As a soon to be 20 year old dealing with other 20 somethings on a college campus on a regular basis, I can honestly say that this does seem to be the popular opinion of a good portion - about half - of the people my age. They just do not understand what war means and that is all because of our young ages. Hec, I'll will be honest, I do not know what it means like my Baby Boom parents that had Vietnam or like my grandparents that had WWII know what it means.

But more than that we have nothing to judge it by, like my parents had the Cold War, and my grandparents had WWI. The 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 year olds that went off to fight in WWII knew what war was because their parents had dealt with just a few years before. They grew up hearing about the war and when Pearl Harbor hit they knew what it meant. My parents generation was sick of war, but they knew what war was because their parents fought in WWII AND they had to Cold War. Nowadays 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 year olds are distant from war - they are sheltered in a Neverland. Blame it on the decadence that has struck America over the last 20 years. There was the Gulf War, but the Gulf War like all wars of the last 20 years have been little campaigns over to regions far away from America. I was in second grade when the Gulf War hit...I didn't know more about it than some soldiers were fighting this guy with a funny name all because of oil. I didn't care about oil at the time... It was always seen like a video game to us...we watched it on the TV. It was all so clean and pure and distant and pointless - it was about oil or playing the politics so what did we care? Not to mention, that we were indeed a distracted youth - unlike the teens of the '30s that talked about WWI with their folks and had the Depression to keep them focused on the world. The Gulf War was never that big at the dinner tables...for that matter neither were dinner tables.

Then this hit us and it was real and we have nothing to go off except for the memory of the video games and the video game like wars. My generation was forced to wake up. I am in no way justifying what this idiot said because I think that he and some others that age that believe what he is saying is wrong. A lot of my peers though really are willing to commit to this war, much like the so-called Silent Generation was willing to commit to the Korean War - no arguments, no protests, we just do our job and if there are arguments we keep them quiet. In my opinion, there are two factions - the naive versus the silent - in my generation in looking at this war. This editorial clearly represents the naive, video game faction. I would be more representative of the silent generation - shut up and do the job (well, not completely silent I do run a blog - but you get the point).

Posted by Matthew Edgar at March 10, 2002 06:26 PM

Superb comeback, sir. Pershaps it should be pointed out that this young man was TEN years old when Desert Storm kicked off. For him, war could not have possibly been something 'antiseptic', but rather something that interrupted his 'GI Joe' episodes after he got home from school. Of course, given that show's propensity for people leaping out of burning tanks, airplanes, and what have you just before they exploded, it's quite possible that's where he got his ideas of war.
Let me also suggest that somebody sit this lad down and tell him the story of the Sullivan Brothers (

Posted by Mike Kozlowski at March 10, 2002 06:46 PM

What is being taught in history classes at this 'university'? I would demand a refund if I went there. Someone should introduce him to the quote about the tree of liberty needing to be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots some time in his life. Also the quote from Mills that has been posted on some sites since Sept. 11th.

Posted by Joe at March 10, 2002 08:07 PM

If you follow the link to the orgin of this story, there's a button for posting an opinion or reply. May I suggest that all of the folks who cared enough to post their opinions on Mr. Simberg's site above, take a few seconds and post them to where this twerp can see them?

Posted by David Paglia at March 10, 2002 08:31 PM

Well said, Rand. As the best commanding officer I ever served with used to tell us, hope is not a method. If we're to ever have a chance for other children to grow up believing war is 'antiseptic,' it will be because we continue to press this war against al Qaeda and our other enemies to the bitter end. It will be expensive, but the price must be paid.

Posted by Andrew Olmsted at March 10, 2002 08:34 PM

I went ahead and emailed the twit. I put my email up at my site, if anyone is curious. (It's somewhat long.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at March 10, 2002 10:08 PM

I would normally be tempted to respond to any very stupid column about how everything changes the moment an American soldier dies. This aversion to any sort of bodybag in the context of war is something my brother Ellis and I have mocked before, at length: we like to call it the "Contra 3 Syndrome." In Contra, one of the most popular arcade games ever (unrelated to the South American resistance), you play a soldier blasting away at baddies (in the 3rd installment, for the SNES, it's alien baddies) with oversized weaponry in a side-scrolling firefight. It's an entertaining game, but extremely short--Contra 3 is only 6 levels long. Besides, you really need all three of your lives to deal with the last boss--so a lot of people who play the game will restart the minute they lose their first life. Ellis and I are more likely to make it to the end with only one life left, but hey, that's the point of the game, not erasing/restarting every time anyone dies.

Modern War isn't anything like Contra, and it's a good deal longer than any 6-level game. For many of my peers who've avoided history books, this is a surprising fact.

Posted by Ben Domenech at March 11, 2002 09:50 AM

Yes, Mr. Carson, like many in his generation, have little wisdom, no experience, and worse, often don't think that actually matters!

I actually know Beau (as I am on the paper's board of directors - a total coincidence that I saw this) and I will certainly discuss things with him when I am next at UConn.

But I don't know how that conversation is going to go. I work with a lot of college students and Beau is not unique. He's actually one of the best-informed students in the entire university when it comes to current events. Really. But he is the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Another problem is that once he realized he was more informed than his classmates (roughly two years ago), he unfortunately become somewhat lazy about further enlightment. As a result, he has become cavalier on many topics. (too bad - he has a lot of potential) Perhaps he needs to be sent to Afghanistan with a rifle. Hmmmm.

But don't worry everyone. I'll smack him around when I see him. ;) He certainly deserves it!

I will try to explain to this soon-to-be-graduate that he is entering the real world now where people older than 21 are not going to let this kind of thing go unchallenged.

Posted by Ed Lyons at March 11, 2002 10:58 AM

Rand, great post. Let me just say, however, that he is the exception and not the rule for college campuses. I go to UNC-Chapel Hill, and support for the war among average students is very high. Of course, there are radical anti-war groups, but they do not have very large followings at all. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Kyle Still at March 11, 2002 12:03 PM

Great takedown, but unfortunately, his views are quite prevalent in the ivory towers of our institutions. His anti-war screed is really anti-American. He can't stand the thought that this country would actually strike back and right an injustice. Better for him, and those like him, that America should look for the "root cause" of why other people hate us, and try to appease them. University profs share a lot of his views, and these "intellectually elite" minds view it as their duty to read the polls, see where the rest of the country stands, and think, "I'll dissent, and do the opposite! Yes! That makes me truly smarter than them!"

Posted by Erwin at March 11, 2002 03:25 PM

There is an easy solution for this kind of naivete. I opted for it when I was 18. It was called Basic Training and a several year enlistment in the military.

Posted by John Cole at March 12, 2002 01:37 PM

Corp. Matthew A. Commons was my brother-in-law.

I attended Matt's wake and sobbed uncontrollably as my 7 year old son, Matt's nephew, stood at the microphone (on a chair) and proclaimed through tears "He was my uncle, we had a lot of fun together."

I attended his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, and wept as his mother said her final goodbyes to her son.

I have two key points which should carefully considered:

1> Never confuse the politics of a war with the honor and duty of those called to serve.

This was the mistake of millions of Americans during the late 60's and early 70's. It has taken three decades to heal even this much, and there are many many more still bitter and confused over the Vietnam war and her veterans

2> Corporal Matthew Allen Commons died an honorable and noble death.

In an earlier incident, another soldier had fallen from a helicopter. From what we are able to piece together, they believed at the time he was still alive, and immediately formed a mission to extract the down soldier. Matt was among the volunteers for that mission. He died for democracy and the defense of freedom, to be sure, but far more importantly, he died in the attempt to save one of his own. If he had done the same things here at home, not one of you would hesitate to call him a hero.

For his efforts, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor, the Purple Heart, and the Meritorious Service Medal. He was posthumously promoted from Pfc to Corporal. He will forever live on in the memories of his family and friends as a hero.

It is easy to imagine many, perhaps most, 21-year-old children questioning the sanity of all this and wishing that terrorism could be stopped by diplomacy (with who, I wonder). I am still just barely young enough to remember when I was 21 and knew every answer to every problem for every politician, general, or misguided journalist.

We are indeed blessed today, to have just enough 21-year-old men who are willing to lay down their lives, so I can try desperately to find some semblance of meaning in my life while chattering about his.

Posted by John at March 12, 2002 08:22 PM

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