War, along with prostitution, is one of humanity’s oldest vices. A key element in human history has been how soldiers have reacted to and responded to the stress of war and armed conflict. This sample psychology paper will help readers understand more about the way soldiers respond to extreme violence.
War and Soldiers: Stress and emotional burden
There have been, and continue to be, so many wars in the world. In this world, there’s always somebody fighting somewhere for some reason or another. We’ve also learned – as is the case with America’s war on terrorism – that war doesn’t even have to be between two nations. These battles have been cataloged, examined, written down in histories, and even fictionalized to heighten the reality of the vicarious experience. With so much of our time spent in this way, questions start to arise. What is war? Can this extreme violence on such a massive scale even begin to be defined? Is there ever a circumstance where it is justifiable? How do soldiers react to it? Are there different ways in which they respond? What are those ways and why are those the responses that happen? These questions will be explored and ultimately answered in this paper.
The beauty of war
In Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War, the author begins the story with a passage that draws the reader into a feeling of being a man alive in nature:
He rode into the dark of the woods and dismounted. He crawled upward on his belly over cool rocks out into the sunlight, and suddenly he was in the open and he could see for miles, and there was the whole vast army below him, filling the valley like a smoking river. It came out of a blue rainstorm in the east and overflowed the narrow valley road, coiling along a stream, narrowing and choking at a white bridge, fading out into the yellowish dust of June but still visible on the farther road beyond the blue hills, spiked with flags and guidons like a great chopped bristly snake, the snake ending headless in a blue wall of summer rains (Shaara 3).
The man is riding a horse, crawling over rocks, feeling the coolness of the rocks, feeling the sudden openness of reaching a vista-like vantage point where he can see for miles—all of these things are siren songs. These are the stillness of exploring the wild, and they issue out a silent call to the reader. It is almost as if these words are beckoning out “come, be like this, this is what you’ve been waiting for, this is what makes you a man. Even the description of the army is beautiful and natural like a “river” or a “snake”—both things that would be explored by adventurous souls out to see the world.
Painting a contrasting picture
But this beauty is a false seduction. And, when viewed against the sharp contrast of tragedy and pain that comes with war, it is downright cruel to even paint this type of picture because it aggrandizes this yet to be named spy into stoic and calm symbolism, as opposed to a single man engaged in an ugly game who will yet be responsible for the pain and death of many in his actions.
Michael Shaara is even-handed in his application of beauty though and uses this same type of language throughout, even in descriptions of close-handed death and battle:
“Chamberlain saw…one man in fringed clothes, like buckskin, stopping to prop his rifle against a tree, and then to go down, punched backward, coming all loose and to rubbery pieces and flipping back so one bare foot stood up above a bloody rock” (Shaara 210).
The same disconnected feel from the earlier excerpt is echoed in this passage, but the action does not fit the feeling. This should be visceral and real, but the observation seems like that of someone who is just passing through and not really in it. This type of writing is a statement about how war affects the mind, as seen with the victims of the Holocaust and WWII, and ultimately states through this use of style that war is unreal to those who lived it. It is dream-like and removed. And when one is dealing with the fact of having watched countless men suffer and die—or worse, having done the deeds that created those results—confronting such truths becomes nearly impossible unless a mechanism such as described here is put in place.
The Divine Wind
Gary Disher, the author of The Divine Wind, explains how The Divine Wind ended up becoming a book of its own as opposed to merely a section of another novel he had been working on. Disher had a rich family history regarding WWII, and when he was commissioned to write history textbooks for Australia, he was granted access to a lot of research material of that era. He already had a personal knowledge of the war from family members so that most likely colored the research reports for Disher, making them more personal and more real to him.
Disher describes a written account by an Australian Army surgeon that depicts an escape from Singapore to Sumatra. The surgeon had been counting on a friend to help get him out, but his friend never came through and left without warning. The surgeon was then captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.
“It was a powerful betrayal. I’d never been impressed by Australians’ fond notions of the national character (we like to think we’re brave, resourceful, loyal to our mates, democratic, egalitarian, etc.), and here was a betrayal of mateship” (garrydisher.com).
Disher also described another document that told the story of an isolated Australian woman caring for Dutch refugees on the northern coast of Australia with the constant looming threat of Japanese attack while all the men were away at war.
“I thought about the woman and the surgeon for years until I found a way of joining their stories. But after a year of writing, it went wrong. Novels should have a sense of forward movement (for writer and reader) but mine was spreading sideways instead, as more and more subplots emerged. One in particular…And so I split it off” (garydisher.com).
Describing suffering in soldiers
The title The Divine Wind is a reference to the Japanese word kamikaze, which the author defines as “an act of deliberate self-destruction in pursuit of a cause.” There are also more thematic and plot related meanings to this title choice that link directly into the love story between Hart and Misty within this novel, but the main link between the definition of “kamikaze” and the general theme that is emerging in all of these examined war stories is important. This definition hints at the idea that the imminent self-destruction that comes with war is not a futile thing unseen, but an active, self-aware choice.
In Gert Ledig’s The Stalin Front: A Novel of World War II, the book begins with the corpse of a Lance-Corporal. The body of this Lance-Corporal, already with pieces missing, hangs from a tree. This is the image of war in action—a still piece of events. But as the war keeps on, so does the descent of the body into a mangled wreck. It is not enough for the Lance-Corporal to be dead and left in a tree like trash. The body will also be cut in half by machine guns, run over by a Russian tank and fired upon by a passing fighter jet: “After that, the Lance-Corporal was left in peace” (Ledig 2). This quote puts a humor into the mix of images that sets the tone.
There will be a dark hollowness that surrounds the events of this story where all a person can do is laugh because the only other option would be to weep or vomit—and perhaps all three reactions would not be out of place. But the story of this Lance-Corporal doesn’t stop there, a few more sentences are dedicated to him, explaining how his body gave off a sickly sweet smell for a few weeks as it decomposed, explaining how the body was never found or given a proper grave, explaining how his Captain had put his name into a report which was then typed up by a Seargent—thus reducing this once living and feeling man to nothing more than paperwork (Ledig 2).
Looking at the psychological impact on soldiers
They came crawling up out of the foxhole. Stammering words. Oozing bandages. Lightless eyes. Imploring gestures. He had to guarantee them that he wouldn’t leave them behind. That he would have stretchers made for them. He saw the badly wounded Russian Captain, and he knew he couldn’t tell them the truth. That even the healthy ones would be unlikely to reach their own lines alive. That if things got hot, the bearers would have to dump the stretchers in the swamp. He awakened hopes he knew he couldn’t fulfill. He lied (Ledig 173).
Tragedy lasts longer than war
And adding to the relentless horrors of war are the dark flashbacks and memories of these soldiers who are not only haunted by the present, but also by bleak pasts that color their current experiences, such as the major attempting to deal with strategy after receiving the news
“Anna and child dead stop buried under debris of house stop bodies unrecognizable stop immediate burial” (Ledig 20).
But the clinical way in which the first scene is depicted is where this novel’s true horrors lie. And this clinical method returns later in the story to “humorously” justify a bureaucratic death while showing the reader that in actuality, all deaths of war are technically bureaucratic. Nothing more than accumulated blood drops on pieces of paper—lists—until one side reaches a quota and the other side relents.
Letters from Iwo Jima
The film Letters from Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a companion piece to Eastwood’s other WWII drama Flags of Our Fathers. These two films together create equal footing for the soldiers on either side of the conflict during the American/Japanese battles, leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In Letters from Iwo Jima, the protagonists are the Japanese soldiers who face insurmountable odds as they are tasked with holding Iwo Jima despite being outnumbered five to one in the face of invading American military forces. General Kuribayashi, has taken command of the garrison, sees that the only way they will have the slightest chance in winning is to fight with subterranean tactics. The lack of nutrition and the unsanitary conditions wipe out many soldiers before the Americans even get to Iwo Jima, and once they arrive, many more Japanese casualties are seen. Throughout the film, there is a pervading sense of the hopelessness of it all. The soldier Saigo says
“We dig all day. This is the hole that we will fight and die in. Am I digging my own grave.” And later, in response to another soldier suggesting that death is honorable, Saigo says “Kashiwara died of honorable dysentery.”
This is a prime example of the rational response that anyone would have when facing the horrors of war.
Justifying war has devastating consequences
But an actual reason that seems to justify war is put forth in this film when General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Ken Watanabe) says:
“The Cave digging may be futile. The stand on Iwo may be futile. The whole war may be futile. But would you give up then? If our children can live safely for one more day, it’ll be worth one more day that we defend this island!”
The general’s speech helped soldiers hold out against American advancement far longer than Marine leaders originally anticipated.
The general is convincing his men to fight, but is it truly a justification of war? That is a complicated question. General Kuribayashi is not seeking violence or glory, nor is he running away or recoiling from it. He is simply stating that the situation is what it is and he and his men can only do what is best based on the already flawed circumstances that they find themselves in. That seems to be a fair assessment of things, but this exact type of reasoning is also why there are so many wars that continue on when so many people are diametrically and philosophically opposed to them.
Reviewing the literature
The four works examined in this paper have in common what Ken Watanabe so eloquently stated in his role as General Kuribayashi—“The whole war may be futile.” That is the point. Many different attitudes are adopted by soldiers during war. It doesn’t matter which war is being spoken of, all the attitudes seem to fall into the same general categories. There are the exploring and adventuring excitement of the chase and the action; there is the despair of pain, of loss of loved ones, of loss of honor or glory; there is the relegation to what one is faced with without an inkling that a change can be effected.here is the dark cruelty that accompanies fighting a completely “otherized” enemy that have been stripped of their humanity so that it is easier for a man known to be empathetic to kill said enemy without remorse or introspection, and there is the even darker unmasking of the sociopaths who are allowed to run rather free with full relish during times of these types of conflict. And always there is a surreal aspect where it is as if there is a pause put on life so that an endless nightmare can be waged—and some never wake up from it. War is hell; and when a man is faced with hell, the best he can do is cope in whatever ways are currently available to him.
There is the dark cruelty that accompanies fighting a completely “otherized” enemy that have been stripped of their humanity so that it is easier for a man known to be empathetic to kill said enemy without remorse or introspection, and there is the even darker unmasking of the sociopaths who are allowed to run rather free with full relish during times of these types of conflict. And always there is a surreal aspect where it is as if there is a pause put on life so that an endless nightmare can be waged—and some never wake up from it. War is hell; and when a man is faced with hell, the best he can do is cope in whatever ways are currently available to him.
Disher, Gary. “Notes on Writing the Divine Wind”. Garydisher.com. 8 Dec 2012.
Disher, Gary. The Divine Wind. New York: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2003. Print.
Ledig, Gert. The Stalin Front: A Novel of World War II. New York: NYRB, 2005. Print.
Letters from Iwo Jima. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Perf. Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya,
Tsuyoshi Ihara. Warner Bros, 2007. Film.
Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angeles: The Classic Novel of the Civil War. New York:
Ballantine Books, 1987. Print
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