Thursday, 28 January 2016

Experience Of War

I have not experienced war but am confident that it is as described by Harry Turtledove in "The Last Word." Men scream. Anyone who says afterwards that he was not terrified is either a liar or a psychopath.

"War was always the same: not a neat affair of lines across maps, nor a hallooing gallantry, but men who gasped and sweated and bled in bewilderment."
-Poul Anderson, "Delenda Est" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (Riverdale, NY, 2006), pp. 173-228 AT p. 223.

("Delenda Est" is the story about Carthaginian victory in the Second Punic War. Thus, a single text presents both historical speculation and authentic experience.)

In "The Last Word," Janissary Sergeant Hans lives and dies for war. His grandfathers defended Reich and Fuhrer against Draka and lost so now he leads a squad for the Draka - and does not worry about it. He recognizes that his chance of living long enough to retire is low but shrugs. Having led his men into a Yankee holdout ambush, he knows that he will be court-martialled and wonders how he had missed those Yankee bastards but:

"Then a grenade burst half a meter in front of his face, and such questions became academic." (Drakas!, p. 255)

Hans must die instantaneously. Thus, he does not know that the explosion was caused by a grenade and does not reflect that his questions have become academic. All or most of the quoted sentence is not Hans' point of view but the voice of the omniscient narrator.

Anson MacDonald (Robert Heinlein) finds ground combat even more chaotic, frightening and frightful than expected. Heinlein is shown adhering to his principles while experiencing, and accepting, what happens to the infantry. He refers to the starship, New America, whose captain, we know, is Anderson... Thus, both of these seminal sf writers are in different ways involved in the war against the Draka.

What a pity that MacDonald was not booby-trapped to take his Draka captor with him.

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