combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2003

They're NOT like Us

The first thing the globetrotter notices about foreign peoples in distant lands is that they don't look like us, don't smell like us, and don't sound like us! ... and this astonishing truism is reciprocated in spades. The differences are bone deep.

It seems that when we are born, we are sufficiently plastic that we could be anybody. As we mature through formative stages, we struggle to assert our independence so as to become unique individuals. And, as we grow old and set in our ways, we become our ancestors. Each person in each culture painfully evolves into their private destiny. The Zen version of this metamorphosis is: The face we are born with is our parents' fault, but the face we die with is our own fault!K

When I noticed that some counterparts were reluctant to break their starch and get their hands dirty by working with the lower-classes who comprised the rank and file combatant, I began to make inquiries into its etiology. Sanctions concerning racial discrimination and miscegenation are not uncommon, whether codified as Jim Crow laws or as voluntary religious tenets; but these proud aristocrats were attempting to fight a civil war on the backs of their double-standard.

Wars have been fought for every conceivable reason and implausible rationale, including racial purity and stratified social stabilization, but these contending autonomies did not make good sense. American aid in the factionalized dispute between high-brow and low-brow, between superior and inferior color, between true and false religion, between permissible and inappropriate politics was only another complication, which helped obscure all the premises and postpone any possible resolution. The Montagnard's uprising for independence was quashed by promises that never materialized; and they faced a genocidal future similar to the underclasses of Hitler's Europe, similar to the Picts of Scotland, similar to the Anasazi of the Rocky Mountain Pueblos, similar to the Chinese of Sumatra and Malaysia. There is no benefit in trading the sanctions of caste and class for the sanctions of ethnic cleansing, cultural restoration, and sociopolitical re-education. Roman civilization purportedly declined due to pervasive immorality, but its values were deliberately changed over time to accommodate the expansion of civil rights, until independence brought disunity and disloyalty. Prehistoric refinement seems to have been born when the self was no longer subordinate to the group, when the person was no longer dependent upon the tribe, when private ambition supplanted community goals; as exemplified by the transition from mass to individual burials, which concomitant egoism removed death to a remote eschatology, and displaced animistic pantheism with teleological monotheism. This evolution of egocentrism was like the bifurcated disjunction between a Darwinian community mutating by individual sympathy and a Spencerian community mutating by individual projection or imposition.

Eventually I realized that these prejudices weren't a complicated mouse-trap, but were actually an intricate maze of interrelated Chinese boxes, that were leading by successive stages of protective abatis, toward the concealed central treasure of the culture: nothingness! ... which hollow and yawning emptiness was also found at the core of the ego by existentialism. This vexatious problem of co-optation and cooperation, of nest-feathering and pecking-order, of giving and losing face had worried and wrestled me into exhaustion; whereupon my team sergeant, in the typically succinct fashion of warriors, uttered a condign summary: "I don't know what all the fuss is about, 'cause where I come from, they'd ALL be niggers!".

The fine gradations of discriminatory nuance inculcated by all the native sons and daughters are naturally absent in the "insensitive" outsiders, who perforce exhibit their own prejudicial mindsets. Everyone is preoccupied with accentuating our differences, asserting the primacy of one mode or another trait, and nobody is building bridges among these islands ... except as alliances against some other faction. It's a simple progression from "they're not like us" to the logical inference that "they don't like us", which entails the contrapositive "we don't like them either" ... and another war has begun. This predictable attitude is so inevitable that soldiers have parodied the encounter: "Join the military, travel to exotic places, observe alien folkways, meet unusual people, and kill them!".

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.