combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2005

Some Incongruities and Inconsistencies

"Who and what you are speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you're saying in your own defense!"

Some people only remember the contrasts and contradictions in the culture of war, but I mostly recall the incongruities and inconsistencies. They're focused on the strange smells, the oppressive heat, the ubiquitous trash, the foreign foods, and the alien products; and so they sought to impose some familiarity by modifying the scene into a Western mode. They did not seem to realize that a deviation becomes a distortion, a deformation, a perversion. Instead of changing our lifestyle to accommodate the exoticisms, we rigidly persisted in our insular methods ... heat was accommodated by refrigerated air-conditioning. We have long masked disagreeable scents with various deodorants, and veneered our waste with "pollution treatment", but the grunts had to frequently extinguish the malodorous effects of putrescent bodies and decaying garbage with a paste of fuel applied to each nostril ... it converted the smell into a taste, and gave mephitic death new associations. They wore grotesque necklaces and demonic insignia, they scorned native cuisine and disregarded conventional manners, they displayed lurid art and ridiculed traditional customs ... and they wondered why they were suspected and exploited. They never saw the parallel between homestyle tripe or blood-sausage and a Montagnard version of "Son-of-a-Bitch Stew", or between homebrewed beer and native rice-wine, between imported and exported delicacies or fabrics or jewelry. They saw Med-CAP sundries being sold in native market-stalls and presume theft ... instead of a "recycling" of unwanted gifts for bartered staples. They didn't realize that Western time frames, like clock-hours, weekdays, and calendar dates, are completely artificial to people who live by daily activity patterns and by moon phases. The date only matters when reporting the current situation. The time only matters when coordinating fire-support signals; which cannot be cued to breaking bird's song. For the field trooper, who worked from "can-see" to "can't-see", either everyday is a prophylactic sabbath, or no day is sacred at all. They, being comfortable with legal rights, did not appreciate the plight of their allied common soldiers, who were cheated by their officers and left to forage without support. Finding two soldiers attempting to sell some looted items, I bought them for my team so the men would have both the items and the funds to sustain them. When misappropriation is endemic to the culture, imposing external legalisms only complicates normal processes. Cities full of corruption, with monuments erected to graft and fraud, may seem like a venal necropolis that's unworthy of further sacrifice, but fighting from gravestone to marker, as the enemy ruined whatever it could not control, I knew that reconstruction had a chance as long as the spirit survived. The land was replete with house and garden spirits, with water and ancestor spirits, and if you could avoid giving offense to the grandmother dwelling inside the rock at the foot of the backstrap-loom, or the guardian of the portal, or the ghost of the threshing mat, then you might coexist long enough to begin building some trust. No one is ever comfortable with the unusual, but forbearance and patience allows us to work together for mutual benefit. Cooperation is, all by itself, a fairly unusual state.

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