combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2007

The Gods

"The Emperor of the South Sea is known as Change. The Emperor of the North Sea is called Dramatic. The Emperor of the Centre is called Chaos. Change and Dramatic met every so often in the region of Chaos. Chaos always treated them kindly and virtuously. Change and Dramatic said, 'Everyone has seven orifices so they can see, hear, eat and breathe. Chaos does not have these. Let us bore some holes into him.' Each day they bored a hole into Chaos ... but on the seventh day Chaos died."
by Chuang-Tzu

Life too often functions at its lowest, meanest, nastiest level ... some who've passed through the mouth of the cat would say that life is always down and dirty ... but I have been stunned at odd moments by the selflessness of strangers. Years later, reflections upon these generous acts still have the power to trip my heart and tighten my stomach. We are capable of so very very much, and yet we are seemingly content to exist without challenges, knowing that these situations define us. It's not a paradox but a contradiction. More than anything else, contradiction seems to most accurately describe humanity.

We are all condemned by the matrix in which we subsist, and most of us realize during our formative years that the elements of that matrix are accidental, if not capricious. Hence every young man who becomes a soldier is already burdened with the myths and legends of his culture ... before he ever dons a uniform he imposes visions of the past upon the future ... ignoring the intermediate present as a mere phase of his metamorphosis into the prototypical paradigm. This immaturity is truly a phase, but the values inculcated during that maturation persist throughout our lives. We imagine that the goal is the most important part of life while the here and now is the only life we ever really know. Nobody ever arrives in the putative future ... and if we manage to survive life's unfairness long enough to acquire some insight, we are privileged to put our past into perspective. I've never heard of anyone wise enough to understand it all.

Those of us who volunteered for service in the Vietnam war were the spoiled and pampered baby-boom generation that inherited all the best and brightest benefits of the Good War without earning any part of it ... and nepotism has proved to be its own punishment. We were the first generation in human history to be reared on film fantasy and television titillation, making our heroes larger than life, and presenting us with predictably happy endings. They were fairy tales writ large and persuasive upon impressionable minds. We were raised with the arrogance of rectitude, and inspired to uplift those unfortunate enough to be other than apple pie Americans. It was our quest to convert the world. We had a mission to redeem our inheritance by sustaining the attainments and ambitions of our elders. We were true believers in the new trinity: Welfare, Technology, and Mammon. Our only regret was that our stage was not larger ... but communism was a scourge that we could ferret and harry worldwide. We were paladins christened by the god of war with a cause, and looking for a fight!

We were children of our time, so we shared universal consciousness in our global village. Some of us were cat skinners and others were trekkers because there were different strokes for different folks ... it didn't matter how you got to the top of the mountain, it only mattered that you got there ... even if there was a nebulous nowhere, an Erehwon or Nirvana. We were doing good, doing well, and doing right. Our friends sang folk songs and served in the Peace Corps, or took their nursing skills to remote locales, or served as advisors in distant villages ... and we wondered if all the work would be finished before we were middle-aged. So we made plans to conquer the interior landscape when the shrinking globe resembled our own backyard. It was exciting and invigorating. The world was our oyster ... and it contained the promise of a lustrous pearl!

Because our defining battles were the most recent in humanity's struggle, our conceited fancy inferred that they must be the greatest ... so from leader assassinations and race riots to the Tet Offensive and the Kent State massacre, our delimiting involvements became the hypercritical battle lines that have alienated and factionalized our communities of families and neighbors and coworkers. Discrimination and mistrust are eroding the foundations of the Promised Land.

Our modern minstrels observed that battle lines were being drawn by people carrying signs saying HOORAY FOR OUR SIDE! ... but nobody's right if everybody's wrong. So for every step we took forward, we were pushed back two ... and for every gambit or ploy, a counter ... until we were stymied in a quagmire. Our icons were resisted, our catechism resented ... the great unwashed they not only didn't want us, they didn't even like us! ... us! ... the darlings of creation! ... the pinnacle of evolution! Unloved, distrusted, and even despised. Actually, not entirely. Many wanted our gifts of food and medicine and prosperity, but without the entanglements of us. We were living (and dying) through all the bad commercials promoting envy and jealousy and greed. There was no possible way for Americans to have bad breath and body odor! ... Americanism resolved all those niggling little problems, so they just simply didn't understand. And if they didn't understand, then we just had to try harder! After all, we were getting better, every day in every way, and we were bound to succeed if we tried hard enough.

Except that trying harder costs more ... more time, money, lives ... and that's when the gods started fighting amongst themselves ... the bankers were piqued at chiselers, and luddite's begrudged techies. People began to wonder, in our collective cost-benefit analysis, where the flavor had gone and when we were going to start having fun ... after all, life is all about sensitivity and sensation, but only the good parts. There are no bad smells or unconsummated wishes or negative vibes permitted in the Brave New World; and nobody is supposed to get bored or tired or hurt. And the Big Bookkeeper in the Sky was complaining about the profit margin ... things were getting too expensive in our microcosmic stroke economy. Inflation was affecting the cost and quality of warm fuzzies ... they almost weren't worth trading. We should find a way to synthesize them and improve the distribution network ... not like small pox blankets in the bad old days, but something that will pacify the powers that be and make us content. The graffiti defacing the rubble of our blighted uberkultur proclaims that the only way to cope with the coming resource wars and raging pandemics is to get stoned, zoned, blitzed, totally contented to the max!

In our cotton candy world, tooth decay and upset tummies would not be permitted. We believed that right action could only produce positive results, with no adverse side effects ... so sex, drugs, and rock an' roll were our indulgences. But if right is whatever feels good afterwards, as conventional wisdom posits, then the unpleasantness of war must be likened to lifesaving surgery or life-giving childbirth as being fundamentally wrong ... with the defense of the lesser harm or the greater good being mere quibbles in a hedonistic pantheon, which is here and now for some and hereafter for others. The concept of a deontological quest is so abstruse and arcane that it isn't even considered tenable in the modern realm.

As our armor got more and more tarnished, being an obvious manifestation of our hidden corruption, the military declared that camouflage would be the new uniform style, and the stains that protestors added just made us harder to detect. Some of us even wore our stains like a mark of distinction, not unlike the fruit salad and other trash cluttering our appearance. Clutter was good ... it got you off the radar and permitted you to operate in the shadows without oversight, without accountability. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons was just routine, and since there was no point to proliferating Americanism, the military could be sent anywhere to do anything. Success didn't matter. Tradition didn't matter. The last best hope didn't matter ... as long as the gods were satisfied. The huddled mass of us could live in smoke-free techno-domes and consume fat-free legal tender ... the Statue of Liberty guaranteed it. America the beautiful ... land of the brave, home of free-love.

In all this self-promoted greatness, it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that some things are beyond price, that individuality and dependency are mutually exclusive, and that the Humpty Dumpty egg cannot be repaired. A do your own thing society cannot cooperate to accomplish collective goals. Despite Apostolic plaudits and Marxist plaints, some flowers are attractive and some weeds are useful, but we know too little about things and their relationships to heedlessly change everything. In the war of ideas, as in the war of people and property, the objective is not coexistence, but extermination. Humanistic tolerance presumes dominance and control ... such as the deviant minority being granted largess by the omnipotent majority. Intolerance is a reaction to incursion, a response that expels the invasion. A culture that ceases to acculturate ceases to exist. A society that does not value its past cannot value its future. Tradition only exists in the present. Too many good men and women have died to preserve a respectable way of life for it to be blithely abandoned by ignorant sensualists, by effete aesthetes. My forebears and comrades did not die on the battlefield so America could repopulate with freaks and creeps and sneaks!

Of late, the god of war has been ignominiously stuffed into a dark closet, but the other gods should beware his wrath. The deformation of America is subject to the same intractable laws as nature, with every action having a reaction and every effect having a side effect, except that these are impersonal ... America may not rebound, but may be displaced or replaced, just like the many fallen civilizations of the past. Woe betide the dreamers and deceivers who think themselves immune from the monstrous changeling they've wrought!

"The Lord Yuan of Song dreamt in the middle of the night that a man with dishevelled hair peered in at him through the side door and said, 'I have come from the depths of Tsai Lu and was on my way from the clear Yangtze as an ambassador to the Lord of the Yellow River, when a fisherman called Yu Chu caught me.' Immediately Lord Yuan woke up and asked a diviner to find out what this meant. 'This is a sacred turtle,' said the diviner. 'Is there a fisherman called Yu Chu?' asked the Lord. 'There is,' he was told. The Lord said, 'Command that Yu Chu comes here.' Next day, Yu Chu arrived and the ruler asked him, 'What have you caught recently?' He replied, 'I have caught a white turtle in my nets recently. It is about five feet in circumference.' 'Present your turtle,' said the ruler. When the turtle came, the ruler couldn't decide whether to kill it or keep it. His heart was troubled, so he asked the diviner, who said, 'Kill the turtle and use it to make divinations and receive an oracle.' So the turtle had its shell removed and seventy-two holes drilled into its shell for divination. Not one of them failed to offer a good oracle. The sage said, 'The sacred turtle could manifest itself in a dream to Lord Yuan but could not escape the nets of Yu Chu. It had sufficient wisdom to give seventy-two correct divinations, but it could not escape having its vital organs cut out. This is how it is, wisdom has its limits and even spirituality has something beyond its reach. Even perfect wisdom can be defeated by a multitude of scheming people."
by Chuang-Tzu

by Bock Pauldron
... who is a Vietnam War veteran, a social worker, and freelance writer; with works published in professional journals and literary magazines. His work has appeared previously in this periodical.

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