I’ve never murdered anyone. My father never murdered anyone. My grandfather never murdered anyone. Alltogether, we’ve lived a shelter life, us Gathmann men, in the twentieth century, for the state’s nets were out, and millions fell into them, drafted and turned into murderers. Or lets not exaggerate – there were those among the drafted who did not serve in the infantry, sail the seas, or fly in bombers and fighters. But millions did. It was in fact a generational experience for American men, a first blood kind of thing. World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam – duty or at least the law armed the stripling male and commanded him to murder. The same thing, of course, was demanded of British men, Russian men, German men, French men, etc. It was always the same thing: see the woman there, nursing the child? The command was simply to roast her and her suckling, make sure it was good and hot, and that around her the houses burned and the streets buckled from the heat. Simple. See the man advancing to murder other men with his rifle? Put a bullet in his skull, or perhaps blow his legs off, double quick! Its an order.
And so it goes down to now. I’ve recently been reading Randall Jarrell’s war poetry. Jarrell, like all the generation of poets that experienced WWII, was permanently seared. Robert Lowell said that Jarrell’s war poetry was the best to come out of those particular years of mass slaughter. There are small perfect poems, and larger ones that are more drafty. But the eye is on what it means:
The other murderers troop in yawning;
Three of them play Pitch, one sleps, and one
Lies counting missions, lies there sweating
Till even his heart beats: One; One; One.
O murderers!... still this is how its done:
This is a war…
I hope the family luck continues. Never to be a soldier, always a protester … oh what bliss.