Kurt Vonnegut writes about how he taught his sons never to be happy about a massacre of the enemy. To despise the machines of war and those who think we need such things. I didn’t need to learn that from him. I’d already learnt it much earlier, from Erich Maria Remarque. All quiet on the Western front. It was one of those books prescribed for English study in high school. Children don’t read books like this any more for English. They read about young boys in strange situations trying to find meaning and identity. I was a girl, I didn’t have an identity.
We could have easily as read Slaughterhouse 5 but Vonnegut mentions penises. You can’t have that. The school chaplains wouldn’t approve. Remarque only mentioned shit. That a soldier’s vocabulary consisted of things he had to live with perpetually, like shit. But not fear though. They don’t talk about fear a whole lot, but you know it must be there. It’s not manly to be frightened. A lot of people must be frightened by warfare, though. Why else would one be shot for desertion or cowardice? Heinlein, I think it was, mentioned it in the original StarshipTroopers. That a soldier’s life is 99% boredom and 1% unmitigated terror. It could be the other way around. It’s so long since I’ve read them.
It doesn’t do for children in school to be reading novels that describe the pain of warfare and the immorality of the politicians that send young men to war. Not when politics and the media are in full swing trying to sell us another war. In school we also read Brave new world and 1984. Now I’m living in some strange amalgam of the two. Taking soma every night with a few glasses of wine, so I can sleep. Constantly struggling to parse the newspeak and reinvention. Go overseas to die, don’t do it here. You can’t have guns here. That would be uncivilised. If you die by the hand of some desperate peasant overseas in an occupied territory, you’re a hero. If you get shot at home, you must have been a druggie or a biker gang member or something.
Die defending the flag. People on the tellie get red faced and bluster about how our diggers fought under that flag. But the flag they’re waving didn’t exist until the 1950’s. There must have been a time warp or something. Menzies became popular with that flag, after the war. He is spoken of with some reverence as a good Liberal Prime Minister. Liberal, of course, meaning conservative. Australia speaks fluent Newspeak. Now Menzies looks like a communist in comparison to those who would lead us. So the joke’s on them. Or us. Some days it’s hard to tell. Like you can’t tell if the time warp really happened, or it only happened in the tellie.
99% boredom 1% unmitigated terror. It sounds like my marriage. The terror wasn’t of bombs, bullets and blood, though. The terror was the Sunday church sermons and childbirth. Attended by a never ending stream of men in white coats wanting to manhandle and invade your body and men in pulpits who legitimised the whole affair. But you must produce healthy offspring. What does it matter how you feel so long as you produce live children for your owners. Be a good girl and take your pants off. We’ll stitch you up afterwards so you can still be of some use. Stiff upper lip, old girl. Suck it up, Princess.
Nowdays they tell young women to have three children. One for mum, one for dad and one to go overseas and get shot, perhaps. To have their lives, and deaths, sanitised and commodified for approved public consumption. As ANZAC day itself has been. Buy a lapel pin made in a sweatshop. Or perhaps you’d like this commemorative biscuit tin, made by a company that was bought out by a US conglomerate years ago.
They don’t shoot you for doing it, or not doing it, eventually failing to comply. When you’ve popped out enough babies and are all hollowed out. They let you live through it and then just leave you alone to live with it. Your body somehow becomes your own property again, at last. When there is no more use for it in their interest. You get to live with the unfuckable leftovers. The fear is leftovers too. You’re not really terrified of people you meet down the street when you go shopping or to the post office. But the leftover fear stays there anyway. Like the smell of fish in an old fridge. One pencil stub in an empty biscuit tin.
You might not know you were alive otherwise. If it didn’t rattle when you leave the house. You’d just be numb, mouthing the scripts of the social and smiling along. Sometimes that quiet clatter on your nerves is the only thing that’s real any more. The only thing that’s genuine. Everything else is just scripts. From war movies. Brave men shooting one another in some distant country, to defend their wives who are back home, listening to church sermons.
Afterwards you don’t talk about it. You just drink a lot and take the soma. It’s the Australian way. Serve the Empire. Serve your country. Run up that hill into those Turkish machine gun nests. Do what you’re told. Obey.