I have been to war, in the trenches, under fire and resigned to death. I have seen death, mock executions, desperation and hopelessness. I have seen seemingly monolithic notions of ethics and morality sifted through uncountable compromises at the very edge of existence. War is a perversion. War maps fully the end of reason, logic and compassion. War defines how far we have failed to evolve as a species.
This morning I heard a story on the news about a Chicago suburb putting up Ernest Hemingway’s boyhood home for sale. For a writer, it was a kick in the gut. I often visited the neighborhood, gazing at the ornate 19th century wood frame, as if it held some clue to his inspiration. As if there was a thoughtful quality upon the front steps or from the tall windows. The thought inevitable leads to other inspirations in Hemingway’s life, large among them, the inspirations he found in war.
Here is where language fails. Thoughts and ideologies, perspectives and awakenings gleaned from war, and there are many, hardly deserve connection with the word inspiration. But other words fail as well. there is, tragically, profound beauty that can be discovered in war, but it hardly justifies the true expense inflicted upon the species and upon the individual soul. There are aspects of humanity that are less notable, or noticeable outside the bitter theater of tribal violence we define as war. Courage, sex, mercy and family to name a few.
My conundrum is that as a writer I was tested in war to stand firm for truths I hold to be all but unassailable, even in the face of death or violence. I doubt I could have come to the same understanding of fate without confronting the ultimate crucible of fate that is war, in which all pretense of control and self-determination are called into ultimate question. I believe it has made me a better writer and given me a more resolute voice, but that knowledge is fully tempered in the cruelty that abounded about me, and those now crippled, broken or in graves whose fate was not as fortuitous as mine. In that context I must wonder if any truth I strive to uncover, no matter how profound to myself of the world, was worth so much pain and hate and inhumanity.