Don Wentworth of Issa's Untidy Hut, commenting on the preceding post, Eternity -- a small fantasia upon the harrowing battle of Dak To in the Central Highlands of Kontum Province in November 1967 -- says this:
Have been reading sections of the Mahabharata, new Penguin John Smith translation, over the past few months and you have captured the essence. The proximity to nature, thus to death, which our culture is at such a remove from, adds to our horrific reaction to the Hindi POV; still it is all in the eyes of the soldiers, no matter what country or background. War, Death's close friend, makes us all equal in the end.
- Don's thoughtful words gave pause for further thought.
- "In the eyes of the soldiers..."
- Always pretty much the same from that bottom-line POV, whether the soundtrack is a mournful phrase extracted from the dirgelike theme of a typical horrific day on the Eastern Front, or another set of shattered notes out of the unfinished Iraq requiem.
- I recalled, reading Don's words, a moment in early 1968 when, swathed in a confining harness cast after a pretty bad car crash, I stubbornly attempted to continue a ragged cross country junket, and so found myself stranded in the Colorado Springs airport. This was immediately in the wake of Tet, the airport was jammed with young baby-faced soldiers being shuttled off to swell the ranks in that war in which it was by then apparent there was to be no winning, only more maiming and dying were left to be transacted. The looks on the green-clad soldiers' faces were ur-versions of the lost looks on the faces of those Airborne rangers pictured after the horror days at Dak To a few months before. The whole scene of mass apprehension and unrest at the crowded air terminal, whether viewed from subjective or objective perspective at that moment, seemed contained within some great formal national ritual of death production in which everyone in his own way was playing a part. But our culture obviously had/has no Mahabharata, nor anything resembling it, and so such rituals have no cosmic meaning, they are merely the endlessly recycling garbage of the historical, which finally has no meaning at all.
- In later years I have returned repeatedly in my reveries to that wartime airport scene, a sort of impasse or roadblock that stands between my present geezer "mind" (optimistic I suppose to so dignify it) and any illusions that earlier more comfortable memories of being an American might have any real meaning at all.
And now again I'm thinking about a door gunner in the A Shau Valley in some documentary footage that keeps replaying in my head. It's 1968 or 1969, everything is green and blown in the rotor wash, the racket of the rotors won't stop in my mind as I lie in the dark and reimagine this scene.
- It's a sleepwalker's fate to dream with eyes wide open. His dance with the moment allows him to know what is going on. Knowing he can't ever watch out well enough to save himself he must always knock himself out to watch out every fleeting moment. The jungle canopy seen from above is a seafloor of heaven, covering and concealing everything. Agitation of the rotor blades gives way to a weird calm and everything grows still. You forget everything, you remember everything, you remember only what you know and you know nothing.A green reef of hill erupts with muzzle flashes and thin puffs of white smoke. You know everything has laws but mercy forms a great arc over everything, suspending laws of cause and effect in a great forgetting determined long ago. The world rocks and the rotation of the blades is suddenly disrupted by a great shock. Reality starts to spin yet still events lurch forward with a circular sameness, you are blown back against the struts, everything that happens now was ancient news long ago, nothing ever changes, a zombie glides through it all in your body with your eyes wide open.
Upper and lower images: US military action over A Shau Valley, Central Highlands, Vietnam, May 1969: stills from the film Hamburger Hill: The Real Story, directed by John Woggon
Middle image: A Shau Valley, Thua Thien Province, Republic of Vietnam, c. 1968: photographer unknown, from 1st Air Cavalry Division Assault into the A Shau Valley, 1968