We burn the fat off their souls

The title of this post is me misquoting Jarhead where a character quotes Hemmingway.

My friend Dan asked me (and I will take the license to infer) if I am... beatifying the soldiers? In the previous posts about spirituality and the land there is certainly the tendency to ennoble the grunts and their self-awareness.

While reporting during the disastrous Russian campaign of 1941, Vasily Grossman (that country's pre-eminent WW2 war correspondent) wrote of the soldiers,
"At war a Russian man puts on a white shirt. He may live in sin, but he dies like a saint. At the front [there is] a purity of thought and soul, a kind of monastic austerity.
The rear [the civilian part of the country] lives by different laws and it would never be able to merge morally with the front.... We Russians don't know how to live like saints, we only know how to die like saints."*

This tendency to elevate is, I suspect, a common tendency for cultural producers of war documents. It is also a well documented fact that infantry soldiers can be pigs. Using myself as example, Peeing on a pile of winter coats at a party or kicking someone in the face after they've already been hit unconscious, those are not the acts of a noble person.

Like Anthony Swofford or Siegfried Sassoon, the accumulation of time allows us to write from a position that doesn't forget the crass truth of the grunt, but does allow us to step past the specific actions and see that, retrospectively, there is much to be gained (spiritually and otherwise) from the infantry profession. But I, at least, needed a decade (and counting) to learn what those things are.

* A Writer at War, Edited and translated by Anthony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova

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