Have you been watching “The War” by Ken Burns on PBS? It premiered this week and it’s phenomenal. Depressing and sometimes horrifying, yes—but phenomenal nevertheless.
It’s got me thinking about humanity: the state of being human. We all are not just fallible but also able to fall, able to be physically hurt and emotionally traumatized—and susceptible to influence by everything we encounter. “The War” features so many heartbreaking stories, told by the survivors themselves, about their shock at the reality of war. One old gent told of being revolted by his first sight of dead German soldiers, men whose lives he had taken—because he understood for the first time that they were his age, just kids. He still choked up over it, this fellow in or near his 80s. It’s still that real and awful to him. Another man told of a midnight ambush, pitch black night, in which he heard an anonymous comrade get shot and then listened, annoyed, disgusted, and mostly exhausted, as the poor dying fellow groaned and called for his mother—for hours. That annoyed man learned the next morning that it had been his best friend who was shot and suffering—and who had finally died in the night. And that man’s face was so bleak as he recounted the story of his lost friend again, all these years later. He’d never gotten over it. He never will.
I think of the many ways that horrific events can alter a life, even if experienced as an adult. We are all so vulnerable, so impressionable. I ponder the deep impression that’s left on a child who experiences something terrible. I do believe that some folks carry a predilection for making bad choices—it’s not all nurture that forms a person—but it’s undeniable that our experiences shape us, good or bad. And no one gets through unscathed. I’ll bet you could go to Japan, or Germany, and find WWII survivors there who, just like our U.S. veterans, still feel revulsion at some of the things they saw—and did.
I don’t even know what I want to say about all this. I guess I’m just coming to the conclusion that human vulnerability unites us all. Whatever side you’re on, sometimes you’re just following orders, and often the results are tragic and haunting, even if what you did was right or necessary or justified. We all come into this world with promise, on equal footing, and we all leave it bruised and bloodied by the hurt and pain that we’ve received, and caused. Even Hitler was someone’s little boy once; I read somewhere he was an excellent student, conscientious and disciplined. I wonder when, exactly, he began to move with intent toward evil dictatorship and his plan to exterminate a people group. What could have caused that plan to form? What happened?
It all makes me sad. I’m sad that people turn bad. I’m sad that some kids have it so rough. I’m sad that wars ever have to happen. This is a fallen world, for certain; I’m very glad there’s a better world to come.
P.S. Don’t worry—I won’t be this heavy every time I post an entry. Something light next time. I promise!