combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2003

Action Tale

War cannot be explained ... it must be experienced to be believed.

Leaders believe that good theories produce good results, but troopers know that results generate theories. In a combined armor-infantry assault action, which was based upon an extrapolated model from the European Cold War and superimposed upon the Asian hot war, as if pretense could displace the terrain and replace the enemy, the entire operation collapsed when one of the leading tanks happened to throw a track at the worst possible choke-point, a narrow defile perched between a cliff and a river. Without any enemy contact, a simple maintenance fluke had immobilized an entire regiment! Had we been German, the mishap never would've occurred. Had we been Russian, the obstruction would've been exploded, crew and all, within the first few minutes of delay. Had we been French, everyone would be blaming everyone else. Instead, we imitated the Italians, Mexicans, and Vietnamese by waiting while the affected crew attempted to solve its own difficulties. Since the primary objective of this massive operation was to garner kudos for ticket-punching lifers, and since the terrain prevented accessible access by VTR recovery vehicles, there was almost nothing to do ... except avoid the wrath of the stymied ring knockers. Because there were no alternative maneuvers, the task force was dependent, as a hostage to circumstance, upon the protective cover of diverted assets from other units. Not only was this not going to be a minor interlude in a magnificently orchestrated boondoggle, but it was destined to expand and enlarge, with high-level gossip and low-level derision echoing through the corridors of influence. So as sergeants labored and colonels envisioned early retirement, a blind transmission over the squadron net offered sardonic comfort: "Don't worry about an attack from Charlie, 'cause he's laughing too hard to aim straight!". The commander at the top and the private at the bottom of the pyramid are too remote and preoccupied to recognize each other; so some intermediary must translate and transmit for both extremes. Leaders believe in making battle stories into authentic truth, but soldiers know that battle truth makes authentic stories.

Artists don't want to be restricted to the truth, and intellectuals like to speculate on the limits of reality ... so their higher values comprise the authentic public record. Free speech protection is a license to advertise and exploit, to promulgate and manipulate, to disseminate and distort. Eye-witness reportage is editorially biased, politically prejudiced, and historically misinterpreted. The participants of an experience have a vested interest in concealing or amending the truth. Distilling all published accounts into an amalgamated emendation does not accurately represent reality. Soldiers believe in simple facts, and the simplest is that no one who wasn't there can understand. It's a difficult fact that every combatant discovers for himself. This simple fact hasn't stopped the revisionistic lies ... nothing will. Only veterans care about conglomerated evidence, facile summations, and contorted myths. Only veterans know how many great stories have been refuted by survivors.

Our greatest mistake of the war was making our best generals into editors, our wisest strategists into critics, our bravest leaders into fearless speculators.
soldier's view

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.