Saturday, October 24, 2009

War! What is it good for?

I was born in 1959. My father served in the US Navy from 1948 to 1958, missing World War 2. My father-in-law just barely caught the end of WW2, serving in the Navy on the west coast, mostly, to hear him tell it, in the function of processing discharges at the end of the war. My grandfather was born in 1902 and so was a bit too young for WWI and then too old for WW2 (although that certainly would not have been true in any other major combatant country, which goes to illustrate just how fortunate the United States has been during these world wars).

My point being that I have no direct experience, nor do I have any close family that has had any direct experience of war as described by Rulka Langer in her book The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt. Ms. Langer was a Polish citizen, wealthy and talented enough to have been educated in the US at Vassar, that lived in Warsaw during the German invasion in 1939. Her husband was on assignment at the time in the US, so she was raising her two school age children, and living with her mother. She was very fortunate (and wise) to take the opportunity that having a husband working in the US gave her and escaped the city about 6 months after the Germans took over. Her story describes the events leading up to and during the seige and subsequent takeover. Bravery, determination, courage and a good measure of luck, were the determining factors on who survived those 6 months (the winter following the invasion was one of the harshest on record) and who didn't.

Being twice removed (through time and distance) it is hard to imagine an ordeal like that. Yet many places in the world are currently embroiled in similar circumstances. Afghanistan comes to mind. I sometimes wonder that we, as a people and a culture, perhaps have lost something important by NOT having had to face and overcome such horrific events. That we've perhaps lost some of our resilience and certainly some appreciation for the good things we have.