Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coming Home

Most of us know what it's like to go away only to return home changed. Whether its college, traveling abroad, or just staying with someone else for a while. After you're gone away from all that is familiar things seem different upon your return. Places that seemed big appear somewhat smaller. You have a new perspective on the things you once loved and held so dear--your parents, your old hangouts, and even who you were before you left.

This change is even more drastic for those who have joined any branch of the armed forces and found themselves in Afghanistan or Iraq. What does home look like when they return? How does one adjust back to everyday life after having experienced war and intensity that surpasses anything they've ever known?

I caught a brief glimps of this after reading about a man who served in WWII. He was taken captive by the Japanese and spent 6 years of his young life on the brink of death. In the prison camp the prisoners dreamed of the smell, feel, and taste of home. Sometimes the only thing that gave them the will to live was the hope of one day returning to their loved ones and all that was familiar to them. However, once home they found themselves to be so much changed that what they dreamed of returning to does not feel, taste, or smell the same at all.

Here are some of that man's thoughts...

"Everyone spoke of seeking security. But what did security mean but animal comfort, anesthetized souls, closed minds, and cold hearts? It meant a return to the cacophonous cocktail party as a substitute for fellowship, where, with glass in hand, men would touch each other but never meet. They would speak, at their partner, but would not see them. With glassy eyes they would stare past them into nothingness.
It meant a return to the cheap love made possible by contraceptives, wherein male and female used each other as a thing, taking their share of sex in the same way as they took their cocktails and wondering where was the fulfillment, where was the satisfaction. With the despairing cry of 'I must be loved!' they would return periodically from the psychiatrist's couch to seek new partners and new problems. All the while their ears remained closed to the divine imperative, 'Thou shalt love!'
It meant a return to the faceless mass; to culture dragged down to the level of advertising media; to education, not as an instrument for enrichment and enlightenment of minds, but as a tool for mass conditioning. It meant a return to faith in technology and the Big Machine. As their powers were used to unleash yet a greater hidden force in Nature, so men could find themselves more enslaved then ever and ever readier to use those forces to bring about the total destruction of mankind. The contributions of free men seeking to serve the Infinitely Great in honesty, responsibility and love would be denied. Socrates would have to drink his cup of hemlock again, the prophets be stoned afresh. Atheistic materialism would fetter men to a hard, knobbly universe in which humanity was rejected.
In short, it meant flight from God and descent into the hell of loneliness and despair."

---To End All Wars by Ernest Gorden

Subnote: Ernest Gorden did eventually take a job at Princeton University and adjust back to life in the ever moving modern world. However, his perspective as a changed man returning to a society that was mostly oblivious to the effects and horrors of war was illuminating and sobering.

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