Reaction to Gray’s The Warriors

ADM 6 October 1992

Gray writes that “The novice may be eager at times to describe hid emotions in combat, but it is the battle-hardened veterans to whom battle has offered the deeper appeals.” And this is in part because the elder’s know the war as “the one great lyric passage in their lives.” The rest of life was drudgery; it had no spectacles, no wonders, nothing but sameness day after day. But war is filled with struggle, perhaps the greatest struggle of all, and it is done for en masse for extended periods. Though my experience lacks faultless judgment, I think the longer a soldier lives through the battle, the more sure of himself he becomes. Eventually, his fear of dying immediately diminishes, maybe to the level it was at before he became a soldier, when war was too abstract to fear. At this time, it is easier to observe the spectacle— there is not so much baggage holding one back. The willingness, or propensity, to be drawn in by the “lust of the eye” is greatest before one becomes and soldier and then after one has been a soldier for some substantial time. In between, however, I think there could be a leveling off, a point where the soldier understands war as a terror, and cannot rid that notion from his mind, no matter how aesthetically (<-I’m not sure that’s the right word) striking the war is; at this point there is a kind of horrific epiphany in which the true understanding, the true unification is with a terrible event. The primordial experience is not beautiful, but nauseating, almost as if the mind cannot comprehend, or transfigure, the grotesque nature of blood-spattered war. Gray confirms though, that experiencing the beautiful moments of war come only as “fleeting’ moments. It could be, then, that moments of terror dominate the moments of rapture. The phenomena of men risking life in attempts to see the spectacle can be explained by the necessity to feel above the surroundings, or rather one with the surroundings. If a soldier is killed in a moment of bemused observation, he can die at least having experienced the unity that so many living never experience.