There is this irritating sort of person who has decided that no wartime experience except combat merits the least bit of attention. Psychologists call it invalidation, I believe, and it's usually some sort of control thing
I was watching Ken Burns' The War
yesterday and found myself reflecting on the sorts of invalidation I have heard served up by these people, who have spent their entire lives in safety. One of the people interviewed for this series spent three years, as a child, in a Japanese internment camp in Manila. She and her family came back to discover a form of invalidation. People, even those who asked, weren't interested. "We just clammed up," she said.
Those of us who experienced the chaotic job of patching up Vietnam War wounded stateside long ago learned to clam up, because the invalidators would tell you it couldn't have been as bad as combat. It wasn't, of course, but I find this business of parsing degrees of bad
rather revolting. The most outrageous example I ever heard came from someone to whom I mentioned my father's apparent involvement in liberating a Nazi death camp.
Oh that was horrible, of course, but naturally it wasn't combat
My father came in at the very tail end of the Battle of the Bulge. He was involved in the battles for the Ruhr. He was frequently shot at and once missed being mined only because he could speak German. A nearby officer could not, ignored a German farmer, and led his truck convoy into a mine field. He talked freely about all that. He even talked in an abstract way about the surreal horror of nighttime attacks by Hitler Youth. I think he experienced that more immediately than he let on, but as a kid I accepted what he said. He alluded just once to the death camp, then never spoke of it again.
I watched the combat veterans speaking on The War
break down when discussing the camps, or speak of them with palpable rage that 60 years hadn't dimmed. I wonder, then, which was the greater horror.
The interviewees on The War
included a survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Sent unescorted into waters known to harbour Japanese submarines, the Indianapolis
was torpedoed, sank in minutes, leaving almost 900 survivors in the water. They waited more than four days for rescue, dying one at a time of thirst but also of endless shark attacks. Just over 300 survived.
It was horrible, of course, but it wasn't combat
Maybe the invalidators should just shut the fuck up and be grateful they haven't had to experience even the collateral horrors of war.