This is another example of the use of ICT to access a collection of sources that has been put together by someone else, saving the teacher the not inconsiderable time involved in reading through and selecting a selection of sources/quotes for themselves. The following sources are taken from a newspaper article based on Joanna Bourke’s book, An intimate history of killing. Drawing on sources from wars across the length of the C20th, the sources demonstrate that some soldiers have positive feelings about actively being involved in killing ‘a legitimately defined enemy’.
In Bourke’s words, ‘The possibility of having to kill, combined with the risk of having to die for their country, is a heady mixture. Their leaders have spoken in grave terms about the grim duty that faces them, but behind the sober mask of political and military responsibility lurks a dark secret: war can be fun.
The sources could be given out to pupils so that they can be cross-referenced and discussed. The point can also be made that this ‘collection’ is not a random one; someone has selected these sources to make a particular point. This collection of sources could be counterpoised against another selection which presents a very different portait of soldiers’ attitudes to war. (For instance, Robert Graves’ Goodbye to all that.
After discussing and sharing the quotes, the article as a whole could be given to pupils as a homework (perhaps optional, for anyone interested). Careful reading of the article would provide pupils with a list of reasons which help to explain whypeople had such attitudes to killing, and why these attitudes may have changed as the nature of war evolved over the course of the century. I haven’t got the date of the article to hand, but it should be traceable by searching the Guardian Newspaper archive for the past 2-3 years.
- ‘The change to come… real business with real Germans in front of us. Oh I do hope I shall visibly kill a few.’ Alfred Bland, British soldier writing home in 1916
- ‘The deep shame I feel is my own lack of emotional reaction. I keep reacting as though I were simply watching a movie of the whole thing. I still don’t feel that I have personally killed anyone… Have I become so insensitive that I have to see torn limbs, the bloody ground, the stinking holes and guts in the mud, before I feel ashamed that I have destroyed large numbers of my own kind?’ Diary entry of U.S. pilot in Vietnam War, 1966, who ‘knew his bombs were killing hundreds of civilians each raid’.
- ‘Why should women always be asked to be the cooks? I want to go overseas and take my part with the men.’ June Buckley, British woman, World War 2.
- ‘No threat was too great; I would have gone through any threat, for the opportunity to put iron on Saddam Hussain’s head.’ U.S. pilot, 1st (?) Gulf War.
- ‘We’lll never walk, or make love, or be loved the way we walked and loved and were loved over there. Everything was heightened by the closeness of death; death hovered everywhere and all the time.’ Soviet artillery captain in Russo-Afghan War 1979-89.
- ‘When Tony Blair delivered his morale-boosting speech to British troops preparing for war in the Oman desert, a corporal standing behind him was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Saddam Hussain being booted and the words “We came, we saw, we kicked ass’. Combatants spoke repeatedly about the atavistic joy of finally being able to throw themselves into the fray.’ British soldiers preparing for the 1st Gulf War. Quoted from the Bourne article.
- ‘Combat soldiers have something that we haven’t got. Realism, discipline, masculinity (kind of a dirty word these days), resilience, tenacity, resourcefulness. We may have turned out to be better dancers, choreographers and painters.. but I’m not at all sure that they didn’t turn out to be better man, in the best sense of the word.’ Michael Blumenthal, U.S. poet at the time of the Vietnam War.
- ‘It’s frightening and unpleasant to have to kill, you think, but you soon realise that what you really find objectionable is shooting someone point-blank. Killing en masse in a group is exciting- and I’ve seen this myself- fun.’ Soviet soldier, Russo-Afghan War, 1979-89.
- ‘I knew that war was terrible, but I was drawn to it, like a moth to a flame.’ Captain Richard Crandall, British soldier.
- ‘I never worried about killing when I was on the guns: I wasn’t actually killing the Germans, I was killing those that were flying with their bombs. I thought that was good. I really felt that.’ Joyce Carr, British anti-aircraft gunner, World War 2.
- ‘I feel that everyone has a little “Rambo Box” in his heart and and he always wonders how well he will react when it comes to facing an enemy or going against someone who is trying to kill him. Well, to a man, everyone opened their Rambo Box, found out that there was quite a bit of energy, quite a bit of courage there, and they all came out of this a better man for it.’ Lt. Col. Ted Herman, U.S. Army, speaking about combat during the Gulf War.
- ‘It’s just like a football game once you get airborne, you get the jet under you and you start feeling good, then you just start working- working your game plan.’ U.S. pilot, Gulf War.
- ”The moment the Stealth pilots landed, they would rush to the nearest television to watch CNN footage. “We’d huddle around and grab each other and say, hey, that’s my target, or wow, look at that one go, according to one pilot… The warplanes of the USS Enterprise had hardly landed before the ship’s commanding offiecer could be heard enthusing “Come and see the films”. “I feel very proud” a B-52 pilot said a few days ago, “It’s like being a football player in the Superbowl.”‘ U.S. soldiers, Gulf War, quoted in the Bourke article.
- ‘My breed, the pilots whose war has been more chivalrous and clean-handed than any other will (in the future) be ordered to do violence to the civilian population. We shall drop the gas bombs and poison the reservoirs. We shall kill the women and children. Of course the thing is insane; but then, if the world submits to the rule of homicidal maniacs, it deserves to be destroyed.’ Cecil Lewis, British pilot, World War One.
- ‘British airmen interviewed during the Second World War expressed “eager-beaver” reactions prior to going overseas. They were so wrought up that men who were prevented at the last moment from embarking burst into tears.’ Quoted in the Bourke article.