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48 Historically Speaking March/April 2006 Rejoinder Christopher Coker Michael Evans begins his response to my piece with a scene from a film, Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. We are always reaching for the human center of war, and we can find it in a young warrior, Gary Gordon, who was awarded posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor in May 1994. He was a member of the Delta Force Patrol that found itself caught in the crossfire in the battle that is the subject of Scott's film. He was one ofthe soldiers who died that afternoon —not, however, before doing his best to rescue a downed pilot of a Black Hawk helicopter , Michael Duran. For the eleven days of his captivity Duran's swollen, stricken face on TV haunted Americans. It was thought he would not survive. Gordon may have given his life in vain, but he was undoubtedly a hero. He was the product of five years ofrigorous training as a Western warrior. And although there was very little that was Homeric about the encounter in which he lost his life, Gordon did his duty and won a medal for going beyond the call. But he did not live in the same community of fate as the men who killed him. His body was hideously mutilated. Our world seems to be bifurcated into two. We still have a warrior tradition in the West but what of those we fight? Gone are those bygone days in which we once saw each other as members of a common fraternity, dedicated, perhaps, to each other's death, but holding each other in respect even as we took each other's lives. My paper was addressed purely to Western warriors, and I am grateful to the discussants for pointing out those places where they feel I have erred historically or where I have been too pessimistic for the good of my own argument . We all wish to stress the human factor in war, and all I'm trying to suggest is that we run the risk of decentering it altogether given the attempts by some scientists, and even military professionals, to make war less stressful for those called upon to fight. On the one hand, it is admirable that society should be trying to ensure that a decade or two hence, anxiety, depression, and other affective neuroses that have been essential to the experience ofwar will be optional, like physical pain itself. On the other hand, there's clearly a danger in trying to eliminate low mood states without any clear idea of what unrecognized purpose they may serve. To eliminate fear from the battlefield, to take only one example, would be reduce the support that comes from affirmations of solidarity and friendship, which traditionally have made war life-affirming as well as deadly. Overdrawn my account may be, but there are plenty of depressing trends leading in the direction I have charted. Thus when Mark Bowden, whose book was the inspiration for Ridley Scott's film, interviewed the survivors from the famous firefight of 1993, he was struck by how they lived in an insulated world. Nearly all of them commented upon the fact that they seemed to be involved in a movie (the experience of today's visual soldiers who are trained on simulation machines and spend their childhood playing computer games). They had to keep convincing themselves that the blood and death around them were actually real. They all described feeling out of place, as if they did not belong there; they all experienced feelings of disbelief, anger, and even an ill-defined sense ofbetrayal . "This cannot be real" was the common complaint. Is this likely to be one of the consequences of training soldiers in virtual reality ? Will war become increasingly "unreal" for those who we send out to far off battlefields? War can transform in many ways—it can be a rite of passage, a painful initiation into adulthood; it can make or break an ordinary man who finds himself for the first time in extraordinary circumstances. It can break a man's spirit and ruin him for life, or redeem him from a meaningless existence...


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