What is war and glory?
Sometimes I am asked by students to check out someone’s web site or video. When I do I am often surprised at the ‘warrior’ stories that many martial artists have to tell about themselves. Whether real or contrived I find it odd to brag about fighting. This got me into thinking about real warriors I have known; those who have actually fought in wars and had to kill to survive. One of the most striking things about these people is that none of them, ever, has bragged about their war time experience to me.
My father fought in the pacific Theater in WW2. He was one of the first Navy frogmen and one of the founders of what would later become the Navy Seals. He was an amazing swimmer and used to tow his children, 11 of us, around a lake when we were on vacation. He would tie a rope to his waist and then tie it to inner tubes and take us on a trip. When we were at the shore he would go for his swim by walking into the water and then swimming straight out, out of sight. He’d return and hour later and go back to reading his book. He never talked about the war. He was also in the Korean War.
His brother Frank, a priest, was a prisoner in the Philippines in a Japanese concentration camp for 4 years. His brother Dick, also a priest, was later interred there and when the liberating American army came in their brother John was in the force that swept in. Frank never talked about his time there. In 1969 my cousin and I drove out to see him in Arizona where he was recovering from emphysema. During our 2 day stay there he told me many stories about the years in the camp and how he would sneak out and was a coast watcher. All of his stories were about funny things that happened there and tricks he would pull on his fellow prisoners. There were no stories of glory or honor.
My neighbor down the street is Gene Guarnere. His father is Wild Bill Guarnere of “Band of Brothers” fame. I had not seen the series but I knew of the fame of his father and his legendary record. One day when Gene was driving by I flagged him down and asked him, “Gino, before the HBO series came on what did you know about your father’s war record”? Gene grinned and shook his head and said, “Jo, Jo, nothing, zero”. His father had never, not once, discussed his war experiences with his son; he learned them watching the show.
Once when I was talking to a Medal of Honor winner from Vietnam I asked him if he talked about his war experience and he replied, “Brother, I’d rather talk about life then killing”.
So I wonder, why do those who were not in wars and technically not warriors, want to brag about their fighting? Maybe they don’t know the real tragedy and senselessness of violence. To have to fight is a failure of both reason and compassion though it is some times necessary to do. Why brag about failure?
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. Isaac Asimov
Mental bearing (calmness), not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai. A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant. Tsukahara Bokuden.
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