By Daniel M. Ryan
Rumors and speculation are being floated around, to the effect that the United States is going to be ramping up the war effort by invading Iran, opening up the possibility that Canada will be ramping up the troop levels for this one too through dipping into the civvie pool. This impending hypothetical, one which posits a real full-scale war on the horizon, has given me a case of all-Canadian war guilt, an affliction that becomes more hobbling as I grow older and more decrepit.
Had I been in my twenties, and of sound mind and body, I would hardly be bothered by such guilt; instead, I'd be worried. I'm an intellectual, and as such, I lead a sedentary life in a certain subculture, one where reading, writing and obedience to the text are the norms. Trading in such a life for the more physically rigorous and mentally focused tasks that are obligatory in the military would put an end to a pretty nice life mode. Instead of waking up when I'm finished sleeping, I'd have to get up when ordered to, right on command. Instead of wandering to and fro from task to task, I'd have to pursue a more structured path. Instead of fantasizing about what a hero I could have been, I would be confined to fantasizing about extra sleep time. Instead of having my worth measured by correct answers on tests, I would be graded on skills that I might genuinely below average at. And, I'd have to accept such gradings, without tears or scheming.
Given my inclinations, it is very possible that I would be dropped into the slow track, and thus be reconciled to my former bootmates moving up the chain of command at a faster rate than I. In experiencing this, I would see, plainly, what is really valued by the military, in action, conduct and (yes) thought. Since I would merely be a war inductee, I would have to acclimatize myself to a way of life that is largely strange to me, in which strangers of a different type belong. I would have to re-invent myself as a plain extrovert, quickly.
Of course, there is the possibility that I would have had a hidden flair for this way of life. I could, like Lt. Col. T.E. Lawrence, move from scholar to talented scholar-warrior, and thus face the possibility of moving from the reading of Victor Davis Hanson's writings to experiencing them, through blurting out "take no prisoners" as Mr. Lawrence did.
The way that I am, though, leaves such worries in the bounds of fantasy. I'm actually thirty-seven, with a previously broken left arm – spiral fracture at the elbow, snaperoo at the wrist. On a good day, as a result, I can muster two push-ups, not the 15-20 I could do beforehand, even though it's been more than 15 months since I fractured the thing.
No surprise as to why I'm coming down with a case of war guilt. All I have to do is wave my age and previous injury to an induction board – even a conscription board – and I'm outta there, free to stay a civvie. I don't have to worry about getting killed on the battlefield, even though a younger, or healthier, likeness of me would. All aspersions amounting to "coward" can be waved away by my brandishing my left arm as if it were a magic wand.
I won't have to worry about maintaining and using a rifle. I won't have to pick up the bodily skill needed to keep the thing from clomping me in the jaw (or chest) after firing it. I won't have to give up the delusion that a loaded gun is a magic wand of a different sort.
I can enjoy the entertainment provided by the mainstream media without being disturbed. After seeing a plot or subplot featuring a home invasion by a terrorist, like the one that was recently featured in the 24 season-opener special, I won't be disturbed into making fallback plans against the hazard of such an incident taking place in my own domicile. I don't have to mull over what to do should my home be invaded by an aggressive incursionary who's armed when I'm not.
I can stay in a heated, or sometimes air-conditioned, place and go about my work quietly. I don't have to worry about my performance being degraded as a result of being transferred to a hostile environment, one where air conditioning and sometimes, even heat (and, occasionally, regular meals) are unnecessary luxuries. I can sit any future conflict out, in the comfort of a peaceable home and neighbourhood. I don't even have to endure the shame of being looked down upon because I couldn't cut it on the front lines.
Yes, I have to admit that these thoughts do make me feel guilty. It's easy to be bellicose when it's safe, and it's almost as easy to fool myself into thinking that I'm a vital part of any war effort when I just sit around, read, and occasionally write. I can even kid myself into thinking that my chronological age gives me some sort of inherent right to send off my age-juniors into a war that I'll never have to fight. The trouble is, my war guilt gets in the way of such vanities. It reminds me that the decision to support or not to support a major war is one that is, in fact, a heavy responsibility that I sometimes take lightly.