Last night, while the new Dordt College football team was winning its first game--historically--I was trying to get ready for class, do some last-minute packing, and take care of a bunch of things that simply had to be done before we take off for this week's break. But the television was on to The War, a PBS documentary by Ken Burns. It's been on for more than a week, and I've watched, not slavishly, in part because I can't watch all that closely.
Twelve years ago, on the anniversary of the end of WWII, I taught a night course titled "Literature of the Holocuast," a subject I once found absolutely fascinating. Just more than 3/4 of the way through that course, I hit an emotional wall that's never really come down. It's not an emotional freeze exactly, but watching Burns' captivating documentary tests my will. Tonight, Iwo Jima. What do we remember but that unforgettable image of the troops raising that flag. But the story is horrifying. It ended in victory, of course, as the war did; but the suffering was beyond comprehension. Some military shrink figured, back then, that a man couldn't take more than 240 days without going completely mad, the film says. How does anyone figure that out? Besides, the film said, most of the boys who were in that long, didn't make it that long.
My father-in-law lived through the Battle of the Bulge; thousands of others didn't. He was in the motor pool, and he didn't see action, just followed it all up. He spent much of the war following the front to Berlin.
I asked my wife tonight if she'd told him about the Burns' film. She shook her head. He was there, but she wasn't sure it would really do the two of them any good to go through all of that again. They were there--Mom too; she lost a boyfriend when he stepped off a landing craft on D-Day. They were there, but they didn't watch.
I really couldn't either, not all of the time.
My wife says that every student on our campus should be forced to watch the film, not as a testimony to bravery and self-lessness, although that story is here in spades, of course. They should watch so they would understand the price that's paid in war. Because it's hell.
Did I mention, Dordt College won its first football game in history last night?--42 to 21. Hundreds were there, I'm sure. And that's good. We need our games, I suppose.