COLUMN: A Malat Musing: Candles in the Windows

Updated: 05/06/2014 1:46 PM By: Phil Malat

“Neither enemy faces, nor the mothers that love them, come to mind when one is thinking of nothing but endeavoring to survive. Philosophizing about war is useless under fire.”

Linda Berdoll,
Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife, 2004

As the Afghan war marches on so to do the number of American lives lost in the conflict. The media has chosen to never place these losses “center stage” in their reporting. Even after the so-called pullout in January of next year America we will still leave a contingency of American forces and advisors on Afghan soil. These troubling realities give pause for reflection.

During the Second World War the whole country was invested. We willingly sacrificed much for the war effort - rubber, fuel, scrap metal, our time and most of our resources. Our commitment and determination were unmatched.  We also sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives.  A candle would burn in the windows of the homes where loved ones were lost in combat. There were constant reminders of the awful inhumanity of the enterprise. No such reminders or commitment exists today. 

While Americans are still fighting and dying on foreign soil the wars we fight today are very different. They are far more complex. The enemy is not primarily a soldier carrying a weapon but an ideology born of thousands of years of hatred and conflict. There are no enemy lines.  We can no longer measure success by the amount of land we occupy. These are conflicts that seemingly will have no end. There will be no armistice, no accords, no diplomatic solutions, hence, no formal end to hostilities. Those days are gone. 

What remains is the same the mindset required by our troops seventy years ago. Without this mindset there would be little chance of surviving this living hell. Our literature, documentaries, news programs, and even our entertainment have addressed it on countless occasions.

This attitude to survive was most accurately and dramatically depicted in the opening monolog of the movie “Patton.”  “The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood.  Shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that was a moment before your best friends face – you’ll know what to do.” It is a mindset that is the complete opposite of the one demanded when living in civilized society. There is no room for dignity, compassion or humanity. This war mentality is fueled by hatred - a hatred of those who would kill you, your comrades and your family.  Without this mindset a soldier knows he is destined not just to lose the battle but ultimately, to lose his life.

For those who may have been reluctant to adopt this mindset the harsh reality of its importance was best validated by the most powerful scenes ever filmed – the taking of Omaha Beach in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” The aftermath of hatred produced by that carnage led to our soldiers killing German soldiers who had surrendered.  In civilized society, those Germans would have been classified as victims of cold blooded murder. In war, they are casualties.

Hitler committed suicide and ordered his body be burned to prevent the Russians from torturing and publicly defiling him. That’s war.

America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima killing between 90,000 to 166,000 and on Nagasaki killing another 60,000 to 80,000.  That’s war.

Then in January of last year four servicemen were caught on video urinating onto three bloodied Taliban bodies in Afghanistan. Outrage was expressed to the point of demanding the soldiers be dismissed from the corps. What is striking is that we now live in a time when such a suggestion is not viewed as being far more outrageous than the Marines behavior. 

Before we send any Marines packing for displaying their hatred of an enemy sworn to kill them, we night want ask the families of the 4,500 Americans killed in Iraq how they would view such a decision. No such question would have even been considered during the Second World War. 

This whole episode further validates how today’s lack of involvement distorts thinking.  We no longer have a draft so most Americans are no longer invested in our bloodbaths. We want no part of it and because those candles no longer burn in windows we have become comfortable with election campaigns that ignore this inhumanity and primarily focus on our pocketbooks and silly social issues while American body bags mount up. We give a lot of lip service to supporting our troops but there is little commitment to saving their lives.     

Those of us who find all of this disturbing have come to know this great inhumanity to man as evil.  But make no mistake, this; “Wade into them - Spill their blood - Shoot them in the belly” mindset must flourish and be instilled if we are to ask our sons and daughters to fight and die. To attempt to punish them or attempt to publicly humiliate them for adopting and developing this survival mentality is counterproductive and dangerous. 

Like it or not, there will never be a humane war. That humanity has, and always will be, a direct result of our own personal investment and sacrifices which today, is almost exclusively borne by the mothers left to bury our soldiers.  

Phil Malat is a columnist for