Friday, March 15, 2013

A Quote That Says It All

My last post reviewed two books by Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.  One scene in the former pretty much summed up the whole infantry experience for me.  Simply put, grunts are different from the rest of the world.  Anyone who has not been an infantryman will never understand that reality. 

Some set up:  the Bravo grunts are being celebrated during halftime of a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day.  They are eating lunch in one of the members only dining areas when approached by a middle aged oilman.  Dime is the squad sergeant. 

They’re interrupted by a Stadium Club patron who wants to say hello.  It’s never the young or middle-aged men who stop to speak but always the older guys, the silverbacks secure in the fact that they’re past their fighting prime.  They thank the soldiers for their service.  They ask how is lunch.  They offer praise for such assumed attributes as tenacity, aggressiveness, love of country.  This particular patron, a fit, ruddy fellow with some black still in his hair, introduces himself with a lavish trawling of vowels that comes out sounding lake “How-Wayne.”  Soon he’s telling them about the bold new technology his family’s oil company uses to juice more crude out of the Barnett Shale, something to do with salt water and chemical fracturing agents.
 “Some of my friends’ kids are serving over there with you,” How-Wayne tells them.  “So it’s a personal thing with me, boosting domestic production, lessening our dependence on foreign oil.  I figure the better I do my job, the sooner we can bring you young men home.”

“Thank you, Dime responds.  “That’s just excellent, sir.  We certainly do appreciate that.”

“I’m just trying to do my part.”  And that was cool, Billy will later reflect.  If he’d just said enjoy your meal like everybody else and returned to his lucrative patriotic life, but not, he got greedy.  He had to squeeze just a little bit more from Bravo.  So, he says, just from your own perspective, how do you think we’re doing over there?”

“How’re we doing?” Dime echoes brightly.  “Just from our own perspective?”  The Bravos fold their hand and look down at their plates, though several can’t help smiling.  Albert cocks his head and pockets his BlackBerry, suddenly interested.  “Well, it’s a war,” Dime continues in that same bright voice, “which is by definition an extreme situation, people trying very hard to terminate each other.  But I’m far from qualified to speak to the big picture, sir.  All I can tell you with any confidence is that the exchange of force with intent to kill that is truly a mind-altering experience, sir.”

I’m sure, I’m sure.”  How-Wayne is gravely nodding.  “I can imagine how hard it is on you young men.  To be exposed to that level of violence—.”

“No!”  Dime interrupts.  “That’s not it at all!  We like violence, we like going lethal!  I mean, isn’t that what you’re paying us for?  To take the fight to America’s enemies and sent them straight to hell?  If we didn’t like killing people then what’s the point?  You might as well send the Peace Corps to fight the war.”

“Ah-ha,” How-Wayne chuckles, though his smile has lost some wattage.  “I guess you’ve got me there.”

“Listen, you see these men?” Dime gestures around the table.  “I love every one of these mutts like a brother, I bet I love them more than their mommas even, but I’ll tell you frankly, and they know how I feel so I can say this right in front of them, but just for the record, this is the most murdering bunch of psychopaths you’ll ever see.  I don’t know how they were before the Army got them, but you give them a weapons system and a couple of Ripped Fuels and they’ll blast the hell out of anything that moves.  Isn’t that right, Bravo?”

They answer instantly, with gusto, Yes, Sergeant!  Throughout the restaurant, dozens of well-coifed heads whip around.

“See what I mean?” Dime chortles.  “They’re killers, they’re having the time of their lives.  So if your family’s oil company wants to frack the living shit out of the Barnett Shale, that’s fine, sir, that’s absolutely your prerogative, but don’t be doing it on our account.  You’ve got your business and we’ve got ours, so you just keep drilling, sir and we’ll keep on killing."
“I’ve gotta go,” How-Wayne mumbles, glancing around as if checking his escape route.  Don’t talk about shit you don’t know, Billy thinks, and therein lies the dynamic of all such encounters, the Bravos speak from the high ground of experience.  They are authentic. They are the Real.  They have dealt much death and receive much death and smelled it and held it and slopped through it in their boots, had it spattered on their clothes and tasted it in their mouths.  That is their advantage, and given the masculine standard America has set for itself it is interesting how few actually qualify.  Why we fight, yo, who is this we?”   Here in the chicken-hawk nation of blowhards and bluffers, Bravo always has the ace of bloods up its sleeve.
 The lesson:  Don't talk about shit you don't know.

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