A different kind of war

I felt like reading some Bukowski over lunch. I landed on the poem Mademoiselle from Armentieres. It’s a contrast between old wars and new wars. All boys like to romanticise war. There’s something in our DNA that makes us want to run around the neighbourhood playing army-man, cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, and I guess these days autobots and decepticons. World War One was the backdrop of Bukowski’s youth.

hell, I remember when I was a kid it
was 10 or 15 years after World War One was over,
we built model planes of Spads and Fokkers,
we bought Flying Aces magazines at the newsstand
we knew about Baron Manfred von Richthofen
and Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker
and we fought in dream trenches with our dream rifles
and had dream
bayonet fights…

But after Korean and Vietnam, war somehow got dirty and became useless and ordinary “Just a job like sweeping the streets or picking up the garbage.” Gone was the romance of war.

And here’s the bit that really hit me between the eyes. The youth of today face a different kind of war, one that’s perhaps a little more insidious because it isn’t as obvious. Instead of dreaming of war:

they’d rather go watch a Western or hang out at the
mall or go to the zoo or a football game, they’re
already thinking of college and automobiles and wives
and homes and barbecues, they’re already trapped
in another kind of dream, another kind of war,
and I guess it won’t kill them as fast, at least not


Years ago, I read Susan Faludi’s book Stiffed: The Betrayal of Modern Man and she reckoned men no longer know how to be men anymore, that we are going through a male crisis having been stripped of the iron men of World War One and World War Two vintage. Manly men. Men who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty doing an honest days work. Men who didn’t cry, who drank too much, and stayed miles away from seeing the inside of a baby delivery room.
Faludi makes the point that with the loss of rites of passage like conscription, or being an apprentice to a skilled craftsmen, boys lost they’re way to becoming men.

For women it’s different she says. The coming of girl’s period marks the transition from girl to woman. Mother Nature didn’t bless us with that gift.

Instead, men had to invent rites of passage to signal the shift from boy to man.

What serves as our rites of passage now?

I was fortunate enough to transition from boy to man courtesy of the U.S. Army. “We’re gonna tear you down and build you back up, make you a lean mean fightin’ machine!”

it was wrong but World War One was fun for us
it gave us Jean Harlow and James Cagney
and “Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parley-Voo?”
it gave us
long afternoons and evenings of play

Welcome to manhood!


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