Transcript

195:

War Stories
Transcript

Originally aired 09.28.2001

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. I don't know if you've had this experience. We've all heard all the speeches about how we're going to war, how the war is going to take years. And it's hard to understand what we're in for. Is it going to be attacks and counterattacks, and American cities poisoned with chemical weapons? Or are we talking about a war that doesn't touch most of our lives very often at all, an occasional commando raid in some faraway place, a flash of headlines, not much more. Those are very different scenarios. What does it mean if we get into a war?

I say if, but of course the President and everybody in a suit in Washington DC is saying there is no if at this point. We're going to war. What does it mean? Our program today tries to address that question in four acts. We have a story sorting out exactly what we know right now, today, about what the coming war will be like. Plus stories about the psychology and life during wartime, and how it is different from life during peacetime. And Scott Carrier talks to Americans who are ready to go and die, and send their children to go and die in this coming war. Stay with us.

Act One. The Situation In The Field.

Ira Glass

Act one, The Situation in the Field. So it's been kind of confusing, right? For a few days after the attacks on September 11th, it seemed like we were just on the verge of bombing and retaliation. And we were issuing ultimatums to the Taliban. We were sending aircraft overseas. Now two weeks have gone by, and as our weekend began, nothing had happened. A couple days ago, there were stories on the front page of the New York Times saying essentially that the US still does not have a plan. Does not have a plan, still is not clear about what might be effective.

So to help sort out what exactly we know at this point about the coming war, we are thrilled to welcome Tom Gjelten, an actual NPR correspondent, to our program. He's been covering the story from the Pentagon for National Public Radio. In the past, he's covered wars in Bosnia, Sarajevo, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. He says we know the troops have been moved overseas. We don't know the number, but it's nowhere near what was sent to the Persian Gulf War.

Tom Gjelten

And I think we also know that more specialized units, even commando units, Special Forces, are on the ground in Pakistan now. And there are probably American ground forces and air crews in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Ira Glass

14,000 reservists have been called to service?

Tom Gjelten

So far. It's like the stories-- it used to be we did a story every time we bombed Iraq. And now we don't do that anymore, because we're bombing Iraq like two or three times a week. I used to do a story here, just in the last couple weeks, every time we had a big mobilization. Now we're getting mobilizations every day, I don't even bother to keep tally anymore. We're above 14,000 now. There were 600 or so yesterday, I didn't even pay any attention to it.

Ira Glass

And based on what we know so far, what's our best guess as to what kind of war we're going to be facing over the next few months and years?

Tom Gjelten

I think one of the things about this is that it's going to be a drama of several acts. It's going to go on, and each act is going to be completely different from the one that preceded it. We are now in the first act. And the first act is about chasing the bad guys. It's about going after Osama bin Laden, and it's going to be dramatic, because there are going to be these Special Forces, these American commandos, and there's going to be British commandos. And they're going to be going through the mountains and they're going to be going into caves and trying to find the terrorists hiding in caves.

So that's going to be the first round. But then who knows what the result of that is going to be? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the other day something-- he said a couple things that were really remarkable. He said that this is like playing a game of billiards, where you hit the ball, and then you sort of step back and watch what it careens off. And you sort of hope that in the end, the right thing happens. I mean, we're going into this war really without any idea of what the next round is going to be, and how what we do in this round is going to affect what happens in the next round.

Ira Glass

And when Pentagon officials talk about these commando units, is there a fear that these kind of limited actions will explode into a broader war? How much do they talk about that? How much of a possibility is that?

Tom Gjelten

The people who think about this in strategic terms-- you know in the Pentagon, there are people who have different sort of thinking responsibilities-- and the people who do think about this in strategic terms are very much worried about that, because it's so hard to predict. And we in the United States have drawn this clear distinction between terrorism and Islam. But the truth of it is that I think there are a lot of people in the United States who are worried that any military action is going to be interpreted by people in the Muslim world as an attack on Islam.

And I have to say, there are those who worry about a World War III type scenario, where this just gets out of hand and the United States enrages-- there are 1 billion Muslims in the world. And there are people that worry that this will get out of hand, and it will become this sort of global conflagration.

Ira Glass

And how likely do you view the possibility that it will become a war between the West and Islam as somebody who's watching this closely?

Tom Gjelten

I feel a lot better about that, Ira, right now than I did a week ago. And I feel confident that it's not going to become that in the short run.

Ira Glass

Because of all the alliances the US is being so careful to make with the countries around Afghanistan?

Tom Gjelten

Yes, because the United States, the people that are directing this campaign are aware of that danger. And they are proceeding very carefully. Let's just hope that that focus stays in place.

Ira Glass

The impression from afar, just from those of us just reading the papers and hearing stories on radio and TV, is that there's a lot of really tough rhetoric at the beginning, and since then there's been a very sober and very rational look at the downside to the various actions. And it actually feels like we're proceeding in a very careful way. It's reassuring.

Tom Gjelten

But I have to tell Ira, there's a lot a debate about this.

Ira Glass

Really?

Tom Gjelten

The story's not over yet. There are people in the government who are arguing that the problem with terrorism is not going to be solved unless the states that are in some way sponsoring it are basically overthrown. I mean, there are people who are arguing that this war should be directed against Iraq. There are people who say Syria should become a target. That debate is not yet resolved. I mean, we're still in round one of this thing, and in round one, it's going to be limited. But people say that this is going to go on for years, and who knows what round two or round three or round four will turn into.

Ira Glass

Tom Gjelten covers the Defense Department for NPR's daily news programs.

Act Two. Letters To Home.

Ira Glass

Act two, Letters to Home. So if we're going to war, what is it going to be like? Let us remember what it was like. A guy named Andrew Carroll recently started something called the Legacy Project, collecting letters America's wrote home during wartime. He was sent over 50,000 letters and collected them into a book. He says from the Civil War through the World Wars up through Korea and Vietnam, some things are the same.

Andrew Carroll

In every war, in the beginning you have this sense of urgency, almost the impassioned desire to strike back, to fight, to go overseas. And then gradually, as the young people themselves see what war is truly like, you see an ebbing away of that enthusiasm. And at the end, regardless of the war, even in the so-called noble wars, whether it's the Civil War or World War II, you see a great sense of disgust about what war is, an exhaustion, a fatigue, just a bitterness.

Ira Glass

Let me ask you just to illustrate this idea of how the letters change over time. Can I ask you to read a letter or two that are in your collection in the book, a letter from a man named Sydney Diamond, a lieutenant.

Andrew Carroll

Yeah. I love Sydney Diamond and his fiancee Estelle Spiro. And Sydney would say, he'd say later after he met Estelle that-- I think they were 14 or 16 at the time-- that the second time he walked her home, he knew he'd marry her. And they're just a wonderful couple. And Sydney was gung ho about going off to war. He was a very smart young man, and he volunteered for what would be a very dangerous division.

And he was a very funny guy, and he wrote these very humorous letters to Estelle in the beginning of the war, and he knew that she was upset with him for going off to fight.

Ira Glass

And let's start with a letter that he writes on August 17th. This is still when he's lively and funny and enthusiastic about things. He writes it in the form of a sort of a mock war memo.

Andrew Carroll

Exactly. It's a tongue in cheek memo. And so it's subject, Ms. Estelle Spiro, to the world. Number one, on several occasions there's been questions posed as the rank and authority in the Diamond combat team.

Ira Glass

The Diamond combat team is similarly like him and her?

Andrew Carroll

Yeah, they're a couple.

Ira Glass

Him and her? Them as a couple?

Andrew Carroll

Yeah, the two of them together. Also some people have asked about who is most beautiful. The following paragraphs supersede any previous bulletins on these matters. Number two, commander of the organization will be Miss Estelle, who upon assuming command, will be responsible for the maintenance of discipline amongst her subordinates, in particular Lieutenant Diamond. Ms. Estelle will be charged with the morale and well being of this officer.

Number three, careful studies the photograph to indicate that the CO is by far the most proportioned, most attractive of all models heretofore presented. The mark IAI reveals the following assets: A, irresistible lips; B, clear vision; C, black, long eyelashes; D, long, flowing hair, slightly kinky; E, eyebrows, parenthetically note. One must be careful of these. When they are raised, duck for cover; F, nose, very adaptable for biting, also very pretty; G, ears, be careful of these. They're usually hidden and well camouflaged. If you get too close, you'll be caught by booby trap M-2 earring.

Four, we recommend that this equipment be requisitioned for Lieutenant Diamond's organization, and they get married at the earliest possible moment. Despite Lieutenant Diamond's demonstrated lack of skill in handling this equipment, we feel he is sufficiently interested to study and learn this instrument, its nomenclature, its functions, its use, its quirks and needs. He will be responsible for the care of this instrument. General E. Motors. So this just to give you a sense of his style, his whimsy and--.

Ira Glass

He loves that girl, man.

Andrew Carroll

He loves her. And there are many other letters like this that are very funny in nature. But as the War goes on-- he's over in the Pacific-- you begin to see the change. And a later letter he writes just a few months later, this is Christmas day, 1944.

Ira Glass

Now this is just four months after the letter where he describes the Diamond combat team.

Andrew Carroll

Exactly.

Ira Glass

And he's been in combat since?

Andrew Carroll

Correct. And he's seen when they've gone to some of the islands in the Pacific, they've seen the atrocities committed by the Japanese onto the natives. And this is a letter he writes on Christmas day, and his spirits really couldn't be lower.

Darling, it is difficult at present to be the cold, the practical. Even more it is hard to be humorous or laugh, to joke. I cannot say where we are, what we are doing, what we will do. There's been so much between us unsaid and undone, so much of our lives missed. I would like to fill the air with plans, dreams, hopes, but Estelle, all there is is a choking in the chest. Every once in a while, a guy gets himself overcome by despair. Despondency overwhelms him.

it is so long, so very long. I love you Darling. Whatever happens, be happy. That's my only request. Get everything we would have liked, fill your life, or only keep my little niche open, so if I ever get home, I'll know there's one place waiting for me, my corner of the world. Let it be a small alcove in your heart. Put a comfortable chair there and always keep a warm fire glowing, because if I come home in any recognizable form, I'll head directly for that chair. That's where I belong. That's my home with you. Your Sid.

Ira Glass

Andrew Carroll, who assembled the book War Letters. Just four months after Sid Diamond wrote that letter, his fiancee Estelle Spiro got word that he'd been shot and killed in Manila. The last time she'd seen him was nearly two years before that. Estelle Spiro is now Estelle Lynch, married with two children and two grandchildren, living in Queens, New York. We caught her up, and she was gracious enough to talk with us as a kind of memorial to Sid. That Sid was proud to sign up to fight, she said, so that war was a ridiculous way for people to try to solve disputes. She has a lot of letters from him.

Estelle Lynch

I have 520 odd from World War II, and about another 100 from three years before that.

Ira Glass

Do you read these letters very often at all?

Estelle Lynch

No, actually I didn't. I was afraid to read them until I got interested in the Legacy Project. And then I read all of them, all of them. Every night I'd read a batch.

Ira Glass

And what was that like?

Estelle Lynch

Terrible.

Ira Glass

I would imagine that reading these letters must take the half century since they passed and just make it seem like nothing. It must seem like it happened yesterday.

Estelle Lynch

That's exactly right. It's as though it just happened.

Ira Glass

Were you seeing things in them now reading them that you don't think that you saw at the time?

Estelle Lynch

Well, the yearning for me is just overwhelming. I guess I have seen a couple of places where he expresses regret at hurting me, which of course he felt all along. But I see it very vividly now.

Ira Glass

Regretted hurting you by going?

Estelle Lynch

Yes. And I see expressions like, if I ever come back. Although at the beginning at least, in the first year or so, he always said, I'm coming back, I'm coming back. And then later, I see, if I ever get back.

Ira Glass

You didn't want him to enlist, and he did enlist. How do you feel about that? What do you think about that when you read these letters?

Estelle Lynch

Well, I was very much against it when he went. I still wish he hadn't, and it's not because I didn't believe in what we like to call The Good War. But I thought that he should have waited until he was drafted. He was finishing his third year as an engineering student, and I felt he would have had many more options open to him. He would not have ended up fighting with the infantry, which he did as a member of the chemical warfare service. And I think he'd have had a much better chance of surviving, because I can see from his friends and from my friends, that they went about a year later than he did.

So I can appreciate the fact that he was acting according to principle, and his ideals, and felt it was important to go. But I still wish he hadn't.

Ira Glass

Do you feel like he was able to hold onto his idealism?

Estelle Lynch

At maybe two or three points, he says no more crusades.

Ira Glass

When he says no more crusades, he means no more crusades for him?

Estelle Lynch

No more crusades for him. And then in some other-- I think one of the letters that's in the book, I'm not sure-- he says all you've got in me is a person of blah, blah, blah, blah, and ideals. And when this is over, you won't have any ideals to contend with.

Ira Glass

As the war went on, he felt less and less idealistic about it, and less and less inclined to be part of a crusade. What do you think about that?

Estelle Lynch

Well, again, I have mixed feelings, because I was happy in some degree to feel that he was agreeing that perhaps he shouldn't have gone when he did. On the other hand, I would not have wanted him to suffer by giving up his ideals. There he was, fighting. I think it was better for him to feel that he was fighting for something worthwhile. I can't say more than that.

Ira Glass

Yeah. When you look at the way people are reacting to the idea of going to war again, do you feel like people are embracing it with an eagerness that a generation that lived through a massive war can't, or wouldn't?

Estelle Lynch

As a matter of fact, I guess a day or two after this happened, we went to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner. We were the only people there. The waiter was a very young chap, 21 I guess, Romanian, who had been in this country since he was 11 or 12 I think. And he said, I love this country. I am ready to go to war. And I said, young man, don't be so ready to go to war. If they need you, they'll come and get you. You don't have to put yourself out there. And of course I was thinking of Sid.

A. E. Housman, in one of his poems, said, too full already is the grave of fellows who were good and brave, and died because they were.

Ira Glass

Estelle Lynch. When we were done with our interview, I asked her is she'd like to read one of Sid's letters. The question caught her by surprise. She hadn't chose one in advance, so she just opened to a letter at random. It was writing in New Caledonia in 1943, the month Sid left the US.

Estelle Lynch

I'm located in a large island in the Southwest Pacific. The language spoken on the island is French. Don't think I haven't been brushing up on the little French I once knew. An incident which occurred in town. I struck up a conversation with one of the girl's taking care of a lemonade stand. It was all in French, mind you. I was doing quite well too. She caught sight of your ring, and immediately asked me if I was married. I told her I was engaged, and promptly produced your picture.

Very pretty, she exclaimed. How come all American boys are married or engaged to pretty girls? All I could do was shrug my shoulders. Then I had some ice cream, very watery but good. I feel quite elated at the opportunity to use some French. The difficulty is the few opportunities one has for visiting. My striker, or orderly, knows you. Or should I say your picture by now. As soon as I pulled it out, he remarked, you want it here facing you when you write letters? And that's where you are, a bit in the shadows but still present.

Darling, remember always, I love you. Your Sid.

Ira Glass

Estelle Lynch.

[MUSIC - "REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR" BY SAMMY KAYE AND HIS ORCHESTRA WITH THE GLEE CLUB]

Act Three. What Peacetime Forgets About Wartime.

Ira Glass

Act Three, What Peacetime Forgets About Wartime. At a weekly paper here in Chicago a few years back, The Chicago Reader, a writer named Lee Sandlin wrote a story about what it is that makes wartime different. About the particular psychology of being at war. It was a massive historical article, exhaustively researched. He was interested partly in World War II and why it had been forgotten, and in what it was that had been forgotten. Here's an excerpt. Lee Sandlin's in China, so it was read for us by Matt Malloy.

Matt Malloy

Back when the forest still stretched in an unbroken expanse from Scandinavia to the Urals, the Vikings who inhabited its northernmost reaches wrote down their own stories about war. Their legends may have been garish fantasies, cursed rings and enchanted gold and dragons slayers. But when they wrote about battle, they were unsparingly exact. Their sagas still offer the subtlest and most rigorous accounts of the unique psychology of combat.

They knew that the experience of being on a battlefield is fundamentally different from everything else in life. It simply can't be described with ordinary words, so they devised a specialized vocabulary to handle it. Some of their terms will do perfectly well for a World War fought 1,000 years later. The Vikings knew, for instance, that prolonged exposure to combat can goad some men into a state of uncontrolled psychic fury. They might be the most placid men in the world in peacetime, but on the battlefield, they begin to act with the most inexplicable and gratuitous cruelty.

They become convinced that they're invincible, above all rules and restraints, literally transformed into superman and werewolves. The Vikings called such men berserkers. World War II was filled with instances of ordinary soldiers giving into berserker behavior. In battle after battle, soldiers on all sides are observed killing wantonly and indiscriminately, defying all orders to stop, in a kind of collective blood rage. They were found in every army, even among those that emphasize discipline and humane conduct.

American Marines in the Pacific became notorious for their berserker mentality, particularly their profound lack of interest in taking prisoners. In his memoir, a Marine named Eugene Sledge describes once seeing another Marine in a classic berserker state urinating into the open mouth of a dead Japanese soldier.

Another viking term was fey. People now understand it to mean effeminate. Previously it meant odd, and before that, uncanny, fairy like. That was back when Fairyland was the most sinister place people could imagine. The old Norse word meant doomed. It was used to refer to an eerie mood that would come over people in battle, a kind of transcendent despair. The state was described vividly by an American reporter, Tom Lee, in the midst of the desperate Battle of Peleliu in the South Pacific.

He felt something inside of himself, some instinctive psychic urge to keep himself alive, finally collapse at the site of one more dead soldier in the ruins of a tropical jungle. Lee wrote, he seemed so quiet and empty, and passed all the small things a man could love or hate. I suddenly knew I no longer had to defend my beating heart against the stillness of death. There was no defense. There was no defense, that's fey.

People go through battle willing the bullet to miss, the shelling to stop, the heart to go on beating. And then they feel something in their soul surrender, and they give into everything they've been most afraid of. It's like a glimpse of eternity. Whether the battle is lost or won, it will never end. It has wholly taken over the soul. Sometimes men say afterward that the most terrifying moment of any battle is seeing a fey look on the faces of the soldiers standing next to them.

Feyness might also explain the deepest mystery of the war, why the surrender everybody expected never came. The Germans and Japanese refused to surrender, even though they knew the war was lost. It's possible to quibble about the exact point at which the war was decided, Midway, Stalingrad, Filles, Okinawa. But by some unmistakable point, the autumn of 1942 at the latest, they should have understood that they'd been wrong, and that their prospects for long term victory were zeroing out.

They still had the economic and military strength to sustain their armies in the field indefinitely. But by any rational calculation of the odds, they should have begun hinting through backwater diplomatic channels that they were willing to negotiate a ceasefire. Neither Germany nor Japan ever did so. Not until the last days of the war did either government even consider a negotiated settlement, not until they had absolutely nothing left to negotiate with.

But then that's the point. A rational calculation of the odds is a calculation by the logic of peace. War has a different logic. A kind of vast feyness can infect a military bureaucracy when it's losing a war, a collective slippage at the sense of objective truth in the face of approaching disaster. In the later years of World War II, the bureaucracies of the Axis behind the lines gradually retreated into a dreamy paper war, where they were on the brink of a triumphant reversal of fortune.

Not everybody succumbed to these fantasies. But those who understood how hopeless the situation really was also knew that defeat would mean accountability. And they had a reasonably good idea of what would happen to them if they were ever forced to answer for what they'd done. This is the dreadful logic that comes to control a lot of wars. The American Civil War is another example.

The losers prolong their agony as much as possible, because they're convinced the alternative is worse. Meanwhile, the winners, who might earlier have accepted a compromised peace, become so maddened by the refusal of their enemies to stop fighting that they see no reason to settle for anything less than absolute victory. In this sense, the later course of World War II was typical. It kept on escalating, no matter what the strategic situation was, and it grew progressively more violent and uncontrollable long after the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The difference was that no other war had ever had such deep reserves of violence to draw upon.

The Vikings would have understood all this. They didn't have a word for the prolongation of war long past any rational goal. They just knew that's what always happened. It's the subject of their longest and greatest saga, the Brennu-Njals Saga, or the Saga of Njal Burned Alive. The saga describes a trivial feud in back country Iceland that keeps escalating for reasons nobody can understand or resolve, until it engulfs the whole of Northern Europe. Provocation after fresh provocation, peace conference after failed peace conference, It has its own momentum like a hurricane of carnage.

For the Vikings, this was the essence of war. It's a mystery that comes out of nowhere and grows for reasons nobody can control, until it shakes the whole world apart.

This was the course of World War II from the Fall of 1944 on. After the Allies at last acknowledged that, despite the decisive victories of the previous summer, the Axis was never going to surrender. That was when the Allies changed their strategy. They set out to make an Axis surrender irrelevant. From that winter into the next spring, the civilians of Germany and Japan were helpless before a new Allied campaign of systematic aerial bombardment. The air forces and air defense systems of the Axis were in ruins by then. Allied planes flew where they pleased, day or night, 500 at a time, then 1,000 at a time, indiscriminately dumping avalanches of bombs on every city and town in Axis territory that had a military installation, or a railroad yard, or a factory.

There was no precedent, even in this war, for the destruction on so ferociously a scale. It was the largest berserker rage in history. The Allies routinely dropped incendiary bombs in such great numbers that they created firestorms in cities throughout the Axis countries. These weren't simply large fires. A true firestorm is a freak event, where a large central core of flame heats up explosively to more than 1,500 degrees, and everything within it goes up by spontaneous combustion. Buildings erupt, the water boils out of rivers and canals, the asphalt and the pavement ignites. Immense intake vortices spring up around the core and begin sucking in oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere at hurricane speeds.

The Allied raids reduced cities in minutes to miles of smoking debris. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, about 20% of them children. Tens of thousands suffocated, because in the area around a firestorm, there's no oxygen left to breathe.

Out of idle curiosity, I've been asking friends, people my age and younger, what they know about war. War stories they've heard from their families, facts they've learned in school, stray images that may have stuck with them from old TV documentaries. I wasn't interested in the fine points of strategy, but the key events, the biggest moments, the things people at the time had thought would live on as long as there was anybody around to remember the past. To give everybody a big enough target, I asked about World War II. I figured people had to know the basics. World War II isn't exactly easy to miss. It was the largest war ever fought, the largest single event in history.

So what are the people I ask know about the war? Nobody could tell me the first thing about it. Once they got past who won, they almost drew a blank. All they knew were those big, totemic names, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Auschwitz, Hiroshima. The rest was gone. Kasserine, Leyte Gulf, Corregidor, Filles, the Ardans didn't provoke a glimmer of recognition. They might as well have been off ramps on some exotic interstate.

What had happened, for instance, at one of the war's biggest battles, the Battle of Midway? It was in the Pacific. There was something about aircraft carriers. Wasn't there a movie about it? A couple of people were even surprised to hear that Midway airport in Chicago was named after the battle, though they'd walk past the ugly commemorative sculpture in the concourse so many times. All in all, this was a dispiriting exercise. The astonishing events of that morning at Midway, the quote, "fatal five minutes" on which the War and the fate of the world had hung, had been reduced to a plaque nobody reads at an airport with a vaguely puzzling name midway between Chicago and nowhere at all.

Is it that the War was 50 years ago, and nobody cares anymore about what happened in the past? Maybe so. But I think what my little survey really demonstrates is how vast the gap is between the experience of war and the experience of peace. And there's another and simpler reason the war has been forgotten. People wanted to forget it. It had gone on for so many years, had destroyed so much, had killed so many. Most US casualties were in the final year of fighting. When it came to an end, people were glad to be rid of everything about it.

That was what surprised commentators about the public reaction in America and Europe when the news broke that Germany and then Japan had at last surrendered. In the wild celebrations that followed, nobody crowed, our enemies are destroyed. Nobody even yelled, we've won. What they all said instead was, the war is over. That was the message that flashed around the world in the summer of 1945, the war is over. The war is over.

Ira Glass

Matt Malloy reading from an article by Lee Sandlin that first appeared in The Chicago Reader in March, 1997. Coming up, soccer moms and Sioux warriors in agreement and ready to fight. In a minute, from Public Radio International and WBEZ Chicago, when our program continues.

Act Four. Are You Ready?

Ira Glass

It's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, the coming war and what are we to make of it. We've arrived at act four of our program. Act four, Are You Ready?

Over the last week, Scott Carrier drove 2,000 miles across the country, from his home in Salt Lake City up north and east till he arrived here in Chicago, talking to people about the coming war. If it's part of the American character to be profoundly skeptical, and another part to be boldly patriotic, he found both tendencies, often in the very same person.

Scott Carrier

Hate is a complex emotion, hard to understand. There's the hate in other people, and there's the hate inside, hiding at the bottom of my heart, both shown at once by the building's collapsing. The best advice I heard was from a friend, who said that thinking was out of the question for a while. But it's hard not to think. And after 10 days, I got in my truck and drove north towards Yellowstone. The leaves would be changing, and the air might bite. The air is clear, and light as sharp as a diamond.

170 miles, I stopped in Afton, Wyoming in the Star Valley, home of Olympic gold medal wrestler, goofy Rulon Gardner. It was evening, getting dark, and I saw lights from a playing field, and stopped to watch a soccer game and talk to some people in bleachers.

Shane Ogenson

OK, I'm Shane Ogenson. We're in Star Valley, Wyoming. It's kind of a small rural area. Most of the economy is based on dairy farming and whatnot.

Scott Carrier

How old are you?

Shane Ogenson

I'm 18.

Scott Carrier

So the question I'm asking everybody is, are you ready to go to war?

Shane Ogenson

I think it's scary. And I'm draftable, so if it does turn into something that's major or something, then I could be shipped off to someplace I don't want to go and doing something that I don't really want to do.

Scott Carrier

So are you ready to go to war? No, you're not.

Shane Ogenson

If my country needs me, I'll go. I think it's my responsibility as an America. If my country needs me, I'll go and I'll die for my country, and I'll be proud of it. But I'm not sure if I support the exact cause of why we'd be fighting this war. I mean, I think the perpetrators should be punished, but I'm not sure if going to war is going to solve that, especially when you don't have any specific real enemy to be going after.

Jenny Hanson

My name is Jenny Hanson, and we're in Afton, Wyoming at my 15 year old's soccer game. Am I ready to go to war? I believe that if it's going to make the world a safer place to live, if you can eliminate terrorism, yeah, I would support it. Yeah, I mean, I have five sons, and it's scary to even think about going to work, but that's the price of freedom.

Scott Carrier

Even if it meant your own sons going to war?

Jenny Hanson

Yeah, even if it meant my own sons. That's scary, but all the other mothers would have to sacrifice their sons too. And there'll be those that will run, but that's their choice. But to me, the price of freedom is through sacrifice.

Scott Carrier

I drove through one of the southern entrances to Yellowstone Park at midnight. I pulled off the road on some kind of dirt loop and slept, waking up in the early morning looking straight at Mt. Moran, the Teton with a white tongue of snow, a [UNINTELLIGIBLE] down the center of the eastern face. In an hour, I was at the northern end of Yellowstone Lake, the water clear and quiet, the rocks along the shore palm sized, round and dark, perfect for throwing, not for skipping, but at another man's head.

I follow the Yellowstone River to Mammoth Hot Springs, out of the park, and down Paradise Valley to Deep Creek, where I stopped to talk to Doug Peacock.

Doug Peacock

My name is Doug Peacock, and we're sitting in my front yard, which is an old farmhouse with a huge cottonwood tree that's dying, and we're in the shade of the cottonwood right now. If I learned anything from Vietnam, it's just that there was no enlightenment at homicide. And what finally sent me over the edge was the Tet Offensive where my little A-Camp-- I was a Green Beret medic-- and my little A-Camp, the Viet Cong drove a couple hundred civilians across the river, and our A-Camp called in gunships on them. And about 180 women and children were killed and wounded. And I was the only medic there, and I spent my last two weeks in Vietnam splicing back together bodies.

And that pushed me over the edge. And I just realized that either I was going to have to live the rest of my life with an eye for an eye notion, or to retain any trace of humanity, I was going to have to really suffer with this. The enemy is within, and it's within all of us. And I think the greatest thing we could do, having been the victim, finally we've been the victim, is to realize that our own hands are not that clean at all. I think the most courageous thing we could do is not strike back at all, not strike back. No eye for an eye. Defeat hate, and you can't do that by war and violence, you've got to do it by love. And you get there, I think, by looking at the sufferings of others, even the ones we don't like out there.

Scott Carrier

I remembered reading in Blackout Speaks, or maybe Great Plains by Ian Frazier that Crazy Horse, when he was killed, was trying to get back to the Powder River on the Northwest side of the Black Hills. But he was stabbed, held by a friend and bayoneted in the back at Fort Robinson, way on the other side of the mountains. I asked Peacock how to get to the Powder River, and he got out a map and showed me. He said, on your way, go through Plenty Coups and stop at the museum. Plenty Coups was a Crow chief who sided with the US cavalry against their traditional enemies, the Sioux and the Cheyenne.

I found the museum 150 miles to the east, 40 miles down a dirt road, and when I walked in, the woman at the desk said, are you lost? Which made me laugh hard like an idiot, and I said, I wish. Her name was Bernadette Smith.

Scott Carrier

Are you ready to go to war?

Bernadette Smith

No, I'm not ready to go to war. But we have to protect our citizens, so if war is inevitable, then I will support it.

Scott Carrier

Do you have any relatives who might be going?

Bernadette Smith

I have a-- oh, I shouldn't tell you this.

Scott Carrier

That's all right, you don't have to.

Bernadette Smith

My nephew is in Marine reserves, and he's in Bulgaria now. He's in a reconnaissance battalion. And he called-- he said the next time we heard from him would probably be through his Staff Sergeant.

Scott Carrier

She's kind of hard to understand because she's crying, but she's saying that her nephew, whom she raised as a son, called and said goodbye. That the next call she'd get would be from a Staff Sergeant, saying he'd been killed.

Bernadette Smith

He's a paratrooper, and he's probably the first to go in when you go in searching for somebody. And pride themselves on--.

Scott Carrier

How do you feel about that?

Bernadette Smith

I personally don't like it, but kids are raised. They have their dreams, they want to be macho, they want to save their country. He's a Crow Indian, and he wants to help save the tribe and promote peace, so what can you do but support him? That's not what you raised him for, but if that's one of their goals, you just have to accept it.

Scott Carrier

The battlefield of the Little Big Horn is 60 miles east of the Plenty Coups Museum, still in Montana. It looks just like it does in the movies, a pathetic knob on a grass prairie, a lonely place to be slaughtered. There are crosses marking where Custer and his brother fell, along with all of his men, more than 260, mostly immigrants. They ran out of bullets and were scalped. There's a museum there as well, and inside there are three of Custer's uniforms. He was a small man, I'm guessing no bigger than 5'4" and 130 pounds.

Bill Bennett

My name is Bill Bennett. We're traveling through Custer National Park right now. There's a national cemetery here. The cemetery houses veterans of clear back to Spanish American War, clear up to the Korean War. Let's pray and hope that we don't have any from the Taliban War that may eventually be buried here. I lived in Iran for two and a half years when the Afghan coup in 1978 came.

Scott Carrier

Why were you over there in Iran at that point?

Bill Bennett

I was a maintenance adviser to the Iranian Air Force when they were attempting to get their Air Force up to comparable Air Force to the United States government on their F-16s and F-4s, and some of those things back in the late '70s. And I've driven across Afghanistan, so I got a pretty good feel for the country and the mountains. And I think for them to put troops on the grounds in there, with that type of terrain and everything, is going to be disastrous.

The terrain in the northern part there is very, very mountainous, And in the desert it's just high brush. And to give you an example, we were driving a Chevrolet Blazer across there, and another couple was with us. We drive across the flat plain, and just nothing but brush and sand as far as the eye could see. We'd stop and pull off the road and put the back door of the Blazer down and get some drinks and some sandwiches or something out, and in 10 minutes, there'd be two or three men standing around us. And they had these sandy colored leather coverings on, and you couldn't see them. You'd never ever see them out in the desert.

And they were curious enough that when we stopped, they'd come up. They wouldn't take any water, they wouldn't take anything. How they lived out there, I don't have any idea. But as proven by the Russians being in there, that's why they whipped the Russians, because you just don't see them.

Scott Carrier

So if you were called-- I realize you are past that age, but if you were of age and you were called now, would you go?

Bill Bennett

Of course I would, you betcha. Every time they play the National Anthem, I get a tear in my eye. I'm as true an American as you'll ever find.

Scott Carrier

Pine Ridge Reservation for the Oglala Lakota is on the High Plains, on the eastern side of the Black Hills, South Dakota. Wounded Knee is there, the site of the 1890 massacre of 300 men, women, and children wiped out for ghost dancing. The town of Pine Ridge has a distinct Third World feel to it. One taco stand, a gas station run out of a mobile home, a grocery store with sale prices painted on butcher paper and stapled to the walls outside, some coming apart in the wind and blowing around the parking lot.

I was standing next my truck in the parking lot, drinking a Pepsi, and there were two men in a beat up Monte Carlo next to me. The one in the passenger seat called over. Hey, hey, my friend wants to see your badge. Somehow I got them to agree to an interview.

George Rester

Hello. My name is George Rester. I'm 37 seven years old. I am from Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Scott Carrier

So the question I've been asking everybody is, are you ready to go to war?

George Rester

Of course. Oglala Lakota are always warriors. We won't lay down. It's going to happen. No fear, we'll do it.

Scott Carrier

Would you personally sign up?

George Rester

Well, I've been to Panama, the Gulf. I will do it again.

Scott Carrier

You're a veteran?

George Rester

Yeah.

Scott Carrier

So what do you think about the war on terrorism. How do you feel about it?

George Rester

It's a senseless cause. An enemy you can reach and touch and kill. But this one, faceless.

Scott Carrier

Why are you so willing to support it, if it's a war like that?

George Rester

Because of the flag. My dad served in World War I, World War II. Patriotism, that's what it is.

Scott Carrier

But you're willing to go because of the warrior tradition?

George Rester

Yeah, of course.

Scott Carrier

It's the idea of fighting and--

George Rester

It's the adrenaline flow of reaching inside another person's body and pulling their heart out when it's sill beating, that's what it is.

Scott Carrier

Driving across South Dakota, I can't remember it. The Missouri was dammed into a reservoir, I do remember that. Maybe I drove most of it at night. I know I woke up in southern Minnesota, found a town, and stopped at a restaurant that opened early.

Chuck Murphy

Chuck Murphy from Blue Earth, Minnesota. We're in a restaurant called Hamilton's. We meet down here on Sunday morning, we call it our Sunday School. We still all go to church, but it's just something we do. We get together.

Scott Carrier

So the question I've been asking everybody is, are you ready to go to war?

Man

I think we should go to war.

Scott Carrier

How come? So how about you sir?

Chuck Murphy

Well, I don't know, it's about-- I think it is really going to be good for this country. It's going to bring everybody together, it is. Because I think what had happened before is we started going in our own separate directions. People were doing this and doing that, and this has just plain brought the country back together. And I think it's going to be a whole different country from now on.

Scott Carrier

Driving around, listening to talk radio, it didn't seem to me like the country was becoming more united.

Mike Gallagher

Frankly I'm shocked at what I'm hearing from you, I can't believe that you're so un-American. [INTERPOSING VOICES] And you're attacking-- oh, free speech, my foot. [INTERPOSING VOICES] I'm starting to get livid at your attacks on the United States of America and this president.

Female Caller

I'm not attacking this country.

Mike Gallagher

You have been.

Female Caller

I support this country. I don't know why you have me on.

Mike Gallagher

I don't either. You're right, that's the first smart thing you've said. Get her off the phone. Goodbye. 1-800-655-MIKE, I don't know why I had her on either. You know, there's no room for that kind of voice right now in America. We don't need her. Go over to Afghanistan and--

Ryan Walden

I'm Ryan Walden, and I'm a biologist here at Northeastern Iowa. And this is a hawk watch weekend, and I do educational programs with birds of prey.

Scott Carrier

Has your life changed since the Tuesday attack?

Ryan Walden

Yes, as a matter of fact it has, and in a very strange way. One of the items that I talk about in the program, and I've done my program since 1970, is that the call of the barn owl sounds like a hysterically screaming woman. No one has ever commented on that before, and yet yesterday, there were two complaints registered that I had said that.

Scott Carrier

Can you understand that?

Ryan Walden

I think that it's absolutely totally and completely ridiculous. Will I change? Yes, simply because I am paid to be here, and my job is to educate people are not to offend them. But I think that the American people should stop whining about Mickey Mouse things such as that, and get some handle on what is really important.

Scott Carrier

The wind had been blowing hard from the north, coming down from Canada, and it clouded up and started to rain. I crossed the Mississippi at Prairie du Chien, Prairie of Dog, Wisconsin, headed for Madison through farm country, rolling fields of corn, waves of corn, big silos and barns. I saw two Amish boys walking down the road, and I pulled into a driveway and waited for them to come up to me.

Scott Carrier

Come up here a little closer.

Amish Boy

Do we have to do this now? I mean, our religion is-- we'd just as well stay away from it if we can, but you got to have our advice?

Scott Carrier

I don't have to have your advice. I'm asking you for it.

Amish Boy

Well, we will consciously object to fighting with firearms. All we know is what the neighbors are saying. We have no electricity. We get a weekly newspaper, but we do not know what's going on out there.

Scott Carrier

What have you heard?

Amish Boy

Well, we've heard that the planes crashed in New york. We've heard there were a lot of people lost. We pray for you in our churches, but we are not involved in your-- we are not involved in this.

Scott Carrier

Now I'm in Chicago, staying at the Hotel InterContinental on the 25th floor. From my window, I can look across and see the flying buttresses on top of the Tribune Building, a building with stones mortared into its base from battlefields, monuments, and temples from around the world. One from the Great Wall of China, one from the Coliseum in Rome. Stones from the Islands of Corregidor and Guam, from Pearl Harbor, one from the Little Big Horn in Yellowstone Park. Even a rock from Indian Joe's Cave along the Mississippi River, and a section of a California Redwood.

It's late at night. There's one car on Grand Avenue all the way to Navy Pier, reaching out into Lake Michigan. A drunk crossing the street and stumbling at the curb, falling down on the sidewalk and getting up, staggering towards home. It's a beautiful night, moon half full. I keep forgetting. I keep forgetting watching the buildings come down. But they did come down, and now we're going to war. More limbs blown off, guts exploded open, eyes gouged out and heads chopped off.

I remember listening to the beginning of the Bears Viking game driving into town on Sunday. I realize that you shouldn't go into a fight thinking you might lose or thinking you might win, or wondering whether what you're doing is right or wrong. The best advice is to not think at all.

Ira Glass

Scott Carrier.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, a huge big thanks today to Jerome McDonald and Andrea Wenzel of WBEZ's program World View. Also thanks to Joe Richmond, Allison True, Carrie Maninetti, John Dorner, John Connors, Barry Glass, and Mike Black at WEOS in Geneva, New York. Jason Bitner played our folk cover of the song War. Scott Carrier's story was supported by hearingvoices.com, with funds provided by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who in these hard times is trying not to say anything offensive.

Ryan Walden

Simply because I am paid to be here, and my job is to educate people and not to offend them.

Ira Glass

That's right. I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.