The Boredom of War?

“War is the most boring thing you can possibly experience. But it makes you into a connoisseur of boredom.” – Scott Beauchamp, Did You Kill Anyone?

A friend Scott Beauchamp publishing a book on the boredom of war.

Connoisseur of boredom? No, when I think back on my involvement in the Viet Nam conflict from 1968-70 in the jungles of South-East Asia, boredom is not the word I would use to describe my own virulent and nihilistic experience. At 68 and surviving Nam the brutal truth of war leaves a permanent mark and scar across one’s life, after such violence there is no return, no return to one’s childhood, no return to what one was… one comes back as one of the living dead; angered, alone, and numb. Boredom has nothing to do with it, only silence and nightmares. Shock and trauma, not boredom. A blank in one’s life, not a memory; a place of no place, a visit to the hell of humanity; a farce perpetrated by fear mongers over an ideological crazed and apocalyptic culture of war and death: America in the Sixties…. domino theories and Red Scares; cultural paranoia and the mad schemes of the Cold War. I can assure you I didn’t as Scott seems to have “see patterns in my mind of the boredom itself,” rather my mind was blasted with a 24/7 splatterpunk reality on steroids, a world where sleeping was neither acceptable nor required. It was a gore fest with repeats from hill to hill in a jungle we all knew as burger hill… boredom? No boredom is not the right word: insanity, that is the word that comes to mind for me after all those years.

I’ll admit reading Scott’s words below and the essay seemed too cerebral, too distant from the world I experienced. Why? Why two opposing experiences of war? Is it landscape? The difference between jungle and desert? The difference between the era when Hypertechnological warfare was just beginning (Viet Nam), as compared to the Videogame Wars of the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts when drones and robots entered the arena of conflict? Soldiers with cyborgian appendages and specialized armor and weapons, skydrones and satellites to earmark enemy, etc. Viet Nam was a murderous war where the Cong and its victims used advanced methods of ancient primitive wars: tunnels, villages, night. While the good ole U.S.A. (insert: sardonic smile!) used napalm, fragmentation bombs, and a general clusterfuck of deadly methods and strategies to ill-effect. We learned the hard way that if a people truly believes in what they are and in their lands they will overcome the technological systems of a greater power. America has yet to learn that! A world that was suborned by politicians waging an endless stupidity for some lost ideology of freedom become endless war and enslavement rather than liberation and emancipation (whatever those terms mean anymore?). No Viet Nam and these desert wars were far apart in their strategies and politics; and, yet, the same old imperial aggression by a segment in American society,  using the age old ploy of patriotism and nationalism, democracy and idealism to run a bloody death machine for ten years only to walk away and leave its allies in the hands of death squads and mayhem. No wonder I’m a half-crocked, half-baked madman to this day…

The cost of Viet Nam sent us into a recession for ten fucking years… don’t let me even get into the economics of war. Needless to say I returned to a world that saw me as a criminal to be ostracized, not a victim of politics; rather its enforcer and perpetrator. People I grew up with thought of me as a rabid killer, a madman who became a monster in those jungles. I half believe I did. The supposed readjustment to society, the so called transition phase was itself another great disaster, a catastrophe of false psychologies and an even greater fear of us who had served in those jungles. We were a ghost brigade, zombies ready to murder our own countrymen… at least that’s the way people seemed to fear us. So yea all this crapology has once again opened an old wound in me, one that will never go away till the day I die. But, hell, I’m already dead, so what does it matter.

There’s a reason most of us that were in the Nam don’t speak and keep silent: anger, fear, and hatred. The hauntings of comrades lost, friends dead and gone. No matter how I try to turn away, forget, wander through my own ghostlands I know there is no escape; I’m still one of the living dead, a zombie twisted out of all proportion to life. It’s this deep seated anger and hatred that drives me, keeps me going. That’s why when I read Scott’s excerpt it disturbed me, rattled my cage, because something in me – a buried fragment of my life reared its ugly head in sardonic glee saying: “Yea, buddy, so much for mental bullshit. That ain’t war, that’s some guy spinning tales of neverwhens and nowhere. War is death, murder, decay… nothing more.”

I mean, really, when Scott tells us “Nervous staccato rhythms of thought droop into languid melodies. Your reveries eventually feel less desperate,” all I can think of is what kind of war was this? For me there were no “languid melodies,” much less “staccato rhythms,” more like the rattle and drums of endless rifles and gorging bursts of Agent Orange exploding across the green nightmares of war-torn villages and farmlands. The nosedive into shadow tunnels where nothing good ever lives, only the mask of some demon from hell. He tells us “boredom is still boredom, only it’s come to feel interesting and natural,” and I want to wring his neck and say “boredom, boredom… what the fuck?” I wasn’t bored, I was to scared pissing in my khakis like some baby in a crib. But this was no crib, and I was no baby. War is a dark night of the soul, an abject horror where men become ghosts lost in a night of the world where lakes of fire and blood stream endlessly from the melting ground, and one sees one’s friends and comrades swallowed up by strange beasts and monstrous things that have no name. Boredom, music, memory: more like black metal sequences from the devil’s own arsenal of death squawks, not some Mozartian requiem. No war is a hell on earth from which the only return is for the dammed: survivors carry only the memories of lost comrades, the moments of laughter gone south, the fuel of a dead life in one’s every breath.

Yet, it’s worth reading to see the surreal world of techno-wars as compared to the blood and guts in your face fear of the Nam… From Scott’s book…

“War is the most boring thing you can possibly experience. But it makes you into a connoisseur of boredom. You begin to see the intricate patterns of your own mind at work inside of the boredom itself. Nervous staccato rhythms of thought droop into languid melodies. Your reveries eventually feel less desperate. You are no longer lost inside of vast segments of time, but somehow have yourself become part of the flux. You have adapted to it. The boredom is still boredom, only it’s come to feel interesting and natural. I spent 16 months in Iraq during my first deployment and I only remember a handful of moments. The rest were spent wandering inside of my own head, becoming more and more intimate with the shape of my fears, desires and dreams. Walter Benjamin called this type of boredom “The dream bird that hatches the egg of experience.””

The above is published here: War is Boring. Scott Beauchamp’s writing has appeared in The Paris Review, American Affairs, and Bookforum, among other places. His book Did You Kill Anyone? is forthcoming from Zero Books.


2 thoughts on “The Boredom of War?

  1. My sense from the Vietnam combat vets who’ve talked to me about the war is that they experienced a lot of extended downtime punctuated intermittently and unpredictably by total mayhem. Waiting out the lulls was characterized not by boredom but by hypervigilance. Substance use was high, not as a way to kill time but as self-medication against the constant state of anxiety, fear, and alertness, along with suppressed rage and depression. Does that ring true with you, SC?

    Iraq might well be a different environment. Instead of humping through the bush for weeks at a time, essentially living inside a guerilla war zone, the soldiers in Iraq can run brief sorties from well-defended base and forward encampments. Not that being a soldier in Iraq isn’t dangerous: surely it is, especially for the Iraqis. Maybe the occupying forces experience the war more like the bomber pilots in Vietnam who’d fly out of Okinawa, drop their payloads, and return to base in time for cocktails.


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