Tuesday, July 2, 2013

War Games

I was probably about three years old when, from the back seat of the car, I bawled inconsolably at the sight of a traffic warden at my mother's window. She had temporarily parked on a double yellow line to allow her own mother easier access to the post office. But the hysterics of her youngest son must have worried her more. From somewhere, he had garnered a disproportionate fear of the "Brown Man", as unfortunately dressed 1980's traffic wardens were known in my family. My wariness of uniformed men was further fuelled by my brother when he told me his friend's Dad was a Garda, and that I would be shot if I showed up at their house. These fearsome moments are probably the foundations from which I developed a lifelong fascination with expressions of authority. Before long, I was obsessed with what I considered to be the epitome of masculinity: soldiers, armies, battlefields and war. 

However this proved not to be the nurturing of some perfect warrior. Any "action" I've seen in my twenty-seven years has been extremely limited and more crucially, fictitious. In later childhood, I would often lobby friends for a good old game of "Air Raid Attack". On the rare occasion they obliged, they would find themselves sheltering beneath trees, waiting for me to give the "all clear". This calamity would rarely last more than ten minutes; I never did get the chance to figure out what happened next. 

At other times, my illusions were complimented by more appropriate surroundings. During one school trip, my classmates and I did battle in Laser World- a dodgy simulation of some futuristic war-zone formerly located in Tramore. Scant recollections suggest I enjoyed the skirmish, without feeling I was the difference between victory and defeat. On the bus home, statistics being passed around on a piece of paper confirmed the suspicion that I had failed to hit any targets. This I digested in silence, while less combat inclined classmates celebrated jubilantly.

But my comrades weren't always so tactless, at least initially. On his return from the holiday of a lifetime in Canada, a good friend was delighted to present me with a Super Soaker XP 85. I thanked him profusely, anticipating future glories in the common water fight of balmy summer evenings. Unfortunately, the weapon had been damaged somewhere on the Atlantic convoy, leaving its triple projectile struggling to meet even quarter of the advertised distance. This, coupled with a leaking tank, made me an easy and amusing target for the water-balloon brandishing enemy. 

More successful sorties occurred in the rarity of snowball fights. One of my most cherished memories is teaming up with another friend against our older brothers in the white Christmas holidays of 1997. I can't remember how exactly it unfolded, only that I felt less solitary in playing the part I loved most.

Another account of wintry "combat" comes from my oldest brother. In the big freeze of the early 1980's, he was enjoying a snowy day off school when he spotted a famous Kilkenny hurler delivering fuel to a neighbour. Awestruck, but determined to interact, he gathered a ball of snow and playfully threatened to strike his off-season hero. But it turned out not to be so jovial a scene. The hurler, unimpressed, harshly dispelled my spectacled brother's cheer with the words "Throw that snowball at me and I'll break your fucking glasses!".

In recent years, I've noticed my preoccupation with combat become more "mature". In the cosy confines of western existence, war is not a phenomenon I am privy to. But that same precondition permits me to try and understand conflict's intricacies from a safe distance. With great interest, I watch unfolding chaos in Middle-East and flirtations with nuclear holocaust on the Korean peninsula. I should point out that this is not some exercise in sadism; rather, I like to think of it as a realistic engagement with the ways of the world.  

But there is also evidence to suggest that this fascination is not such a studious hobby, that I'm still just a child who thinks war is cool. Why else would I pass the amount of time I do amassing huge armies in Command & Conquer, watching and re-watching seminal scenes from my favourite war films, or even writing laboured blog entries trying to figure it all out?!

This militaristic fetish probably feeds off my romantic attachment to justice, order and the idea of a common purpose. Actually, I think I am more enamoured with the discipline militarism inspires than the barbarity of its logical conclusion. This isn't such a bad thing; organisational tendencies are amongst the things I admire most in people. They are especially laudable in the pursuit of collective benefit, individual responsibility, and the notion that we might receive from society what we put in. 

There is, of course, a huge difference between such civic responsibility and an unwavering loyalty to authority. But both extremes may emanate from the same source: a desire to equalise the inherent isolation of existence in a chaotic world with a sense of indomitable fellowship. The difficulty comes in trying to maintain a balance between the two, and ensuring that we don't opt for a dangerous road paved with the best intentions. 

Accordingly, I am forever grateful that my childish tendencies occur in circumstances not fertile enough for war. Imagine, for example, that I happened to exist on the streets of a European city during August 1914. In Munich I might have found a kindred spirit in a short Austrian man with a toothbrush moustache, equally enthusiastic to get himself into a uniform and give his life some meaning. In this light, I consider it a privilege to search hopelessly for a raison d'etre in less lethal environments.  

No comments:

Post a Comment