Irene Zabytzko’s “Home Soil” is a painful reminder of how we often commit the mistake of equating patriotism with going into war, ignorant and often unmindful of the emotional and psychological trauma that war creates not only on those who fight in it but also on the families, friends, lovers, and even acquaintances left behind.
Indeed, there is a tendency for people, especially those in power, to measure the effects and the impacts of war based on the number of cities captured and the number of ammunitions spent.
It neglects the all-too human side of wars, the limbs and bodies strewn about as a result of grenade blasts, the terror that soldiers feel as they feel their own death foreshadowing them, and the suffering that entire families and communities have to endure with the loss of a loved one.
If anything, war teaches us to dissociate ourselves from humanity. As American soldiers’ war experiences in Vietnam shows, it brings out the worst aspects of human beings instead of molding them into the best persons they could have been.
It teaches individuals and entire countries to enjoy rage and nightmarish scenes, as body bag upon body bag of dead soldiers return home and the number of widows and orphans pile up.
It teaches selfishness as those who lost their loved ones feel only their pain and loss and renders them numb to the pain and loss that those on the enemy’s side must at the same time be feeling. While the images of war shown by the media tend to show the heroism and the courage of soldiers, people must be critical enough to see beyond the superficiality of the images shown and explore instead those that have been cut out because they were considered unfit for viewing.
As entire cities and cultures are destroyed by bombs and bullets, the question of where the people of these cities have gone to and their condition should jar us from the complacency with which we watch tanks, bombs, and soldiers ruin not only buildings and infrastructure but also the hopes and dreams of the people who lived and occupied these spaces. Indeed, it is with the numbing of our ability to emphatize with the culture of other people and other civilizations different from our own that is war’s greatest casualty.
It is this loss of guilt, of feeling a false sense of triumph as abundant valleys are turned into blackened cemeteries, that we loss our humanity. As both camps of the warring forces come to terms with the rising number of “collateral damage,” it is the loss of innocent lives that haunt most; it is therefore not surprising for many of those who fought in these wars to come home and suffer from psychological disorders from the trauma of witnessing horrific and inhuman actions or at times committing these themselves.
Zabytzko’s story therefore becomes more poignant as more and more conflicts arise from the pursuit of American and other developed nations’ strategic interests in economic development and the fact that a lot have been fought and are continued to be fought after Vietnam. Lest the people forget that war leaves scars not only on the individual but also on our collective memories. No matter when or how it is fought, war will always claim lives and that its biggest casualty will always be none other than our collective conscience.