Duff McKagan: War's Horror Stories

And why I can't look away.

This column is dedicated to the memory of Lynn D. "Buck" Compton. I first read about Buck and his World War II exploits with Easy Company in Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers. Buck Compton died last week at age 90, at his home in Burlington, Wash.

If you were a tot during the Vietnam War like I was, perhaps you too have some of those black-and-white TV images still seared into your mind's eye. Ever since I was a kid—and maybe it was those images that did it—the subject of war has had a hold on me.

These days, war and violence are readily shown on the news 24 hours a day, and I fear we have become numb to war's atrocities. This kind of thing happens. It's like when a boxer gets used to getting hit in the head; they just don't really feel it anymore because they are so conditioned to it.

Growing up in the Vietnam era was to grow up with the first-ever "TV war." Every night at 6 p.m. we all would gather around the TV to see what Walter Cronkite had for us. What happened today over there?

Having two brothers in Vietnam also heightened my awareness. I remember asking my mom why my brother Mark had to go to war, and the answer she gave me then still holds true. She told me that "Two men who are leaders can't seem to agree on something, so they then go gather all of their young men to settle their differences in a big field . . . with guns and bombs."

All these early inputs in my life have made me a somewhat ardent student of war, both historically and current. I just finished Sebastian Junger's latest book, War, an account of his time spent at a forward firebase, Restrepo, in Afghanistan. War fills in the reader about what it's like to be on the front line as a 19-year-old with no human affection except from your fellow soldiers. Junger surmises that a gun, danger, and violence can —and does—supplant sex in this arena, and when there is a lull in the fighting, aggression toward one another will take its place.

Infidel, by Tim Hetherington, is the still-photo companion to War, made so much more poignant as it was released just as Hetherington himself was killed by a mortar in Libya while covering the conflict there.

The subject of war may be too old, boring, violent, or repetitive for some. But with a closer look, the human story inside the bigger arena has always had me hooked. 


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