The War Neurotics
It so happens that my
father is a grand master at recalling his memories. Without being asked, he
unreels his war movies into everyday life all the time.
And then there is a sickness, which hasn't been cured during all the years after war; the compulsion to tell us his battle reminiscences through over-sharp binoculars over and over and again and again.
For my father the war never ended. He carries his mental pictures and emotions forever like a hunchback. This nightmare sits like a nasty monster on his shoulder and tortures him up to the hair roots. It mostly occurs during long evenings when his war movies flood to the surface. He tells us everything in minute detail. And to oil his tongue, he pours and sips wine liberally.
The drama never ends.
And finally the moment of
ultimate proof; his album with photos of his war in Russia and Normandy.
Forget normal evening
relaxation. His feet are scratching the carpet. Sub-machine gun, hand
grenades and the old Luger at the ready.
Meanwhile all poor listeners are crouching with him in the trench. Sweating.
Finally his rage, anger,
fear and alarm turn into bitterness. Why are they doing this to him? The
politicians and the army.
By now the enforced auditorium sneaks out - all severely wounded – and he slips into a sort of meditative agony.
At three in the night/morning you find him sitting in the dark living room, gaping in the night. His eyes are narrowed to bunker slits, camouflaged under bushy eyebrows. His face is pale, his mimic frozen.
"He's sleeping", the
naïve observer may conclude.
He projects the constant
danger and watch-out-mode of the war to all situations in life. He scans the
world around him, ever-alert. He sniffs danger where a naïve amateur might
just trust his luck. He is suspicious of seeming peace and quiet. He
anticipates unpleasantness and engages a sixth sense. He checks and keeps a
So, he applies his considerable battle experience to every-day life; determine goals, then develop strategy and tactics. Anticipate danger. Execute plan. Consolidate. All under control.
War is normal, isn’t it?
It seems as if the Germans have developped an extra-gene for war in their DNA. To have organized two world wars within less than 30 years is quite a feat. However, before these there were already three other wars; the war against France (1870/71), the Civil War (1860-66) and the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1814/15) in which several German states took part.
That makes at least five major wars in 200 years. On average a war every forty years. Almost every generation went through the meat grinder.
Clemens was born in 1921, i.e. three years after the end of World War I. At that time the grown-ups had not yet digested the horrors of war and kept on rehashing the past. When the young fathers sat together in the evenings their war stories went like hot cakes. Tales were told, suffering was suffered, exaggerated and laughed about. Typical veteran talk. Meanwhile their offspring were hanging around the table listening with bated breath to these most exciting stories. Their little hands were sweating and the fear froze in their throats. These were live thrillers where dad played the main character, where uncles participated and where the entire neighbourhood had bit-parts.
The bottom-line was that at the age of ten Clemens was convinced that war was an entirely normal state of affairs. War is something for men and every man must at some point be a soldier. At the moment there was peace and quiet, but that he considered as a sort of interim ice age. He determined to make himself fit for the next war in that he devoured books about the First World War and never, ever let himself be captured while playing Cops and Robbers with his brothers and friends in the woods.
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