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War Technology Aside, What About the Human Factor?

By the time you read this, it will probably be out of date. I want to say something about the crisis in the Middle East; but of course it changes every hour, and events quickly overtake predictions.

I believe I have read every word printed in The Times about it, including the pontifications of Henry Kissinger. I envy our reporters who are on the scene in Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

I notice, though, that reporters often quote Pentagon or Administration sources who ask to remain anonymous. Also, our commitment to the Middle East is most often expressed in terms of technology.

The other day, for example, a Page 1 story reviewed our military situation in Saudi Arabia. It said that our forces there “include the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, equipped with tanks, heavy artillery and Cobra attack helicopters, and attack-oriented naval forces aboard aircraft carriers armed with A-6 attack bombers, F-18s and EA-6 attack bombers, and EA-6B radar jamming planes. . . .”

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Well, that sounds great. If it comes down to a military confrontation, our technology should prevail.

But so far I haven’t read much about the human factor. War is fought, in the end, by people. My only experience with it was the battle of Iwo Jima, but I still remember it in human terms. We were told that the reason for attacking Iwo was to secure it as an emergency landing field for B-29 bombers returning from their devastating raids on Tokyo. And I remember seeing the first B-29 land. For that we paid 7,000 dead Marines.

My battalion approached Iwo on an LST (landing ship-tank). The weather was bad. Being overcrowded, many of us had to sleep topside, in our bags. When the gale came, we were doused. But one of us, a man named Blake, had ingenuity and foresight. He had rigged up a tent, using blankets and sticks, and came out dry the next day. “I build my house of bricks,” he said, smiling slyly.

Blake wanted to be a chemical engineer. I think he would have been a good one. He was blown away on D-day.

I was scheduled to land in the third wave, at 0910. We landed at 0910, exactly. One of the men in my boat looked up at an airplane and his helmet fell off into the ocean. A Navy patrol boat came alongside and a swabbie (Marine talk for sailor) gave his helmet to the embarrassed Marine. (By the way, he survived.)

We landed. I soon found myself in a shell hole with two other men. I suggested that it might be prudent to get out of that hole, on the theory that the enemy might be zeroed in on it. They agreed. They went first. I climbed out just as a shell hit. One of the men who had preceded me had disappeared. The other was kneeling, as if in prayer. His head was gone.

I scrambled into a bigger hole. I was soon joined by a man named Zimmy. He was a Czech, a banker from Chicago. His specialty was the ability to speak Japanese. It didn’t seem to be of much use at the moment. I said, “Funny place for a bad Czech to turn up.” He didn’t laugh. We dug a common foxhole and survived the night, surrounded by mortar shells.

In the morning I wandered out into an unsecured zone. Suddenly I realized that I was being shot at. I heard the crack of bullets passing. “Crazy,” I thought. “Why would anybody want to kill me?”

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Later I found our battalion headquarters. The colonel and the captain were eating some canned sausage. “Why don’t you go have some,” the colonel suggested, “with the enlisted men?”

I excused myself. A few minutes later the colonel stood up to study the Japanese positions through his field glasses. A mortar shell landed nearby. The colonel was killed.

I had a specialty. I was a combat correspondent. I carried a rifle and was supposed to shoot the enemy. But my primary duty was to write stories about individual Marines for their home town newspapers. There were two of us in every regiment. The other man in my regiment was Barberio. Everybody loved him. He was full of life and he loved to eat.

We were supposed to carry our Corona portable typewriters with us in the assault. I remember the morning we embarked. Barberio was loaded with everything required, and someone had to give him a push to get him going.

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I balked. I went to the colonel and said, “Sir, I am supposed to carry my typewriter ashore with me.” He said, “You will not.’

The colonel suggested that I send my typewriter in his jeep, which was scheduled to go in the eighth wave. The boat was sunk. I never saw my typewriter again.

Barberio was killed on D-day. A Marine salvaged his typewriter, and offered it to me. I felt guilty. Barberio had gone by the book. I had not. I used my knife to open the case. There was no typewriter in it. It was full of canned goods.

That’s what war is like. Only a thousand times worse.

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