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A Man's Vision of Love: An Examination of William Broyles Jr.'s Esquire Article "why Men Love War"

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A Man's Vision of Love:

An Examination of William Broyles Jr.'s Esquire Article

"Why Men Love War"

History 266 Sec 004

The University of Michigan


Prepared For

Ken Swope

Prepared By

Mike Martinez

"Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because they imagine it is the one thing that stops women laughing at them. In it they can reduce women to the status of objects. This is the great distinction between the sexes. Men see objects, women see the relationship between objects. Whether the objects need each other, love each other, match each other. It is an extra dimension of feeling we men are without and one that makes war abhorrent to all real women - and absurd. I will tell you what war is. War is a psychosis caused by an inability to see relationships. Our relationship with our fellow men. Our relationship with out economic and historical situation. And above all our relationship to nothingness. To death."

John Fowles in The Magus

A Man's Vision of Love:

An Examination of William Broyles Jr.'s Esquire Article

"Why Men Love War"

The fact that war is both beautiful as well as nauseating is a great ambiguity for men. In his article for Esquire magazine in 1985 William Broyles Jr attempts to articulate this ambiguity while being rather unclear himself. On the one hand Broyles says that men do not long for the classic male experience of going to war, while on the other hand he says that men who return know that they have delved into an area of their soul which most men are never able to. Broyles says that men love war for many reasons some obvious and some obviously disturbing. Many books support this notion while few stray far from the admission of love. I believe that most sources indicate that men do in fact love war in a general masculine way. I also believe that the sources that do not admit to this love of war do not because of the author's unique, face-to-face experience with war's most severe atrocities. I feel that the sources, while few in number can faithfully account for the average soldier in any war in the twentieth century, which Broyles applies his argument to.

Stories of combat provide a way of coping with a fundamental tension of war: although the act of killing another person in battle may invoke a wave of nauseous distress, it may also incite intense feelings of pleasure. William Broyles was one of many combat soldiers who articulated this ambiguity. In 1984, this former Marine explored some of the contradictions inherent in telling war stories. With the familiar, authoritative voice of `one-who-has-been-there', Broyles asserted that when combat soldiers were questioned about their war experiences they generally said that they did not want to talk about it, implying that they `hated it so much, it was so terrible' that they would prefer it to remain `buried.'(Broyles 68) Not so, Broyles continued, `I believe that most men who have been to war would have to admit, if they are honest, that somewhere inside themselves they loved it too.'(Broyles 68) How could that be explained to family and friends, he asked? Even comrades-in-arms were wary among themselves: veterans' reunions were awkward occasions precisely because the joyous aspects of slaughter were difficult to confess in all circumstances. To describe combat as enjoyable was like admitting to being a bloodthirsty brute: to acknowledge that the decisive cease-fire caused as much anguish as losing a great lover could only inspire shame.

Yet, Broyles recognized that there were dozens of reasons why combat might be attractive, even pleasurable. Comradeship, with its bittersweet absorption of the self within the group, appealed to some fundamental human urge. And then there was the awesome power conferred upon individuals by war. For men, combat was the male equivalent of childbirth: it was the "initiation into the power of life and death."(Broyles 70) Broyles had little to say about the `life' aspect, but argued that the thrill of destruction was irresistible. A bazooka or an M-60 machine gun was a "magic sword" or a "grunt's Excalibur":

all you do is move that finger so imperceptibly, just a wish flashing across your mind like a shadow, not even a full brain synapse, and poof! in a blast of sound and energy and light a truck or a house or even people disappear, everything flying and settling back into dust. (Broyles 36)

In many ways, war did resemble sport which, by pushing men to their physical and emotional limits, could provide deep satisfaction (for the survivors, that is). Broyles likened the happiness generated by the sport of war to the innocent pleasures of children playing cowboys and Indians, chanting the refrain, `bang bang, you're dead!' or to the seductive suspense adults experience while watching combat movies as geysers of fake blood splatter the screen and actors fall, massacred.

There was more to the pleasures of combat than this, said Broyles. Killing had a spiritual resonance and an aesthetic poignancy. Slaughter was an affair of great and seductive beauty. For combat soldiers, there was as much mechanical elegance in an M-60 machine gun as there was for medieval warriors in decorated swords. (Broyles 71) Aesthetic tastes were often highly personal. The experience seemed to resemble spiritual enlightenment or sexual eroticism. Indeed in the two sources which I have chosen to support Broyles, sexuality and power play major roles.

In The Coldest War, James Brady discusses his experience in the Korean War. He intends his story to be typical of the average soldier during the conflict. Brady discusses his time in Korea mainly as a growing experience. He went into the war as a fearful 23-year-old and came out a man who had been through a war. After joining military school to dodge the draft, Brady was sent to Korea without the desire to fight. One of Broyles' arguments is that men are not raised to love war. He



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