The price of war

I posted this 10 years ago. I think it is still relevant today.

The price of war does not stop being paid when the guns fall silent.
This was driven home to me when we bought our first house from an older
couple who had lived there for many years. My grandfather, a Marine
who’d fought on Guadacanal and Tarawa, recognized the home seller as an
Army veteran and asked where he had served.


In Europe, the man answered, and his eyes filled unexpectedly with
tears. He turned away for a moment, and then, composed again, he
apologized and explained that he’d lost his brother in Normandy. This
conversation was taking place 53 years later, but it was clear that the
pain still lingered.

It is almost impossible for us, sixty years later, to understand the
grim realities of D-Day. Yes, we are unfortunate enough to live in
what a Chinese sage described as the curse of interesting times, and
yet, we do not yet live in a real state of war. Most of us know a few
soldiers who are involved in the present conflict – I was relieved to
receive an email yesterday from my Italian cousin in Baghdad, telling me
that he was fine after the embassy attack – but it is not the vast
majority of young men of our acquaintance who are in uniform and in
danger as was the case back then.

A few years ago, I took part in a massive simulation of Gold Beach,
using the Advanced Squad Leader system. Each player was responsible for
a section of the beach; I was commanding three companies of British
troops plus 12 Shermans and a few funnies. The experience drove home
how a relatively small number of defending German troops were able to
inflict terrible casualties on the landing Allies, and it was sobering
to see the pile of cardboard casualties grow and realize that each piece
represented the lives of ten men.

To the left, I lost an entire company, and only a lucky shot and a
wildly aggressive charge by one Sherman commander allowed me to take out
the two AT-guns defending my attack sector and get the two surviving companies off the beach. It
was only a game, and yet, one could see how the valiant action of a single brave man could make all the difference in the world to the rest of the men involved.

In the end, after many hours, the Allies triumphed on the table just
as they had many years before on the real beaches. But there was no
celebration by the winners, instead we found ourselves standing quietly
around the massive array of maps, contemplating those who had fought and
died so long ago. Some may think that it is strange and silly, if not
downright disrespectful, to view the tragic loss of human life through
the lens of a wargame. But, sixty years later, this is the only lens
that many of us have.

Soon, all the young men who stormed Normandy will be gone. But as
long as there are other young men who are curious about history, who
want to know what happened when, where and why, neither they nor their
sacrifices will ever be forgotten.