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The Tin Man: War – in all its glory

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It was a rare occurrence for Jon Galil’s doorbell to ring. Jon had not even been sure that he still owned a doorbell. It was a quiet life in the mountains, especially for those who purposefully isolated themselves. Jon was one such person. Life in seclusion worked for him. He didn’t need people, didn’t want to have need for them. Yes, living in the mountains was lonely – but not taxing.

The doorbell rang again and Jon shouted in return as he made his way to the door.
“W-wait a second! I’m coming! I’m coming…”

The ringing halted as Jon hobbled down his short hallway. The trip from his armchair to the door was a short one, but unwelcome. Not only cramps assailed him, but echoes of a wound sustained years ago. It didn’t hurt as much anymore. It was more a memory of pain. It remained as a constant reminder of an event which he would have much rather have forgotten.

The doorbell rang again just as Jon opened the door. The safety chain stopped the door from opening the entire way so Jon could see his visitor before allowing him in. Standing before him, just visible through the crack in the door, was a young man in his mid-twenties. His clothing seemed casual, but closer inspection revealed that even if being casual clothes themselves, he wore them with an air befitting that of a tuxedo at a dance.

A memory rushed into Jon at the thought of tuxedos and dancing, but the reminiscing was short lived. He seldom remembered what happened before… He was getting old. Memories were fading, like his life and opportunities.

“Who you?” Jon snapped. The young man, who had previously not noticed the crack in the door, jumped to attention. He recovered quickly.

“Mr Galil, I presume?”

“You presume right,” Jon replied, “Doesn’t answer my question, though.”

The young man, putting on an almost infectious smile (that did little to infect Jon), bowed towards the crack in the door.

“I am Peter Déchaîn. I’m a journalist…”

Before he could finish, Jon had shut the door with a bang unbefitting to the small opening that it had previously held. Silence echoed from the front as Peter still recovered from the shock. It was not long, however, before he renewed his ringing of the doorbell.

“I ain’t interested in any damn press! Go back to your spawning pool,” Jon yelled, making his way to the living room.

“I just want to talk!” Peter shouted back.

“I don’t!”

The doorbell stopped and an uneasy silence fell on the house. Jon stopped, even being able to ignore the ache in his leg. Almost unconsciously, he made his way back to the door.

“You know what I want to hear, Mr Galil,” Peter said through the door, “I know you want me to listen.”

“What do you know about what I want?” Jon whispered, just as he began unfastening the chains on the door.

With a smile on his face in contrast to the glower on Jon’s, Peter entered the house.
“You want some tea…coffee?”

“Tea would be marvellous – thank you,” Peter accepted.

Jon made his way to the kitchen, the journalist in tow.

“Who you say you work for again?”

“Glory Eagle Media.”

“Never heard of them,” Jon grunted as he reached up to the shelf with the tea bags.

That seemed to put a damper on Peter’s mood as he frowned.

“Sugar, milk?”

“Sorry? Oh, milk with one sugar, please – thanks.”

Jon reached for the sugar and placed it on the counter just before putting the kettle on the stovetop. It was an old fashioned model – the one’s which whistled when they were ready. The stove was also old, which meant they were going to be awhile.

He took a seat by a small table and allowed Peter to take the other seat. No one said a word.

Jon was used to silence, and this was not unpleasant for him. In fact, it was a relief. No words meant that Jon could focus on the man at hand.

He was a thin character; a slender and youthful young man with a shock of blonde hair and an easy smile. His face was baby-smooth, making him look younger than his presumed age. Jon had seen the likes of him before.

As Jon stared at him, ignoring social cues in his own house, Peter glanced erratically around the room. He seemed to be looking for something, something he didn’t even know he wanted to find. That was what it was like being a journalist – always looking, always asking.

“You don’t keep pictures?” Peter broke the silence.

“See no need. No family.”

“Was it always that way, Mr Galil? I remember hearing of a happy couple before my time. Their surname seems similar to yours. Odd that a couple that happy would not still exist today. Love like that does not die easily.”

“A lot of things die, Mr Déchaîn. No use reminiscing over a plant unwatered for that long.”

Peter seemed to ignore him as his gaze continued to scan the room.

“You’re in your early sixties, correct?”

“Late fifties…”

“Ah, my apologies. That would still mean you were in your pre-twenties during the War, right?”

Jon winced and as much as he hoped Peter would not notice – he did.

“Sounds about right,” Jon replied, looking towards the kettle begging for the whistle and rush of smoke to erupt.

“Conscription was common then. I am not presumptuous to guess that you were involved in the war?”

Jon didn’t answer him, his stare firmly set on the stovetop and the not-yet bubbling kettle. Peter didn’t press. He instead stood up and began to examine portions of the room in detail.

Finally, Jon crumbled.

“Aye, I did. I was conscripted at seventeen. Just out of school.”

“Tsk tsk, Mr Galil – we both know that conscription of seventeen year olds was only allowed after your conscription. Two years later in fact. You were nineteen on the eve of your last day in the country. You were nineteen, newlywed and eager for a life of glory. There are photos of your wedding in the public archives, you know? I find it disturbing to find them there, yet no evidence of such photos here.”

Jon bit down a retort and instead replied through gritted teeth. “I didn’t get married then…Jon Galil did. Jon’s dead now. That war killed him.”

“That war killed many people, Mr Galil. Also saved a lot. War for freedom, it was. A great tide of democracy against the world’s last evil empire. Well, that is what we are told. What we want to believe. You want to know what I think?”

Peter took Jon’s lack of reply as consent.

“We glorify war. As much as we speak about how bad it is, how atrocious the deaths are, we continue to speak of war as a great event. Soldiers are celebrated and wars are commemorated. We give out medals to both living and dead. You understand how odd that is? We reward people for dying. One of the most prestigious awards you can receive, you can’t even appreciate.”

“Makes the family feel a bit better,” Jon retorted, half-heartedly, “Honourable death in battle is something to be proud of.”

“And there it is. Makes the family feels a bit better. A loved one is dead and all they get is a hunk of metal symbolizing his failure. Don’t think of death as honourable. Soldiers aren’t encouraged to die. They are ordered to. A soldier isn’t meant to be shot. He’s meant to be shooting. Dying is failure, Mr Galil, and we celebrate it.”

“Doesn’t matter. If it makes the family feel a little bit more comfort in their loss, so be it. Ain’t your or my place to take that from them.”

“Never said it was, but you must understand, even more than I do, that war is nothing to be proud of. I can see that you agree with me. Death is failure.”

Jon didn’t reply.

“Nevertheless, we still continue to celebrate war. We hold holidays to rejoice our victories and offer reverence to the veterans who have died and still live. But every other day, we leave them shattered. You know better than most how war changes someone. We leave a generation of men scarred, both physically and mentally. We don’t remember them. We don’t respect them. We pity them. Oh…we remember wars. We remember battles and generals and statesmen. We don’t remember the soldier. We don’t realize his loss. Not only have the dead failed in war. Everyone has. War is just one big failure.

“Yet, we continue to celebrate it, glorify it and revel in its culture. You know why, Mr Galil?”

“Tell me.”

“Because it is all we can give them. For all they have lost, veterans have only one thing left. They have their memory, something the dead does not. They have a memory of a dark, dark bloody time, a time which scars even the strongest of hearts. They have this memory of a sacrifice they, and a few million more, have committed for ages untold – a sacrifice they believe they have done for the good of something.

“You think we should take that from them? Take away their only accomplishment? Their only reason for being? No matter the circumstance – a soldier never stops being a soldier. We took their lives, we took their souls. Least we can do is trick them into thinking it accomplished something.”

The whistle of the kettle interrupted them and Jon was thankful that Peter decided to make the tea himself. Jon just continued to sit silently, his arms crossed while his hand pulled an invisible trigger.

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