42: I Have Acquired A “Fighting Spirit.”

Jan. 24[1]

Dear Girls,

Life has resumed its even tenor since our last stop–intricate and painstaking work over the plans of action–the maps–what we and all the supporting units are to do. Speculation as to the actual strength of the enemy is, of course, one of the main topics–fantastic boasts as to how many Japs they are going to skin alive–genuine admiration for the amazing thoroughness with which this whole operation has been planned–sudden ethical questions. “What should we do, Lootenant, if we find Japs lying in bed in the hospital?” “Orders state that we take no prisoners.” “Hope we find some sake.” “I want to get a Samurai sword for my girl.”

The boys are unusually eager, even more than I thought they would [be], which is saying something. They like our assignment, they want very much to get in–see how the outfit, and most of all themselves, react under fire–whether they will be calm and efficient.

Lot of things that I want very much to tell you all–probably all of it would be ancient history and therefore safe by the time that you get this, but I can’t and won’t say anything about the operation. One thing that keeps amazing me–the prodigious amount of work and planning that has gone into this–men working harder than many of them have or ever will–and I am again reminded of one of my own pacifist arguments­–if one tenth as much money and effort was spend on peacetime good works as on war, then there would be no need for war. I don’t know what to think about war–it is a symptom of a sick and fat society that needs some outlet for its surplus wealth and energy–and yet there is something to be said for it–it gives a point to so many purposeless lives–something to have lived for. The marshaling under banners, the feeling of unity and communal power. Even though it is for an ugly purpose.

And strangely enough I now find that gradually, through sort of a process of osmosis, I have acquired a “fighting spirit.” I do look forward to killing a Jap.[2] I don’t know why exactly–I don’t like many things that they have done as a nation, especially to the Bataan prisoners, but it’s not that primarily–mostly I guess that it is simply what I have been training for, for two years now, and I want to do it well now.

[Letter unsigned]


[1] Also postmarked January 28, 1944; this may be the “more later” alluded to in the previous letter.
[2] A rather unsettling statement from the normally conscientious Phil Wood, but one that reflects the ingrained anti-Japanese racism of the time. A survey of American servicemen found that while many soldiers admitted they would feel regret at killing a German, the majority actively wanted to kill a Japanese. For a detailed analysis of the above cited statement, see John Lynn’s Battle: A History of Combat and Culture.

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