Impression of Alexander the Great addressing his men when they refused to go on:
“Men, I don’t know why the gods set us on this great course, and what may be incomprehensible to me, must be doubly so for you. And that’s why we have to go on, land after land, obstacle after obstacle, killing everyone who stands in our way, until the gods finally reveal their very great purpose to us.”
His men thought:
1: Here we have one more useless heroic gesture from the parapet.
2: It’s done to boost confidence/morale: cast admiring glances, swell with pride, rush/thrill with excitement, ache for the bittersweet glory of battle.
3. Battle sucks, he’s a putz; and I hope they shoot his ass off before they get mine.
For some reason, his guys bought it; or maybe it was the execution of all the chief dissenters that encouraged the survivors’ understanding and will to carry on.
The troops who march off to war singing generally return silently if they return at all. There is no sport in war, no winners, everybody loses, and the end result is disaster for some, and lifetime wounds for the rest – invisible, or not, we’re all disabled, dehumanized, and diminished by it, even non-combatants. Even so, there are always those who yearn for Armageddon, who work for and revel in it, a giant I-told-you-so and a thumb in the eye for all the rest of us who must be made to suffer for ignoring them, I suppose.
The foolish gestures of war; the real heroism clichéd and trite, so prosaic, so real, is desperate stuff – what we console ourselves with as we face or lie dying, contemplate the dead, justify the holocaust. Innocence, forever startled. There is no glory, no promise, and no hope in warfare. Just blood.