Thursday, September 15, 2011

WWI: "We did what we were told to do."

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

Fullerton resident Archer W. Kammerer was in the National Guard during World War I. When asked why he chose to join the National Guard, Kammerer said, “The company I enlisted in had a pretty good baseball team, and I liked to play baseball. The kids were pretty enthusiastic about it. I think that was the reason I enlisted. I was in two or three months and was sent to the border.” He was sent to the border because Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa was seen as a threat to the U.S. border, specifically to the railroads. Kammerer’s unit was sent to guard the railroad tunnels.

When asked what kind of maneuvers or tactics his company used during this border dispute, Kammerer said, “I don’t believe I ever did understand what we were trying to do. No one ever explained that. We did what we were told to do and there was quite a sound attempt made to have us understand that that was what we were supposed to do, what we were told to do...We tramped around in the hills and didn’t know what anyone else was doing. I don’t think we cared very much...Down on the border, there was nothing really for us to do except wish we were not there...I don’t know for sure but in a war maybe the best thing is not to know too much about it.”

As a modern reader, I kind of chuckle at Kammerer’s candor, but am also a little disturbed. If I was in a war situation, I would want to know exactly why I was doing what I was doing. I couldn’t carry around a gun and potentially shoot people if I did not understand, and fully believe in, the reason I was doing this.

But I am a 31-year-old college graduate. Most of the people in Kammerer’s unit were under 21, were farmers, and were not well-educated. I wonder sometimes if modern soldiers share this same “I don’t want to know” attitude, or if they are as conflicted as I would be in war.

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