They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the power of the things they carried.
They were afraid of dying but even more afraid to show it.
They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing — these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.
They carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.
Knowledge, of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can't fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can't make them undead.
I remember opening the letter, scanning the first few lines, feeling the blood go thick behind my eyes. I remember a sound in my head. It wasn't thinking, just a silent howl. A million things all at once — I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything. It couldn't happen. I was above it.
At night, when I couldn't sleep, I'd sometimes carry on silent arguments with those people. I'd be screaming at them, telling them how much I detested their blind, thoughtless, automatic acquiescence to it all, their simpleminded patriotism, their prideful ignorance, their love-it-or-leave it platitudes, how they were sending me off to fight a war they didn't understand and didn't want to understand.
You were a treasonous pussy if you had second thoughts about killing and dying for plain and simple reasons.
Intellect had run up against emotion. My conscience told me to run, yet some irrational and powerful force was resisting, like a weight pushing me toward the war. What it came to, stupidly, was a sense of shame. Hot, stupid shame. I did not want people to think badly of me.
Right then, with the shore so close, I understood that I would not do what I should do. I would not swim away from my hometown and my country and my life. I would not be brave.