Posted by: Drew | February 6, 2009

Coming to Terms

Dealing with the loss of a loved one in war is never an easy thing. It is especially difficult when you cannot comprehend the choices that the individual made. How do you reconcile the person that you knew with the soldier that he or she became?

 

Such is the case for Bill Brennan and Thya Merz, parents of Lance Corporal Julian Brennan, who was recently killed in Afghanistan on January 24. Julian’s parents and family and friends must come to terms with “the Julian Brennan who attended the Baltimore Meeting of Quakers in high school and the rising young actor who sang at open-mic nights in Park Slope bars; the skateboarding party boy adrift on the Lower East Side and the triathlete who swam the Hudson, then raced through the streets on foot and bike; husband and brother and son” and also the Julian that enlisted in the Marines and ultimately sacrificed his life.

 

When Brennan decided to join the Marines in 2007,

 

“He said, ‘You always raised us to understand that we were privileged, and have a duty to be active engaged citizens of the world. I feel called to do this,’ ” Ms. Merz recalled her son saying.

 

Vera Brittain, author of the memoir Testament of Youth, dealt with similar circumstances back in World War I, when her lover, brother, and friends went off to war. How are the men that she loves doing this? The contradictions were very apparent to her, just as they are to the family of Julian Brennan. After all, her lover Roland was a poet and academic, her brother Edward a musician, her friends Victor and Geoffrey kind and decent fellows.

 

Vera does not understand the choices and motivations in her loved ones. After Edward is wounded and the report circulates that he had acted heroically in leading his men, Vera remarks to Geoffrey that “[she] had been surprised by this story, and especially by the part where Edward rallied his men after the panic…” (p. 285).

 

This is similar to Ms. Merz’s feelings about her son Julian joining the Marines:

 

“… I have a very hard time wrapping my head around thinking my son is being trained to kill people.”

 

Additionally, Vera constantly wonders after Roland’s death why he should risk his life when he was so close to coming home on leave. Her diary entry runs:

 

“Why did you go so boldly, so heedlessly, into No Man’s Land when you knew that your leave was so near? Dearest, why did you, why did you?” (p. 243)

 

Both Ms. Merz and Vera Brittain have a hard time coming to understand how the men they love were able to do the terrible, difficult things that they did. They also don’t necessarily believe in the cause for which their men died. Merz and Bill Brennan are staunchly anti-war. Brittain seemed to sense the futility and senselessness of World War I.

 

Those back at home may not always understand the motivations for a loved one joining the military or making the decisions he or she makes on the battlefield, but there is an understanding that must be reached in order to obtain closure. Roland, Edward, and Julian Brennan were committed to their respective countries and sacrificing themselves because they believed it the right thing to do. Honoring their service and commitment is essential so you can come to terms with their seemingly senseless death.

 

 

*Parents of Deceased Marine Are Left with a Puzzle of Forgiveness

–Jim Dwyer, New York Times (Feb. 3, 2009)

 

 *Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, 1933

 

 

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Responses

  1. I think this is it, right? War tears social groups apart: families, friends, communities, countries, etc. The decision process of actually leaving to fight is almost impossible to understand for those of us “half-men” who decide to stay behind and the families of those that leave. You state: “Those back at home may not always understand the motivations for a loved one joining the military or making the decisions he or she makes on the battlefield, but there is an understanding that must be reached in order to obtain closure.” But can such a closer really be gained? I hear the concepts of “being part of something bigger than yourself,” and “doing the right thing,” but what are the actual mind-cogs that turn in those that go off to fight? I wish the poets of World War I had introspected on this aspect. Brooke and the like scream “Patriotism!” but Owen and his ilk whisper back, “death.” I suppose if the poets’ dialectic is read concurrently it is possible to better understand the conversation going on inside a person’s head while debating the decision to become a soldier. Perhaps I am too cowardly to have had such a conversation, and that is why I don’t comprehend it. I have great respect for those that fight and make the decision, I just wish I had greater understanding of this very subject; this thought process; this willingness to leave.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post of yours. I could not imagine what it is like to lose someone close to you. War tears families apart and to think what a family would say when they hear someone close to them has been killed, I cant imagine. I really feel for the families of the deceased. Your post brought on feelings that I am not used to having. I thank those I know everyday for the services they provided us by fighting in the war. I cant help but think of Vera and all those close to her that she lost. Three men, all of importance to her. All killed in the same war. The feelings associated with that, I can not imagine, nor want to. Again great post.

  3. When I left high school in 2003, I had to come to terms with my friends joining up. One is a pastor on a ship somewhere on in the Atlantic, whom I never hear from anymore. Another has been in Germany and saw the front lines, said he saw his best friend get blown up from a land mine. A couple of my other friends were/still are turret gunners on HUMVs. You know I was made when some of the left….even terribly sad for that matter. But it is a choice that they make, let it be to prove oneself and have worth, or maybe it is just their calling. I will admit too that the ones that have come back to michigan on leave have changed considerably. They smoke so much, shake, swear, and are jumpy. They have become hardened but still have the a little kid in them, even though it is not allowed to come out. Whether we like it or not, our friends, family, and even strangers we have yet to meet are putting their lives in harms way in some form or another. Let it be justified in civilian minds or not, they still need our support.

  4. Such is the case for Bill Brennan and Thya Merz, parents of Lance Corporal Julian Brennan, who was recently killed in Afghanistan on January 24. Julian’s parents and family and friends must come to terms with “the Julian Brennan who attended the Baltimore Meeting of Quakers in high school and the rising young actor who sang at open-mic nights in Park Slope bars; the skateboarding party boy adrift on the Lower East Side and the triathlete who swam the Hudson, then raced through the streets on foot and bike; husband and brother and son” and also the Julian that enlisted in the Marines and ultimately sacrificed his life.

    Interesting point, Drew. I can especially see your point, as I was recently talking about this–dealing with the loss of a loved one, when we can not quite understand their decisions.
    Mrs. Merz’ grief, is therefore, understandable, especially that she seems to be against war, and thus, viewing her son’s actions as murderous, not to serve his country. This, also, makes me wonder, if she doesn’t believe in his cause, would she not have more difficult time coping with his loss? This brings me up to the point I made in my comment to Meghan–which is is it the cause–heroic that makes it easier to deal with the loss of a beloved in the war, or is it because they are emotionally prepared for their death? Hmm. interesting.

    -Moe

  5. […] Drew […]

  6. […] https://pathsofglory.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/coming-to-terms/ […]


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