Veteran’s Day: The Ugliness of War

A mass grave for Allied POWs at Berga concentration camp (US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

A mass grave for Allied POWs at Berga concentration camp (US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

A poem by Myron (Mike) Swack.  Introduction by b. traven.

Mike and I were raised in a Jewish orphan home. Mike was a year younger than I. I volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps cadet program and was accepted in early 1943. Mike volunteered for the army shortly after me but he was only 17 years old.

While I was still in training in mid-1944 Mike was being sent into Europe as an infantry replacement just before the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944). He was about 18 years old then.  His squad was surrounded in their foxholes in that ferocious winter battle. Most of them were murdered when they got out of their foxholes and tried to surrender to the Germans, but Mike survived.

His “dog tags” told the Germans that he was a Jew and they sent him to Berga concentration camp (a slave labor camp associated with Buchenwald) rather than a POW camp as mandated by the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of POWs. In the camp he was tortured and only escaped as the Allied armies swept into Germany.

Just before his death a few years ago, Mike wrote this poem to help those who have never experienced war to recognize its horrifying nature.  I miss Mike and I miss those of my generation who understood the horrors of war and who, like Mike, “just wanted to go home.”

Fast forward to today. Why are so many Americans ready to send other people’s children into the uncivilized cauldron of war? Why do we have “boots on the ground” in more than 140 countries in the world? If they are there to “protect” us it means that the world is filled with people who don’t like us. Maybe if we weren’t there we could build schools and repair bridges here at home, and those people overseas would turn their resentment of us into the respect we had around the world following World War II. Mike and I, and those few still living from that devastation felt proud of our sacrifice. We served as citizen-soldiers. We were not heroes and virtually all of us, like Mike, just wanted to go home. Bring back our honor as a peace-loving nation, not a nation in perpetual war feared by all and respected by fewer and fewer.  b. traven


By Myron Swack, Ph.D.

106th Division, Bulge/Berga Survivor

I am sad on every Veteran’s Day.

I remember the horror of war,

I remember being on the front line.

It was the coldest winter in the Ardennes

Mountains in 1944-45.

I remember the high casualty rate.

War is an ugly, ugly scene.

It begins ugly and it gets worse.

I remember losing my closest friends

And seeing their bodies.

I remember how hungry I was and

How cold my feet were.

I remember being captured by the Germans.

I remember being taken by cattle car to prison camp.

I remember the hell of being a prisoner.

I remember escaping and sneaking through

Germany back to the American lines.

I remember the ambulance and the hospital.


6 thoughts on “Veteran’s Day: The Ugliness of War

  1. Not enough people understand how the Holocaust was directly connected to World War II. Hitler used the pretext of the “war emergency” to pursue his murderous hatred of Jews everywhere. This included Allied POWs who were identifiable as Jews. For Hitler, World War II was a “race war,” with so-called inferior races either to be murdered or enslaved (or enslaved and then murdered).

    There’s no such thing as a good war, but in fighting against Hitler, Mike Swack was engaged in a necessary war against people who wanted him dead simply because of his heritage. I know Mike would have rejected the term “hero,” but there was certainly something noble, even heroic, about his service and survival against long odds.

  2. Divide and conquer! And while families suffer the loss of members and friends the contractors and business in general make more money than during peaceful times. And of course it is the purest form of profit because according to them they are giving a service without suffering a single scratch!
    But we are guilty, we have always allowed it because of our lack of interest and ignorance.

    • Graciela,
      American biochemist and recipient of a Nobel Prize in 1937 Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986) agreed with your sentiments: “It is sad that man is not intelligent enough to solve problems without killing… The present world crisis can be solved only by a general human revolution against outdated concepts… Man is not a blood-thirsty animal, and war is only due to the greed and lust for power of relatively small groups, the conspiracy of the few against the many.” (1978)

  3. Pingback: Myron Swack: A Poem for Veteran’s Day | Vox Populi

  4. As a veteran of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent (Vietnam, 1970-72), I would like to add a few observations, not only regarding the ugliness of war — ugly, at least, to the victims of it — but also concerning the vast waste and pointlessness of war, at least as practiced by the United States since 1945.

    First, I came across this quote from a recent speech by U.S. Secretary of War, Ashton Carter: “After 14 years of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism–two skills we want to retain–we are in the middle of a strategic transition to respond to the security challenges that will define our future.” Now who in their right mind would publicly boast of having failed utterly for 14 years and then claim that this epic failure constituted “skills we want to retain”? Secretary Carter might just as well have said that the skills our military learned in Vietnam over fourteen years of failure (from 1961-1975) have enabled them to perform just as stupidly and ineptly in both Iraq and Afghanistan, only with no end in sight. So, obviously, the U.S. military has learned only one “skill” that it wishes to “retain,” namely, how to perpetually avoid ever ending the pointless, mindless, ruinously expensive misadventures that now constitute a “career” in the U.S. military/corporate/political establishment. What a blathering moron America now has for a Secretary of Permanent War!

    Second, I recently read the following two paragraphs in an article about the enormous waste perpetrated by the bureaucratic militarists who infest the U.S. government at all levels:

    “Of course, as long as the U.S. has the money to send gazillion-dollar armies and armadas against illiterate natives armed with sharp sticks and coconuts, this may not visibly threaten its hegemony. Almost any problem or mistake can be papered over with money, for a long time anyway.

    “But eventually, even if the money spigot does not constrict, we will get to the point where the military really can’t be used as anything more than a façade or a gunboat road-show, hoping no one calls the bluff, because the stuff just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, or else is too vulnerable (witness the evacuation of the U.S. aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf after Uncle Sam found out that Russia has cruise missiles with a range of at least 1500km, or the ridiculous sail-around of China’s little islands which had the sense to infringe only very slightly and briefly on that country’s imaginary territorial waters), or the natives can devise their own countermeasures.”

    So, there you have it, fellow Crimestoppers. I would cite the entirety of the two articles from which I have excerpted only a few comments, but I think that these two examples adequately express the bottomless contempt I feel for those motherless miscreants running the U.S. military and “intelligence” departments of our rapidly imploding “National Insecurity State,” a perfect combination of the Peter Principle and Parkinson’s Law if ever the mindlessness of man could invent such a malevolent monstrosity.

    Ugly war for the victim/participants? Yes. But a thing of boundless beauty and profit for those whose wealth and power depend upon them not understanding the first truth about the world we actually inhabit.

    • “mindlessness of man could invent such a malevolent monstrosity” — nice alliteration, Mike! And I agree with your larger points. What depresses me is that there is true dedication in the U.S. military, especially at the lower levels, and yet that spirit of service is thrown away by the “higher life forms” at headquarters around the world.

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