No one, apparently, is personally involved in the ‘next one,’ which threatens to eliminate the human species…”
by moritz thomsen
Going to war is the ultimate experience for the youngster. It has everything, and the beauty of war is, as any young man knows, that he as an individual is immortal; it is always the other guy who gets blown to hell.
Basically, the glamour and romance of war, the brass buttons and the medals, the enraptured look of the mother or the sweetheart, hinge on that basic question of the individual’s manhood. War is, in the young kid’s mind, the test of his courage, and his masculinity. We have so arranged our world that about every once every twenty years all our healthy young men get this wonderful opportunity to prove their manhood. So far we have constructed no satisfactory substitute. The art of fisticuffs, for instance, that most obvious technique for proving manhood, appeals in large part only to the psychotic element in our society. Boxing doesn’t prove that a man is a man, only that he is an animal and a mentally disturbed one at that.
On the basis of one major war every twenty years—and discounting our Korean “police action” as a trifling event which produced a piddling 25,000 dead American soldiers—the obvious conclusion is that the twenty years are up. More and more often people comment, between yawns or between a discussion of TV and the baseball scores, about the inevitability of everyone aiming hydrogen missiles at everyone else and pushing the buttons. There is apparently so much logic, so much basic good sense in this solution for ending the Cold War tensions, that the subject of war is actually a little boring. “Oh, man,” your friend says, swigging a cold beer, “this next one’s going to be a lulu. We’re all going to be killed. Turn up the TV, will you? I didn’t catch that last speech of Palladin’s.” No one, apparently, is personally involved in the “next one,” which threatens to eliminate the human species.
The attitude of the public toward war is like that old Peter Arno cartoon, which shows a party of celebrating people in an airplane. The airplane is just about to crash head-on into the side of a mountain, and one of the women is saying, “My God, we’re out of gin.”
In the event that any of my readers are in their teens and just itching for a nice war to start so that they can be courageous and masculine war heroes, let me assure them that if war will prove anything, it is the opposite, and that if you are subjected to enough terror you will come apart at the seams like everyone else. There may be some satisfaction in realizing that your whole platoon went psycho after 12 days of combat and you didn’t go psycho until the 13th day, but let me assure you, this victory is a hollow one, especially if you end up in a straitjacket, and upon investigation it will probably come out that the reason you didn’t go psycho until the 13th day was because you were punching a typewriter in the general’s office 50 miles behind the lines.
After his discharge from the Eighth Air Force after World War II and before joining the Peace Corps in 1964, Moritz Thomsen spent 20 years as a farmer in Los Molinos, California, a small agricultural town near Chico and Red Bluff, in Tehama County. His first book, “Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle” was not published until 1969, but in 1959 and 1960 he wrote a column for his local weekly, the Los Molinos Sun. The paper was short-lived, but Thomsen saved clippings of his “Mill Run” column, as well as the notebook he used to write out his columns each week in longhand. The clippings and notebook, now in the possession of his niece, Rashani Rea, provide a fascinating glimpse into the life and thoughts of Moritz Thomsen, eleven years after his death in Ecuador in 1991. Smokebox has been granted permission by Rashani Rea to reprint selected “Mill Run” columns, seen here for the first time since they were published some 41 years ago. For more on Thomsen you can read Marc Covert’s excellent analysis of his published output in the 3 part Smokebox feature Howls From A Hungry Place.