Iron Youth

“What has Kantorek written to you?” Muller asks him.
He laughs. “We are the Iron Youth.”
We all three smile bitterly. Kroop rails: he is glad that he can speak.
Yes, that’s the way they think, these hundred thousand Kantoreks! Iron Youth! Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.

So ends the opening chapter of All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. The passage concerns WWI German solders returning from visiting a dying comrade at a dressing station and refers to a teacher some of them had in common in their former lives named Kantorek. Kantorek had encouraged them, even pressured them, into joining the army. Chapter two further explains these soldier’s sense of lost youth:

Our early life is cut off from the moment we came here, and that without lifting a hand. We often try to look back on it and to find an explanation, but never quite succeed. For us young men of twenty everything is extraordinarily vague, for Kroop, Muller, Leer, and for me, for all of us whom Kantorek calls the “Iron Youth.” All the older men are linked up with their previous life. They have wives, children, occupations, and interests, they have a background this is so strong that the war can not obliterate it.

90 years later war correspondent Michael Yon in a dispatch entitled Superman from Baqubah, Iraq tells the story of a group of soldiers blown up in their Striker vehicle they have named the General Lee by a massive IEDs. The jihadis who blew it up were filming it while chanting Allah hu Akbar. You can watch their video on Yon’s site. here is Yon’s description:

As the bomb detonated beneath it, the General Lee arced like a dolphin from the sea of Hell. LT Brad Krauss can be seen flying out like Superman, if you look closely and imagine real hard. PFC Devon Hoch can clearly be seen standing in the back hatch. And that was it. Our guys’ lives seemed to be reduced to propaganda. The terrorists published reports that the soldiers were killed.

The story might have ended in the American press:

Four Soldiers Killed by Roadside Bomb Northwest of Baghdad

Four U.S. soldiers were killed today northwest of Baghdad when their Stryker vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb. Names of the service members are being withheld until notification of next of kin. The controversial Stryker vehicle is increasingly under fire by critics who claim that its armor is insufficient to protect troops in Iraq.

As Yon relates, it didn’t happen – and it took a bit of research to satisfy myself that the press did not, in fact, report it as the terrorists did, so typical is the wording of the ‘might have been’ report. Yon goes on to narrate each man’s real story of survival. He ends with a description of what happened to Lt. Krauss – the man who had flown through the air like superman.

Walwark saw that Krauss was not crushed, but lying in kind of a ball and still had his headset on, which somehow was still attached to the Stryker with the cord stretched. In fact, Krauss was conscious and was hearing voices. Voices over his headset. He could hear SFC Breaud calling from the Stryker behind trying to figure out what condition people were in. Krauss could hear Breaud on his MBITR radio through the headset, but was dazed and hitting the wrong button to talk.

Walwark stepped out, seeing that Krauss was not crushed, grabbed Krauss’ M-4 rifle, and that’s when he recalls Krauss, who was rolling on the ground, and half out-of-it started yelling, “I’m invincible! I’m invincible!”

Walwark yelled, “No you’re F*&%’ing not! You’re F*&%’ing lucky!”

Just so it is absolutely clear I am not saying that Michael Yon is a modern day Kantorek ignorantly calling our soldiers ‘Iron Youth.” Yon himself is a veteran and travels with these men – often into combat. If anyone might be like Remarque’s Kantorek it is me – an old man who has never been in any army nor seen any combat. Today others, most who have not seen combat either, refer to older people like myself who support our troops as ‘chickenhawks.’ 90 years ago when 3000 dead was a morning’s work on the Western Front no Kantorek or his English equivalent dared do otherwise than support the troops – the social pressure was all the other way and as disconnected from the realities of the front as it is today.

Indeed I may be like Kantorek in some ways, but I do not think I have any illusions that these young soldiers are anything but fragile flesh and blood, subject as their fathers and grandfathers to sudden death and, if they survive, a lifetime of dealing with the consequences. I am old enough to remember the “greatest generation” coming back from WWII glad to have survived, but also needing jobs and wives and a place to rebuild their lives.

It is not clear how it will all end, but please read Michael Y9n’s account of how these soldiers feel about their General Lee and explain to yourself the quickness with which the press passes on the claims of the jihadis and seldom misses an opportunity to characterize the Stryker and its armor as controversial. Then you will better understand today’s “hundred thousand Kantoreks” who sneer ‘chickenhawk’ and witlessly support those who slaughter in the name of God.

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