sandgrains: last letters XVII: tears

War tested human beings to the very limits of their physical and emotional endurance. And way beyond. War brought an emotional toll on individuals which is difficult to describe; impossible to quantify. It brought intense emotions. It was a time of extremes. It brought situations that people should never have to encounter, choices that people should never have to make, emotions that people did not know what to do with and sights and sounds and aromas that one would never ever wish to experience.

Why might war bring you to tears?

Seeing your friends killed?

Hearing your comrades cry out in agony?

The constant fear of bombing and shelling?

The separation from home and family?

The news of the death of a loved one?

The disintegration of hope?

The cruelty of your captors?

Sheer physical exhaustion?

Feeling like its never going to end?

The destruction of your tank? But why would anyone cry over the destruction of a tank when they are surrounded by so much human suffering?

In this letter we find 2 stories of soldiers reduced to tears. But they are unexpected tears.

Story one relates the soldier who wept for his tanks when they were burnt and destroyed. It seems on the surface a weird expression of emotion for a lifeless inanimate object. Why weep over your tank?

But in war nothing really makes much sense. There is no normal. And the tank was so much more than a piece of metal. It was protection. it was defence. It was shelter. It was familiar. It was ours. It was, in many ways, home. And amidst the cold and the death and the constant fear, the loss of something familiar could push you to breaking-point.

Story two was a story of guilt and tears. This soldier had just destroyed 2 Soviet tanks, leaving a Soviet tank operative wounded and dying,

“Afterwards I drove past the smoking remains. From a hatch there hung a body, head down, his feet caught and his legs burning up to his knees. The body was alive, the mouth moaning. he must have suffered terrible pain. And there was no possibility of freeing him. Even if there had been, he would have died after a few hours of torture. I shot him, and as I did it the tears ran down my cheeks. Now I have been crying for three nights about a dead Russian tank driver, whose murderer I am…I am afraid I’ll never be able to sleep quietly, assuming that I shall ever come back to you, my dear ones. My life is a terrible contradiction, a psychological monstrosity.”

Ravaged by guilt. Beset by exhaustion. Emotions fraying. Inner turmoil.

These stories show us some of the hidden emotions of war, and reveal glimpses of humanity and compassion and vulnerability amongst the combatants. In spite of all the fury and noise and hatred, these soldiers found time to mourn for what they had done, to grieve for what they had lost, to long for a world in which they did not have to kill or be killed.

Their tears were also tears for the innocence and normality of a world that was now up in flames. Tears for the life they had left behind. Tears for the people they missed. Tears for the people they had become.

And tears too as they peered into the unknown,

But during the night I cry without control, like a child. What will all this lead to?