D.E. Steward

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As with every movie shoot, compounded problems to overcome

Artwork by Gene McCormickEdgy camera and scene-set techniques, months of pre-production angst, complex and vastly expensive logistics, attenuated schedule, over-budget complications, and then the footage edited down to the concocted story line of a completed film

One setup at a time, often on multiple continents, arduously quilted by the cutting-room computers for continuity

And last, the layered series of audio mixes

Each step toward completion a coordination of the skilled preparation and judgment of dozens of intense people

And the movie form allows only a dozen or so scenes to get the story across

The director shows up on the set and even before stepping out of the car begins to deal with a hundred peoples’ problems

Temperamental actors, animals balking, and uncooperative and star-struck locals

Often with fixed-wing flyovers, helicopters, boats, motor pools of trucks and cars

And the coordination of a serial organization of crews working from generator trucks, mess tents, RVs and trailers like a shiny, high-tech, thoroughly unionized circus camp

Many millions of dollars spent rapidly

To complete a picture that then, depending on corporate strategy and whim, is released or not released

And even if released may not be publicized, or shown only on obscure foreign-flag airlines, or long-distance South American luxury buses

Many movies wait and wait, maybe to never leave the can 

In a process almost theological in its procedural complexity

A more involved and artificial method of announcing truths and pressing emotional buttons may not exist

But then comes a film like Shoah or My Brilliant Career, or one like Platoon so true to infantry combat

Combat was a destiny, that as soon as they became reflective, North American boys born before about 1950 feared more than failure itself  

US51353412, Hq&Hq, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, 24th Infantry Division, I Corps, Eighth Army Forward

With the terrifying, grotesque, impacted complexities that entail in a line outfit

Following a sunny September afternoon coming in from a tank gunnery range in Kentucky up in the open turret riding tank commander slot in column, aerials whipping, radio crackling, fast tracking diesel roar, brown dust into the glare of warm sun

That intense GI epiphany left something of a new self when we cut engines back in the tank park that day

It was all easy and exciting, no haunt of being buttoned up in one of those big things with anti-tank fire slicing into the hull, of dying in searing phosphorous and fire

War, arrogance that only the proudly ignorant possess

“Don’t mean nothing, don’t mean a thing”

And it didn't, and you get through it

Now instead of the old twentieth century structured violence of foxholes, saturation bombing, napalm and amphibian assault, it’s Orwellian perpetual slow-fizzle

Quixotic wars against a situation’s techniques, with no specific enemy out front

Terrifying in its randomness for those riding strangely armored humvees on patrol through mud-walled streets

Hauntingly and indefinitely abrupt, often abstract

Combat’s abruptness, combat’s way

The silence after a mortar’s cough before the round lands

The wait for the covering fire to begin before moving out, the imagining upon waking still tired that you will soon die

Characteristic was New Britain in Papua New Guinea, the fighting in which I would tell people that my half-brother died to hide that he was a student suicide

The Japanese captured Rabaul on New Britain in early 1942 and converted it into their major base between the Carolines and the Solomons

Bombed constantly from 1943 onward

In the harbor there are dozens of sunken Japanese ships, still there like the sunken German ships in Narvik’s harbor a world away

The Japanese built many dozens of kilometers of tunnels in the hills surrounding Rabaul and in one of them five rusting motorized barges remain that were launched in the harbor hundreds of meters away on a railway which was itself removed after each use to avoid being bombed

Hundred-meter cliffs along the north face of Rabaul's peninsula with deep water below where submarines surfaced at night to be serviced from tunnels cut in the rock face by prisoner-of-war and impressed local labor 

Rusted guns and gun emplacements are still at the top of the cliff

The little port city itself was destroyed in 1994, buried in volcanic ash 

An Australian military cemetery south of Rabaul, Aussie dead from both world wars, also shelters the graves of several hundred Indian soldiers of the British Army, captured in Singapore, none of whom survived the war

Post-battle cemeteries like that one, Verdun, Volgograd (Stalingrad), Antietam, Omaha Beach, all feel the same 

As staged well after the event, somewhat like a traditional movie shoot

Bands, medals, bloviation

There is perversity in sanctifying those honored, victimized, filthy dead

The mud, the trots, trench foot, crotch itch, clap, full-body fungus

Now it is often phosphorus-flash hot and cleaner but the impact-burn-pain-terror-shock, spinning-dulling blankness into loss of consciousness are the same

Thank you for your service 


D. E. Steward mainly writes months with 364 of them to date. Most of them are published, as is much of his short poetry.