Heroes Never Rust #76 by Sean Ironman
Garth Ennis’s and John Higgins’s War Story: D-Day Dodgers follows Second Lieutenant Ross, a British soldier joining up with B Company in Italy. The Western Front has begun with Normandy and the Allied Forces are gaining ground in France. The Russians are driving Germans back to Germany. But, the war in Italy is slow and tedious. They are the forgotten soldiers. Newspaper headlines back home talk about the Western Front, and most of the supplies and soldiers are given to that effort. The leaders in the Italy campaign need men, need supplies, so they come up with a dangerous mission to earn headlines, a suicide mission. The men know the mission is a suicide run, but they do it anyway. This being a Garth Ennis comic, the brutality of war is on full display as everyone is killed. The target is barely discussed, only that it’s a daylight attack. The target doesn’t matter. The army wants the headlines back home, so, impatiently, they make a crazy move.
These soldiers are called D-Day Dodgers because public perception at home is that the war in Italy is a cake walk and that the war in France is the tough front. Lady Astor, the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, supposedly called the men in Italy D-Day Dodgers because they were avoiding the “real war.” A song called “The Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers” was composed as a response to Lady Astor’s remarks. This song is given in the comic in the final section as the corpses of the men readers have grown attached to are shown.
How much of our actions are controlled by what we want versus what others think?
These soldiers know they are marching toward their death. They discuss it. The idea isn’t buried deep down and they are trying to fool themselves. In the mission’s planning meeting, the lieutenant is told after the mission he will be promoted to Major. When Ross congratulates him, he says, “I’m going to be a corpse.” The lieutenant explains to Ross that everyone will die because they have to advance across open ground in broad daylight. They’ll be killed before they’ve gone ten yards. On the day of battle, they arm themselves and they set out. The lieutenant gives Ross his Thompson because Ross forgot to request one. When Ross goes to say what will he do without his Thompson, the lieutenant responds, “For Christ’s sake, David, it doesn’t matter now! It doesn’t matter, can’t you see that?” On one hand, I want to say that these men are brave. They are given an impossible job, and they still try. They still go out there knowing it will be the last thing they ever do. Another part of me thinks they are cowards. They know it’s not the right thing to do, but they stay within the confines of their job duties and they march. Sometimes, when a person breaks orders and defies the institution, that person is considered brave, considered a hero. Yet, sometimes, when someone understands their responsibilities and goes to their death, that act is considered brave. Where’s the line?
Is it suicide? They know this act will kill them and they still perform the act. Or do they need to pull the trigger on their own gun, their own bullet needing to tear through their brain? And if it is suicide, is it wrong? Suicide can be a heroic act, can it not? Or do they have a responsibility to live? Do they have a responsibility to fight back against an institution trying to control them, an institution that thinks so little of them?
They are men caught between larger forces. The British military cares little for their lives. The Italian and German forces want their blood to soak into soil. The public back home, their neighbors, coworkers, friends, think they are sitting out the war in paradise. Like the lieutenant said, it doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters. Perhaps there’s a comfort they find in marching toward their death. At least, they know when they will die, how they will die. It’s the easy battle. They know what they have to do. Maybe it doesn’t matter if the British military is wrong, or that the public is wrong, or that the soldiers should stand up for their lives. Perhaps the soldiers marching to Hell is their fuck you to the public back home. They fought the hard fight and they lost. They didn’t have it easy. They had a job to do and they put their lives on the line. What could the public say then?
That brings me back to my earlier question: How much of our actions are controlled by what we want versus what others think? How much of me is me and how much of me is what you think of me? The older I get the less I think of the idea of individualism. I don’t think it exists. I am what society has made me. I am not independent or self-reliant. Perhaps some people would say that of course I am because I moved out to Arkansas from Florida alone, that I live alone. But, that’s not really independent, isn’t it? I moved from one community to another. The community affects me, shapes me. And the community of these men, these soldiers, these D-Day Dodgers, shaped them. Would they have died without the actions and thoughts of their community? Well, yes, just not there in Italy. As I revise what I hope to be my first book, I keep coming back to a line I wrote, that sometimes it seems that we are affected more by what we don’t have control over than by what we do. That life is a series of reactions, instead of actions. The more I read, the more I live, the more I come to believe what I wrote.
Photo by John King
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.