The Deep Scars of War

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, my father Francis Anthony Boyle, after whom I am named (being the oldest of my parents’ eight children) applied for admission to Officer Candidate School for the United States Marine Corps. After an extended period of investigation, he was eventually rejected–telling me it was the most disappointing day of his entire life. He was not given the reason for this rejection. But as a child he had rheumatic fever, meningitis, and polio. As a boy he had to walk around with crutches and gradually weaned himself off them. The rejection by the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School undoubtedly saved my father’s life and thus made my life possible too. The life of a young Marine Corps Officer in the Pacific Campaign was infinitesimal. They were expected to lead their troops into battle from in front of their men.

Despite his deep disappointment and his physical limitations, my father then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on 14 July 1943 at the age of 22 and agreed to serve for the “Duration” of the war. By contrast, I entered the Harvard Law School on about September 7, 1971 at the age of 21. I thought of my father a lot during that first year of law school. At about my age, he was fighting for his life in the jungles of the Pacific. The vicissitudes of life. But he would have wanted it that way for me. My father always strove to provide a better life for his children, which he did do.

According to his Honorable Discharge papers (A108534, Series A, NAVMC70-PD) and war stories, my father invaded Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa. According to my father, after the battle of Okinawa, there were only two Marines left from his original Company that were neither killed nor seriously wounded. The Marine Corps then ordered my father and his friend to begin training for the invasion of mainland Japan, where they were scheduled to be among the first Marines ashore because of their combat experience. My father told me that at the time he believed it was a miracle that he was still alive, and he knew that he would never survive the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland, but that he proceeded to train for this invasion anyway because he had enlisted for the “Duration” of the war. Semper Fidelis My father was a very aggressive, tough, determined, relentless, resilient, fearless, formidable, and ferocious warrior.

After his Honorable Discharge from the Marine Corps on 16 January 1946 as a Corporal with his “Character of service” being rated as “excellent,” my father attended Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois and graduated from their Law School in the Class of 1950, shortly after I was born. He went to work as a plaintiff’s litigator for a law firm in downtown Chicago where, his hiring partner told me, he was very aggressive in court and otherwise. Eventually, my father opened his own law firm as a plaintiff’s litigator in downtown Chicago in 1959. On the night he transferred his files from the old office to his new firm, my father put me into our 1955 Chevy, the first car he ever bought, and brought me along for the ride and the opening of his new law firm. Soon thereafter, he designated me as the Clerk for his law firm, and promptly put me to work at the age of nine running messages, filing documents in court, taking money to and from the LaSalle National Bank, etc. all over downtown Chicago on school holidays and during summer vacations. At the end of a hard day’s work around 5:30 p.m., I would walk over to the corner of State and Madison in order to take the bus home by myself while my father continued to work away at his law practice late into the night. Now if I did that to my nine year old son today the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services would step in and take him away from me–the “home alone” phenomenon. But that was a different era, and my father was of the old school: spare the rod, and spoil the child. It was not easy being the oldest child and namesake of a World War II Marine Corps combat veteran of invading Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa.

I continued to serve as his Clerk until he died of a heart attack on January 10, 1968 at the age of 46. Because I worked for him at his law firm for all those years, I was fortunate to have spent an enormous amount of time with my father. I learned a lot about life from my father. Two of his favorites were: “Son, there is nothing fair about life.” And: “Just remember, son, no one owes you anything.” Of course he proved right on both counts–and many others as well.

But in particular, since I was his oldest child and namesake, at a very young age he began to tell me these incredible, astounding, unbelievable, horrible, chilling, hair-raising stories about what hand-to-hand combat in the Pacific was really like that literally left an otherwise talkative boy dumb-founded. In addition, my father supplemented these stories by taking me to see almost every war film ever made about combat in the Pacific, where he punctuated these war movies in medias res by telling me whether or not the incidents portrayed therein were authentic, and always giving an overall critique of their authenticity compared with his own war experiences afterwards on the way home. It eventually dawned upon me at a very young age that it was literally a miracle that my father had survived the war and thus that I was alive as well.

My father was very proud of his combat service in the Marine Corps and of course considered himself to be a Marine for the rest of his life. My father never bragged about his combat experiences in the war to me or to anyone else that I was aware of. His record in combat spoke for itself. Indeed, when I was a young boy his fellow warriors elected him to be the Commander of the local American Legion Chapter, a distinct honor as he saw it. He brought my mother, my next younger sister, and me along for the installation ceremony and dinner that night. My father had nothing good and nothing bad to say about the Japanese Imperial Army and its soldiers. But it was obvious from his tone of voice that he considered them to be dangerous warriors who were prepared to fight to the death, as large numbers of them did at his hands. My father and mother never raised any of us eight children to be biased or prejudiced against the Japanese people or any other people for that matter.

According to my father, immediately prior to the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa, his Captain issued direct orders to his Company not to take Japanese prisoners of war on the grounds of reciprocity: “The Japs don’t take prisoners of our men, so I don’t want to see any Nip soldiers cluttering up our rear lines!” Notwithstanding, my father took surrendering Japanese soldiers as prisoners of war, escorted them to the rear of the line, and then returned to battle. When the odds are overwhelming that you will meet your Maker in any instant, you want to do so with a clear conscience. I tell this story to my law students when they object that it is unrealistic to expect soldiers to obey the laws of war during the heat of combat.

At first glance it appeared that my father had survived the war relatively unscathed. He had picked up a fungus on his leg that stayed with him for the rest of his life, which he called his “jungle rot.” Also, his hearing was impaired by the big naval guns bombarding the coasts while he and his comrades waited on ship to board the landing transports in order to storm the beaches. Of course, there were also artillery, grenades, bombs, machine guns, flame throwers, and other ordnance, advancing under withering enemy fire during the day, repulsing bonzai charges at night, repeatedly volunteering for what looked like suicide missions behind enemy lines, etc. It was Hell on Earth.

Only years later, long after he had died, and as a result of medical research on Veterans of the Viet Nam War, did I realize that my father came back with a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, something that was undiagnosed at the time. Combat veterans of World War II were simply expected to go home and resume their civilian lives. As my father’s Marine Corps Honorable Discharge papers state: “Requires neither treatment nor hospitalization.” In retrospect, my father should have had medical treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome if it had been available then.

I do not believe it was my father’s intention, but as a result of hearing over many years his stories about the terrors and horrors of combat in the Pacific, he turned me against war and violence as a solution to human problems. War is always the ultimate defeat for the human spirit. War is an abomination on the face of God’s Creation. There had to be a better way. Law is that better way. I had the same reaction while reading through Rick Anderson’s powerful new book, Home Front.

We Americans cannot keep sending our young men and now women off to fight and to die, or to survive with terrible physical and mental injuries, scarred for the rest of their lives by the horrors of warfare as my father was. Every American who has a child contemplating joining the military for any reason should buy him or her a copy of this book to read. I have three sons, and I will be sure to give a copy of this book to each of them.

America’s endemic cycle of warfare, bloodshed, and violence, both internationally and domestically, must stop with us. We must teach our children that there is a better way. Given the pervasive American culture of glorifying and worshiping violence, warfare, death, and destruction, this important book will enable us American parents to better educate our children about the absolute necessity of peace, justice, human rights, and the Rule of Law, both internationally and domestically. This book provides an extremely moving, compelling and irrefutable account of what happens to the young men and women of America when they go into the military, and also when they come home–if they do.

Rick Anderson’s Home Front should be required reading in every American high school in order to counteract the outright pro-war propaganda, militarization, and military solicitation currently being inflicted upon our children by the Pentagon and the news media. It should also be required reading for beginning college courses in political science, history, and the other social sciences. Finally, Home Front is a very powerful tool for those of us in the American Peace Movement to use in order to stop the Bush Jr. Administration’s attempt to create an American hydrocarbon empire abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia and elsewhere by means of exploiting and manipulating the members of U.S. armed forces as pawns in their geopolitical Game of Chess for oil, natural gas, profits, and amassing personal family fortunes in the process. We need as many loyal, patriotic, humanitarian, and principled American citizens as possible to read this book, contemplate its lessons, and then act upon them: Stop these wars!

This essay appears as the foreward to Rick Anderson’s vital new book Home Front: the Government’s War on Soldiers, published next month by Clarity Press.

Francis A. Boyle, Professor of Law, University of Illinois, is author of Foundations of World Order, Duke University Press, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence, and Palestine, Palestinians and International Law, by Clarity Press. He can be reached at: FBOYLE@LAW.UIUC.EDU