One of my favourite books of reportage is ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell.
It’s a sobering story about how Stalin brutally parted company with the ‘soft’ left during the Spanish Civil War. It’s also got some great battle scenes in it, told from a first person point of view.
Orwell was there in the thick of it, with a worn-out Mauser, giving it to the fascists a few years before everyone else woke up and realised they weren’t the good guys after all.
You don’t have to read between the lines to tell that Orwell actually enjoyed a lot of the scraps he found himself in. There’s a riveting passage where he and his platoon of volunteers are trying to defend a fascist trench they’ve just taken. A fascist takes a crack at him and Orwell lets him have a grenade in return:
‘By one of those strokes of luck that happen about once in a year I had managed to drop the bomb almost exactly where the rifle had flashed. There was the roar of the explosion and then, instantly, a diabolical outcry of screams and groans. We had got one of them, anyway; I don’t know whether he was killed, but certainly he was badly hurt.’
You can almost hear Orwell’s ecstatic excitement at killing or critically wounding some poor fascistic bastard (or possibly some North African conscript who didn’t really know who he was fighting for or why).
I was reading some critical commentaries about the book when I came across an interesting fact. Interesting to me, at any rate. Apparently, Orwell let one of his socialist mates read the original manuscript. His friend suggested that he tone down the bloodlust a bit. After all, this was supposed to be a war for peace and brotherhood, not some sort of gladiatorial fun-fest.
So in the final draft, Orwell added two sentences to the end of that paragraph:
‘Poor wretch, poor wretch! I felt a vague sorrow as I heard him screaming.’
What’s this got to do with airsoft? Well, I was at a local site a while ago and a fellow player and I were discussing the relative benefits of LiPo and NiMh batteries. I remarked that sometimes I think the techie stuff is the most absorbing thing about airsoft.
My fellow player disagreed. ‘I agree the tech bit’s interesting, but mostly I’m in it for the kills’ he said, with a shit-eating grin. I liked his honesty. Let’s face it, Airsoft is a game where the principal thrill comes from simulating the killing or wounding of another human being.
Paintballers take pains to disguise this element of their sport. They use the verb ‘to tag’ rather than the verb ‘to hit’. They often wear bright clothing, not military camo. And their guns look like vacuum cleaner parts.
There’s part of me who wants to be like Orwell’s mate. I sometimes want to deny the fact that fighting can be an intensely exciting and emotionally thrilling experience. That’s probably another reason why I’m The Secret Airsofter.
However, in my heart of hearts, I know I like the feeling of getting someone in my sights, squeezing off a volley of plastic and seeing my target (hopefully) succumb to my will. Even though I’d be mortified to think I could ever do it in real life.
Does our overt simulation of war, and the thrill of hitting another person with a projectile fired by a realistic looking assault weapon, make us less than morally sound? Or are we just being honest with ourselves about our human nature?
Others may think the former. But I prefer to believe the latter. It’s less disturbing that way.