For the longest time I couldn't bring myself to work on Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) scale model kits seeing that they represented, above all, human suffering in times of war and conflict. Although scale model kits are supposed to be just a fun and harmless hobby, it's a bit naive to think this remains so when the subject matter are real world machines used to wage war. So I decided to take a long hard look at myself to see what has changed for me. At least enough for me to finally embark on this journey - focusing mostly but not entirely on AFVs from World War II (WWII).
Interest in WWII began innocently enough for a five-year old watching an old syndicated US program Combat! being shown on a local TV channel. Childhood play sessions mimicking the show - of which my poor cousin sister would be roped in as a reluctant medic - focused on the "cool factor" of an imaginary machine gun's rat-tat-tat to the naive acting out of a soldier's death throes - to which said cousin would valiantly try yet fail to save us. I supplemented this fascination with whatever second-hand Commando comics I could get hold of; even taking one to my first day in Kindergarten.
This nascent interest then moved on to pestering questions for my grandmother on
what it was like to live during the Japanese invasion of
Malaya in 1941. Then it became a little bit scarier, a little bit more real. Long story short, the Japanese occupation of Malaya was full of cruel acts of barbarity. Yet I still watched Combat! and read the comics. But now the nightmares set in. One that I remember vividly involved me being a soldier fighting the Japanese army and it ending badly with my head being decapitated. I also remember running from my room screaming hysterically (cue eye roll).
Then I became aware of the Cold War and would pack all my worldly possessions - a small box of toys -
into the back of a tricycle with a notion to cycle away as the A-bomb dropped. (What can I say? As a child I had an overworked imagination. And too much coffee and sugar but that's another story entirely.) Gradually, I turned this interest towards genuinely finding out why would humans start a world war. I devoured documentaries like The World at War and much later World War II in HD Colour interspersed with 'cinematic' pieces such as The Thin Red Line and Letters from Iwo Jima.
With better understanding I became aware of how a minority of people in power could manipulate circumstances that would eventually lead nations to war. A simplistic explanation that is not wholly-accurate. But one which allows us to remove our blinders and step out of biases in which we all too conveniently label an entire country, race or religion as evil. With better understanding also comes my acceptance that AFV scale mode kits can still remain a fun hobby while serving as important reminders of the past. They need not be a homage to all that's bad about war.
Books also form an important source of knowledge about war. At the moment I'm mesmerized by a personal narrative written by a German soldier about his experiences on the Eastern Front in WWII. Titled The Forgotten Soldier, the book is written under the pseudonym Guy Sajer. From what I understand, it's more a book about a soldier caught up in events bigger than himself rather than an anti-war book. If you are interested there is an old archived review of this book by The New York Times which you can access by clicking this link => http://www.nytimes.com/1971/02/07/archives/the-forgotten-soldier-by-guy-sajer-translated-from-the-french-by.html
The million dollar question is how can one present an AFV vignette or diorama that is tasteful yet informative of the horrors of war. I for one don't believe there is a definitive answer to this. On one extreme of the spectrum are fanboys who wax lyrical about the beauty of an inanimate object of destruction while on the other end are naysayers who believe such instruments of war shouldn't be depicted in any way. In the middle - arguably so - are those who believe depictions in scale are important because it serves as a reminder of a period of immense suffering lest we relive it.
So to answer the question why, I've slowly but surely drifted towards the middle path. At its most basic level, my AFV journey will serve nothing more than to showcase my efforts at painting and weathering scale model kits. Going forward I hope to create vignettes/dioramas that'll raise awareness of conflicts both historical and current. To do so, one must first create a realistic paint job and that is what I'm working towards. The words of philosopher George Santayana never rang truer seeing how events are unfolding globally. The parallels are frightening if only we can see it before it's too late.