War has a lasting effect on misguided and misinformed teenagers who rashly make the decision to join the army without the appropriate knowledge on what war is really like. In the novel, ‘B for Buster’, by Iain Lawrence, which takes place on an airbase in England, readers can delve into a tale of woe and horror experienced by members of the air force.
It is this woe and horror occurring in the air force that a young boy from Canada named Kak has come to know. Kak’s character undergoes significant adjustments with each month he spends in the air force and with each person he meets and grows close to.Lawrence uses Kak’s dynamic character to show the destruction of war on the minds of teenagers who illegally join the fight as Kak develops from a self- centred child to a broken young man. Kak’s childish behaviour at the beginning of his journey causes him to stand out from the other air crew members.
Kak wants to be a hero like Captain Marvel; saving the day and defeating evil. The events of the training flight contribute to Kak’s idea of being able to do anything. He says, “Shazam! ” I cried into the intercom. Someone laughed and I knew it was another stupid thing I’d done.I slapped my helmet and called myself an idiot. “Quoting Captain Marvel, what a fool you are,” I thought (18).
This establishes Kak’s immature attitude as he envisions himself as Captain Marvel flying through the air and saving the day. To even further prove his childish outlook on the situation, Kak uses wishful thinking and fantasizing to view war as though it were a game. Such as when Kak is in the cockpit of Buster with Lofty and is watching through the window when he mutters, “Bam! Kapow! ” (20), as the plane races into the clouds during the training session.This shows how Kak thinks war is a fun, thrilling game and that he can do anything without getting hurt in the process.
The kid is often very accepting of childish explanations for serious situations. An example of this occurs when Kak accepts Sergeant Piper’s explanation of gremlins being the reason why Buster’s compass was off five degrees and not the air mechanics making an error. This action demonstrates Kak’s immature behaviour as he accepts the idea that gremlins tampered with the plane instead of accepting that it was simply a mistake of an air mechanic.The childish behaviour displayed by Kak shows that he is still young and is not yet ready to handle the pressures and demands that are brought unto him by his role in war. As war does irreparable damage to one’s conscience and mind, this leads Kak to develop a very self-centred attitude. After his first operation, Kak becomes very wary of his personal safety and this causes him to have an irrational, but fairly common, way of thinking.
Kak really only cares for his safety and has no qualms about doing what he considers necessary to keep it. He says, “Then, for the first time, I thought about the people below us.I imagined them scurrying from the flames, crowding into the shelters. But I didn’t feel sorry for them. I only wanted to get them before they got me” (155). In fact, this portrays Kak’s irrational determination to make sure he is safe as he feels no sympathy for those he must kill in the process.
Kak becomes smug and self- praising when he knows how to do something a fellow crew member cannot do. In ‘Buster’, Kak says, “We listened to a distant drone that grew steadily louder and closer. Then the first Halifax thundered above us, flashing its recognition signal. Someone asked, “Is that Lofty?”I was pleased I could read the Morse better than the others.
I rattled off the signals as each black machine passed overhead and banked to the right” (36). This portrays Kak’s smug attitude of him receiving a small rush of self-righteousness of being able to do things others can’t as he has an underlying drive to be the best and prove himself because he is underage. The kid regards others who he outranks in a social and in a military standing with the same views the other aircrew members do; whether it is good or bad. For instance, Kak often attempts to carry himself similarly to people in his position.
Kak says, “The wireless operators ahead of me took the boxes without a word, without even a nod to Bert. I tried to do the same, but he held the box too tightly. My hands slid right off it, and I staggered back, surprised (52). This portrays Kak`s self-centred attitude of wanting to be accepted causes him to make wrong decisions about who he should model himself after. This self- interested behaviour displayed by Kak shows that modelling himself like the other men and becoming full of himself, will cause him to lose his morals and sympathy for the feelings of those who are constantly ridiculed, like Bert.
The trials and results of war and his prior home life, left Kak scarred and broken. The Kid`s own father never showed any form of affection toward Kak and this left him lonely and envious of the children whose parents cared for them affectionately. What is more, Kak even marvels at how Bert treats Percy. He says, ``I didn`t let Percy fly back to the loft. It wasn`t yet daylight, but I worried about hawks.
So he rode in the truck like part of the crew, and I carried him down to see Bert. He got the sort of welcome from the pigeoneer that I imagined most boys got from their fathers after a long adventure.I didn`t really know, as the best I`d ever gotten was a cold stare and a drunken mumble, but it seemed right when Bert nearly cried to see Percy come home``(197-98). This shows how neglected and unloved Kak felt when it came to his parents. He wanted to be loved like how other children were by their parents.
Unfortunately for Kak, his parents weren`t particularly affectionate. Kak was exposed to misery and dread for most of his life. He lived in fear of dying on an operation and in misery of neglect by his parents. His sub conscious bridges his two dominant emotions by a smart remark made by his pilot.‘Buster’ says, `` Lofty clicked his intercom.
`` Just shut the hell up, `` he said. He sounded exactly like my old man. I remembered hearing that so many times. Shut the hell up.
Get the hell out. Go to hell, go to hell, go to hell. I wondered what he would say to me now if he could see me flying toward the fire, doing exactly what he had told me to do a thousand times. What he had always told me to do`` (296). This effectively demonstrates the dread and misery felt by Kak on the operation in the present and back home in Kakabeka with his father in the past.
In the end, after Kak’s release from the Prisoner of War camp, even though he was on the winning side of the war, he still lost in a sense. He had lost the closest thing he ever had to a real family; his crew, the pigeons and his father-figure, Bert. Though he knows the probability of finding anyone is small, in ‘Buster’ Kak goes back to England to look for Bert in Trafalgar square, as it was altogether conclusive that Kak’s crew died when the plane blew up. He found no trace of him or the pigeons and decided to slowly make his way home.This shows that even though Kak’s side was victorious, he lost nearly everything he had gained from enlisting in the army.
In essence, Kak’s character had been rebuilt and broken down all in the course of one year spent on the airbase and the additional years spent in the German camp. In retrospect, the horror of these wartime experiences causes Kak to develop from a child with a selfish attitude to a broken young man. These experiences are paramount to Lawrence in ‘Buster’ as he weaves a tale of sorrow that shows how much terror and stress the airmen had to face each day.The story of Kak displays to readers how life changing war can be and that no one is ever the same after experiencing it. The effects of war can be devastating; not just physically, but mentally as well. Many of the youth of today don’t completely understand this, and want to enlist to be a hero, just as Kak did.
Many teenagers never ask themselves this question before enlisting; Is joining the army worth giving up the rest of my childhood to spend it facing death every day?