war

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11/11/11 + 100

Anthem for Doomed Youth

BY WILFRED OWEN

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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A Cost of War

Fighting and killing other human beings in a war does terrible things to the soldier, even if the war is a just, defensive, unavoidable war. Paul Fussell, who fought in the invasion of France from the south and was terribly wounded, tried to make that point in his books on war.

He said that in the Pacific theater soldiers used to send home Japanese skulls as souvenirs. His readers were outraged; they had lived through the war and had never heard of American soldiers doing such a thing. Fussell then produced a Life magazine cover with photograph of a young woman contemplating a Japanese skull that her boyfriend had sent to her.

Life Magazine, May 22, 1944

Wikipedia has an article on the practice:

A number of firsthand accounts, including those of American servicemen involved in or witness to the atrocities, attest to the taking of “trophies” from the corpses of Imperial Japanese troops in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Historians have attributed the phenomenon to a campaign of dehumanization of the Japanese in the U.S. media, to various racist tropes latent in American society, to the depravity of warfare under desperate circumstances, to the perceived inhuman cruelty of Imperial Japanese forces, lust for revenge, or any combination of those factors. The taking of so-called “trophies” was widespread enough that, by September 1942, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet ordered that “No part of the enemy’s body may be used as a souvenir”, and any American servicemen violating that principle would face “stern disciplinary action”.[6]

Trophy skulls are the most notorious of the so-called “souvenirs”. Teeth, ears and other such body parts were occasionally modified, for example by writing on them or fashioning them into utilities or other artifacts.[7]

Eugene Sledge relates a few instances of fellow Marines extracting gold teeth from the Japanese, including one from an enemy soldier who was still alive.

But the Japanese wasn’t dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn’t move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath. The Japanese’s mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his kabar on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim’s mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer’s lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier’s mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, “Put the man out of his misery.” All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier’s brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.[8]

US Marine veteran Donald Fall attributed the mutilation of enemy corpses to hatred and desire for vengeance:

On the second day of Guadalcanal we captured a big Jap bivouac with all kinds of beer and supplies… But they also found a lot of pictures of Marines that had been cut up and mutilatedon Wake Island. The next thing you know there are Marines walking around with Jap ears stuck on their belts with safety pins. They issued an order reminding Marines that mutilation was a court-martial offense… You get into a nasty frame of mind in combat. You see what’s been done to you. You’d find a dead Marine that the Japs had booby-trapped. We found dead Japs that were booby-trapped. And they mutilated the dead. We began to get down to their level.[9]

Another example of mutilation was related by Ore Marion, a US Marine who suggested,

We learned about savagery from the Japanese… But those sixteen-to-nineteen-year old kids we had on the Canal were fast learners… At daybreak, a couple of our kids, bearded, dirty, skinny from hunger, slightly wounded by bayonets, clothes worn and torn, wack off three Jap heads and jam them on poles facing the ‘Jap side’ of the river… The colonel sees Jap heads on the poles and says, ‘Jesus men, what are you doing? You’re acting like animals.’ A dirty, stinking young kid says, ‘That’s right Colonel, we are animals. We live like animals, we eat and are treated like animals–what the fuck do you expect?’[9]

On February 1, 1943, Life magazine published a photograph taken by Ralph Morse during the Guadalcanal campaign showing a decapitated Japanese head that US marines had propped up below the gun turret of a tank. Life received letters of protest from people “in disbelief that American soldiers were capable of such brutality toward the enemy.” The editors responded that “war is unpleasant, cruel, and inhuman. And it is more dangerous to forget this than to be shocked by reminders.” However, the image of the decapitated head generated less than half the amount of protest letters that an image of a mistreated cat in the very same issue received.[10]

In October 1943, the U.S. High Command expressed alarm over recent newspaper articles, for example one where a soldier made a string of beads using Japanese teeth, and another about a soldier with pictures showing the steps in preparing a skull, involving cooking and scraping of the Japanese heads.[5]

In 1944 the American poet Winfield Townley Scott was working as a reporter in Rhode Island when a sailor displayed his skull trophy in the newspaper office. This led to the poem The U.S. sailor with the Japanese skull, which described one method for preparation of skulls (the head is skinned, towed in a net behind a ship to clean and polish it, and in the end scrubbed with caustic soda).[11]

The Marines who urinated on the bodies of dead Taliban, who had been trying to kill them and who had probably killed their friends and civilians, also paid the cost of war. That  is another reason to avoid war, if at all possible.

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The Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War began 75 years ago. The historian Stephen Payne blames the Left. They murdered rightist leaders hoping to provoke the army into rebellion. Then the Left could crush the army and have a free hand in reconstructing Spain and eliminating the right. It didn’t work out that way. The Right won and crushed the Left. Political leaders, from antiquity to the present, have never learned that wars rarely go according to plan. They also have never learned that it is easier to start a war than to stop one.

Payne thinks that the Nationalists and Republicans killed about the same number of people – and the Nationalists won and had the Left at their mercy. If the Left had one, the Right would have been slaughtered.

Some bishops, many bishops have recently disgraced their office. But all the bishops who were in the Republican zone were murdered. They stayed with their flock and died. The only two who survived were outside of the country and could not get back to their sees. One in four priests in the Republican zone were murdered, many tortured to death. The Italians bombed Barcelona and killed hundreds of civilians in a foretaste of Dresden and Hiroshima. And the children above all suffered.

Payne thinks that Spain has changed radically and such violence could never be repeated. The dispossessed rural working class of the south is gone; the devout small holders of the north have abandoned their villages, which are in ruins. A Socialist government is doing the bidding of international bankers. Catholicism has dried up. All ideologies are discredited. The conflicts are still there, but they are a shadow of their former selves, and no one thinks that Spain can be saved from its problems by the Right or Left. In fact, the young think that the economic situation is hopeless and would like to emigrate.

Yet is still a beautiful and deeply moving country, and to me it feels like the Roman Empire never really ended. To sit in the sun on a patio above the vineyards and grain fields, in front of a stone Romanesque church, drinking the red wine of Rioja – the Romans would have felt comfortable. They would think that the locals mangled Latin, but they would recognize the local language as Latin. I hope that Hispania endures.

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Jihad and Crusade

When cultures collide, sometimes they borrow good ideas from each other, and sometimes bad ideas.
The encounter of Islam and the Christian West has given us algebra, but we have also taken over some of the unlovelier products of Islam.
Islam spread the idea of jihad as meaning not only an interior struggle against evil but physical, military operation against the enemies of true religion, against the infidel. The West thought this was a good idea and developed the idea of a crusade, a war that was not simply just but holy, to counter the jihad that had conquered large sections of the Christian world. Christians killed in the name of God.
Islam, submission, developed the idea that God was absolutely unknowable, that our only response to him was to submit to his will, that is will was arbitrary, that all occurred because of his will, and that he could change his will as he pleased because it did not express his nature, which is absolutely unknowable. Hydrogen and oxygen combine to produce water because God wills it; the independence of secondary causes was neglected. God could change the moral law, and command what he had forbidden, and forbid what he had commanded. Our only duty is to submit to his inscrutable will.
The lines of influence are not clear, but I suspect that nominalism and voluntarism in the West are the result of an encounter with this Islamic idea. It sounds so pious.
Slavery had died out in the West, but then Islamic slavers – the Barbary pirates – enslaved perhaps a million Europeans, a process that continued until the nineteenth century. In desperation the papacy allowed slavery to revive in Catholic lands.
And now the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik has, as the newspapers point out, issued a manifesto that is the mirror image of Al-Queda. Islamic terrorism has created Christian terrorism.
A recent survey of the values of European youth confirmed that young men are less religious than young women – no surprise there. The report is in somewhat opaque sociological language, but it also indicates that young men are more hostile than women to other religions, even if the men do not believe in the traditional religion of their country. That is, the young men may be indifferent or hostile to Christianity, but they are even more hostile to intruding foreign religions, such as (the report did NOT go on to say) Islam.
In fact, historically European men have been hostile to the clerical-feminine manifestations of their religion. Instead men feel an identification with the religious community, whose identity they have celebrated and defended in their own way. Mussolini was asked to allow the construction of a mosque in Rome; he said certainly, as soon as a Catholic church was built in Mecca.
And so we have a Norwegian, who seems to have shown little interest in prayer, liturgy, or other clerical-feminine manifestations of Christianity, observes Al-Queda and decides he is going to defend the Christian identity of Europe by provoking a civil war between Christianity and Islam.
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The Nastiness of War

Some critics of the killing of Osama Ben Laden think that since he was not shooting at the Seals, his killing was murder.

 

That is, killing in war is not murder only if the enemy is actively attacking you.

 

This sounds very chivalrous but has no relation to reality. Enemy soldiers (and generals) are legitimate targets even if they are sleeping or praying.

 

I read in one memoir of the First World War how the British narrator, who was a sharpshooter, had a German soldier in his sights; the soldier was taking a bath  – utterly vulnerable. The British soldier couldn’t bear to pull the trigger, and gave the rifle to someone else, who did. If the German soldier were not killed, he would have the opportunity to kill British soldiers. War is a nasty, nasty business, even when its laws are followed, even when it is a just, necessary, defensive war.

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Libya and the Imperial Presidency

I usually don’t comment on political developments, as I have an extremely low opinion of all (or almost all) politicians.

 

One hopes that politicians know what they are doing; I know that a lot of information from sensitive sources can’t be divulged to the public without risking informants’ lives and American security.

 

BUT

 

One does have to wonder what Obama is up to. Apparently Hilary persuaded him to take military action in Libya to prevent a massacre.

 

Obama delayed and decided to take action at last moment, not leaving any time to consult Congress, much less get its approval. Why couldn’t France and England handle it alone?

 

The Allies may have temporarily prevented a massacre, but without ground troops in Libya how are they going to prevent one indefinitely? Rifles and machine guns can kill people just as well as tanks and artillery can, and it is hard to pick off riflemen and machine gunners with fighter-bombers.

 

If Kaddafi is left in power, he will make life miserable for the rest of the world. All Obama will have accomplished is killing some of his soldiers, but not enough to make any long-term difference.

 

I hope Obama knows what he is doing, but he is giving everyone the impression he is reacting moment-by-moment, and does not have a long-range plan or an exit strategy.

 

American presidents are largely constrained by outside forces, military and economic, and do not act all that differently, whatever their campaign promises or the expectations they raised among their supporters. Obama contuse the war in Afghanistan, continues the prison at Guantanamo. And now has entered another war in Libya without congressional approval. The difference from Bush is not visible to the naked eye.

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Blood Shed for Us

The New York Times each day publishes the names of the soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I read them each day and say a prayer for them. It is the least I can do for those who have died to keep me and my family safe. 

The names and home towns reveal a lot: a lot if Hispanic names, and most are from small towns. One in particular struck me:

YAZZIE, Alejandro J. 23. Lane Cpl., Marines; Rock Point, Ariz.: First Marine Division. 

A Navajo, dying to defend the United States. 

At the Pueblo Indian Center in Albuquerque there is a bronze statue of Indians as soldiers in the U. S. Army. All these young Indians had left after their land was stolen from them was their courage and blood, which they offered to their conquerors in order to survive. Sometimes it’s hard to look a Native American in the face after what we Europeans have done to them.

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Vigilante Justice

The abortionist George Tiller was apparently killed by a pro-lifer. This has led to attacks on the pro-life movement at innately violent.

The widespread denunciations of the Vietnam War as illegal, unjust, cruel, and criminal, led students at Brandeis to plot the violent overthrow of the government.

On Sept. 23, 1970, Brandeis University woke up to another day of classes, cool fall weather and news of a murder and bank robbery at the hands of three of its students.

There were five people suspected of murder and robbery, three of whom were associated with Brandeis. According to the Sept. 29, 1970 issue of the Justice, the suspects included Robert Valeri, 21, a student at Northeastern University; William Gilday, 41, also a student at Northeastern; Kathy Power ’71, 21, a senior at Brandeis; Susan Saxe ’70, 20, a Brandeis graduate and admitted Brandeis graduate student; and Stanley Bond, 25, also a Brandeis student. The five were accused of murdering Boston patrolman Walter A. Schroeder during a robbery that gained the group $26,000 from a Brighton, Mass. bank. Schroeder, 42, had nine children; he died from a gunshot wound in the back.

Should the anti-war demonstrators have kept quiet, for fear of causing some people to become violent in their actions against violence?

Edward Abbey’s denunciation of the rape of the West in The Monkey Wrench Gang inspired some of his readers to become eco-terrorists, burning property to prevent development. The Unabomber was also motivated by fears of technology and its effects on freedom and the ecology. Should Al Gore tone down his rhetoric for fear of causing people on the fringe of rationality to become violent?

As a teenager Dontee Stokes was sexually abused by the Rev Maurice Blackwell. Years later, the stories of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church filled the media. Dontee obsessed over them, got a gun and confronted Blackwell, demanding an apology. Blackwell refused, and Dontee shot him. Joseph Druce had been sexually abused as a child; he had murdered a homosexual who had tried to pick him up. Druce was on the same cell block as the convicted molester the Rev. John Geoghan. Druce watched the months of television exposes of sexual abuse in Boston and heard the denunciations of the molesting priests as monsters. He overheard Geoghan planning to get out on appeal and to go to South America to molest children there. Druce murdered Geoghan so that Geoghan would never again molest. Should the Church have been allowed to cover-up its crimes forever for fear of a revelation of its iniquity inspiring private vengeance?

Bush administration officials have been denounced as torturers and war criminals. Suppose someone decides to kill one to punish a torturer?

Any denunciation of evil has the potentiality to inspire someone to decide to become judge, jury, and executioner. Therefore should evil never be denounced, for fear of inspiring vigilantism?

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Growing Up in Narnia

The movie Prince Caspian has some major differences from the book, and I think the movie is better for it.

 

As most reviewers have noted, the movie is darker than the book, and darker than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie.

 

The movie is about growing up, especially about male growing up, and the violence and aggressiveness of the male adolescent. It is a war movie, because violence and aggressiveness have their necessary role in a world in which evil must be fought, as Lewis well knew. The book and the movie are set in the Blitz of London.

 

But anger and aggressiveness must be moderated and not develop into mindless hate and revenge. There are virtues beyond fortitude: prudence, justice, and beyond those, faith and charity.

 

The move is also about the losses that growing up brings. As in the book, Peter and Susan will never again return to Narnia.

 

The imagination of the twenty-first century has taken on a dark tone. Although the twentieth century was filled with wars and the threat of nuclear destruction, but Lewis’s and Tolkien’s books are lighter in tone than their film incarnations, even though both authors saw the trenches and mass slaughter of World War I.

 

I noticed this in Battlestar Galactica, which was far more serious and far darker than the original series.

 

If the filmmakers get to The Last Battle, the tone may be unendurable.

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The War and Cartagena

We were in Cartagena, Spain, recently before we left for our cruise.

In the town square at the waterfront is an unusual war memorial: A Spanish memorial to the Spanish-American war, which Spain lost.

The monument has a sailor holding a dying soldier.

The victories are holding their laurel wreaths down.

The monument lists the great battle at Santiago, Cuba, and the names of the young men from the area who fought and who died in battles against Americans.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war, two additional statues were added on the pier by the monument.

One is of a soldier with his head resting on his hand.

 

One shows a sailor weary walking home with his duffle bag.

What else can way say about a distant, lost war.

 

The Spanish-American war was one of the least justified wars in American history, and it had a human cost.

 

Even far more justified wars have human costs. In the Kolpinghaus (similar to a Catholic YMCA) in Eichstaett in Bavaria is a simple marble plaque with the names of the young Catholic men from the town who died in World War II. At the end, not even the dates of their death were known: they simply never came home.

 

Eichstaett was an intensely Catholic town and known for its opposition to Nazism. But the young Catholics of the town were drafted and died fighting for an evil cause. It is well for both the world and for the Germans that Nazism was defeated – but the young men of Eichstaett are dead, and almost forgotten.

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