Archive for August, 2009


August 9th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from Austro-Athenian Empire.

In fourth grade (I think), I memorised a poem – a sonnet, I realise in retrospect – by Francis Brett Young called “Bête Humaine.” Here it is. (There are two versions; I’ve marked the differences in brackets. I don’t know which is earlier, though I tend to think the version I’ve put second is superior – both for more effective language and for avoiding a double rhyme.)

Riding through Ruwu swamp, about sunrise,
I saw the world awake; and as the ray
Touched the tall grasses where they [sleeping lay] [dream till day],
Lo, the bright air alive with dragonflies:
With brittle wings aquiver, and great eyes
Piloting crimson bodies, slender and gay.
I aimed at one and struck it, and it lay
Broken and lifeless, with fast fading dyes . . . .

Then my soul sickened with a sudden pain
And horror, at my own careless cruelty,
That [in an idle moment] [where all things are cruel] I had slain
A creature whose sweet life it is to fly:
Like beasts that prey with [tooth and claw] [bloody claw] . . . .
Nay, they
Must slay to live, but what excuse had I?

Well, I recently came across the prose original of this poem, in Young’s 1917 East African war memoir Marching on Tanga:

Ruwu (or Ruvu) swamp

Ruwu (or Ruvu) swamp

By this time we were near our journey’s end; for the wide road suddenly debouched upon an open space of flat land, lying in the apex of the triangle formed by the confluence of the Ruwu river and the Soko Nassai, a plain of coarse grasses over which our men had advanced a few weeks before beneath a sheet of maxim fire. In this grassy place, scattered with the rusty fragments of the German shells, it had been decided that the army of invasion should encamp. …

At first the going was hard, over level spaces of short grass with driven sand between; but from this we passed to a kind of open slade where tall grasses bent and rippled in the wind like a mowing meadow at home. The lower air was full of dragonflies. a dragonflyWe could hear the brittle note of their stretched wings above the soft tremor of grasses swaying slowly as if they were in love with the laziness of their own soft motion. Clinging to the heads of these grasses, and swaying as they swayed, were many beetles – brilliant creatures with wing-cases blue-black and barred with the crimson of the cinnabar moth. As we marched through the lane which we had trampled in those meadows they clung to their swaying grasses and took no heed of us though we had trodden their brothers to death in thousands. …

By nine o’clock we had crossed the river, and were skirting the margin of a vast swamp. All the sunny lower air swam with moisture: the ground was oozy and black. And yet no water was to be seen: only an infinite waste of brilliant reed-beds, standing up in the air so motionless that they made no whispering. When the sun began to beat through the moist air myriads of dragon-flies, which had lain all night with folded wings and slender bodies stretched along the reeds, launched themselves into the air with brittle wings aquiver. Never in my life had I seen so many, nor such a show of bright ephemeral beauty. They hung over our path more like aeroplanes in their hesitant flight than any hovering birds. another dragonflyAgain I was riding the mule Simba, and as I rode I cut at one of them with my switch of hippo hide, cut at it and hit it. It lay broken in the path, and in a moment, as it seemed, the bright dyes faded. I was riding by myself, quite alone; and as I dismounted I felt sick with shame at this flicker of the smouldering bête humaine; and though I told myself that this creature was only one of so many that would flash in the sun and perish; that all life in these savage wildernesses laboured beneath cruelties perpetual and without number: of beasts that prey with tooth and claw, of tendrils that stifle, stealing the sap of life, or by minute insistence splitting the seasoned wood, I could not be reconciled to my own ruthless cruelty. For here, where all things were cruel, from the crocodiles of the Pangani to our own armed invasion, it should have been my privilege to love things for their beauty and rejoice in their joy of life, rather than become an accomplice in the universal ill. …

And I thought, perhaps, when this war is over, and half the world has been sated with cruelty, we may learn how sweet a thing is life, and how beautiful mercy.

[Read the original at Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-08-09)...]


August 9th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est.

See also:

[Read the original at Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est ()...]

Non-Attack of the 120,000-Foot Man

August 8th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from Austro-Athenian Empire.

Today on LRC, Laurence Vance quotes the following passage from Vicesimus Knox’s 1800 essay “On the Folly and Wickedness of War”:

The calamities attendant on a state of war seem to have prevented the mind of man from viewing it in the light of an absurdity, and an object of ridicule as well as pity. But if we could suppose a superior Being capable of beholding us, miserable mortals, without compassion, there is, I think, very little doubt but the variety of military manœuvres and formalities, the pride, pomp, and circumstance of war, and all the ingenious contrivances for the glorious purposes of mutual destruction, which seem to constitute the business of many whole kingdoms, would furnish him with an entertainment like that which is received by us from the exhibition of a farce or puppet-show. …

Knox and Voltaire

Knox and Voltaire

The causes of war are for the most part such as must disgrace an animal pretending to rationality. Two poor mortals take offence at each other, without any reason, or with the very bad one of wishing for an opportunity of aggrandizing themselves, by making reciprocal depredations. The creatures of the court, and the leading men of the nation, who are usually under the influence of the court, resolve (for it is their interest) to support their royal master, and are never at a loss to invent some colourable pretence for engaging the nation in the horrors of war. Taxes of the most burthensome kind are levied, soldiers are collected so as to leave a paucity of husbandmen, reviews and encampments succeed, and at last a hundred thousand men meet on a plain, and coolly shed each others blood, without the smallest personal animosity, or the shadow of a provocation. The kings, in the mean time, and the grandees, who have employed these poor innocent victims to shoot bullets at each other’s heads, remain quietly at home, and amuse themselves, in the intervals of balls, hunting schemes, and pleasures of every species, with reading at the fire side, over a cup of chocolate, the dispatches from the army, and the news in the Extraordinary Gazette.

(Read the rest.)

I can’t help wondering whether Knox’s idea of viewing petty human warfare from a superior cosmic standpoint might have been inspired by Voltaire’s 1752 novella Micromégas, in which a 120,000-foot giant from outer space comes to Earth and learns from a friendly philosopher what all the anthill scurrying at his feet is about:

“[A]t this very moment there are 100,000 fools of our species who wear hats, slaying 100,000 fellow creatures who wear turbans, or being massacred by them, and over almost all of Earth such practices have been going on from time immemorial.”

The Sirian shuddered, and asked what could cause such horrible quarrels between those miserable little creatures.

Micromegas“The dispute concerns a lump of clay,” said the philosopher, “no bigger than your heel. Not that a single one of those millions of men who get their throats cut has the slightest interest in this clod of earth. The only point in question is whether it shall belong to a certain man who is called Sultan, or another who, I know not why, is called Cæsar. Neither has seen, or is ever likely to see, the little corner of ground which is the bone of contention; and hardly one of those animals, who are cutting each other’s throats has ever seen the animal for whom they fight so desperately.”

“Ah! wretched creatures!” exclaimed the Sirian with indignation; “Can anyone imagine such frantic ferocity! I should like to take two or three steps, and stamp upon the whole swarm of these ridiculous assassins.”

“No need,” answered the philosopher; “they are working hard enough to destroy themselves. I assure you, at the end of 10 years, not a hundredth part of those wretches will be left; even if they had never drawn the sword, famine, fatigue, or intemperance will sweep them almost all away. Besides, it is not they who deserve punishment, but rather those armchair barbarians, who from the privacy of their cabinets, and during the process of digestion, command the massacre of a million men, and afterward ordain a solemn thanksgiving to God.”

[Read the original at Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-08-08)...]

Wrong Time for Hollywood to Resurrect GI Joe

August 7th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from Utne Great Writing Blog.

When Leah Larson's brother came home from Iraq she wrote about the "unspeakable damage" to her brother and their relationship. And she wrote about GI Joe....

[Read the original at Utne Great Writing Blog (2009-08-07)...]

Three British Troops Killed in Afghan Bomb Attack – New York Times

August 7th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News.

Three British Troops Killed in Afghan Bomb Attack
New York Times
Separately, a Navy corpsman who had been caught in a roadside bomb attack in Farah Province on Wednesday died from his wounds. There have been 11 American soldiers killed thus far in August, along with 4 British troops, 2 Canadian troops, ...
Video: The Listening Post - Afghanistan's media war - 07 Aug 09-Pt1 Al Jazeera
Three special forces soldiers killed in Afghanistan Times Online
Seven US, British troops killed in Afghanistan Reuters
Austin American-Statesman - This is London
all 1,281 news articles

[Read the original at (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News ()...]

Iraqis speak of random killings committed by private Blackwater guards – Times Online

August 6th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News.

Times Online

Iraqis speak of random killings committed by private Blackwater guards
Times Online
The shooting was so heavy it was like rain,” he said. “I saw lots of people getting shot. The driver who had been in front of me died and his wife fell out of the car. Her child was killed as well. The shooting went on for about ten minutes. ...
Iraqis seek justice against Blackwater boss accused of 'crusade to ... Daily Mail
Blackwater 'killed whistle-blowers' The National
Blackwater founder Erik Prince accused of murder Facing South
all 90 news articles

[Read the original at (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News (2009-08-06)...]


August 6th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est.

Here is a pocket watch, stopped at 8:15am.

Donated by Kazuo Nikawa
1,600m from the hypocenter
Kan-on Bridge

Kengo Nikawa (then, 59) was exposed to the bomb crossing the Kan-on Bridge by bike going from his home to his assigned building demolition site in the center of the city. He suffered major burns on his right shoulder, back, and head and took refuge in Kochi-mura Saiki-gun. He died on August 22. Kengo was never without this precious watch given him by his son, Kazuo.

— Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Sixty three years ago today, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb over the center of the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshima was the first target ever attacked with nuclear weapons in the history of the world.

The bomb exploded about 200 yards over the city, creating a 13 kiloton explosion, a fireball, a shock-wave, and a burst of radiation. On the day that the bomb was dropped, there were about 255,000 people living in Hiroshima.

The explosion completely incinerated everything within a one mile radius of the city center. The shock-wave and the fires ignited by the explosion damaged or completely destroyed about nine-tenths of the buildings in the city. Somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people—about one third of the population of the city—immediately died. The heat of the explosion vaporized or burned alive many of those closest to ground zero. Others were killed by the force of the shock-wave or crushed under collapsing buildings. Many more died from acute radiation poisoning—that is, from the effects of having their internal organs being burned away in the intense radiation from the blast.

By December 1945, thousands more had died from their injuries, from radiation poisoning, or from cancers related to the radioactive burst or the fallout. It is estimated that the atomic bombing killed about 140,000 people, and left thousands more with permanent disabilities.

Almost all of the people maimed and killed were civilians. Although there were some minor military bases near Hiroshima, the bomb was dropped on the city center, several miles away from the military bases on the edge of town. Hiroshima was chosen as a target, even though it had little military importance, because It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focussing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. 1. Hiroshima was also one of the largest Japanese cities not yet damaged by the American firebombing campaign. Military planners believed it strategically important to demonstrate as much destruction as possible from the blast.

Thomas Ferebee, a bombadier for the United States Army, was the man who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His commanding officer was the pilot of the Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets. Tibbets and Ferebee were part of the XXI Bomber Command, directed by Curtis LeMay. LeMay planned and executed the atomic bombings at the behest of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry Truman.

Kengo Nikawa died on August 22nd, 1945 because of the bombing. This is his pocket watch.

We will never know the names of many of the 140,000 other residents of Hiroshima who were killed by the bombing. We have only estimates because the Japanese government was in a shambles by this point in the war, and countless records, of those that were successfully kept, were consumed by the flames, along with the people whose lives they recorded.

The late, great Utah Phillips called this one of the first songs he ever wrote that ever made any sense. It’s certainly one of his best.

Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Wave your hand
at the shining airplane
Such a beautiful sight is Enola Gay

It’s many a mile
from the Utah desert
To Tinian Island far away
A standing guard
by the barbed wire fences
That hide the secret of Enola Gay

High above the clouds
in the sunlit silence
So peaceful here I’d like to stay
There’s many a pilot
who’d swap his pension
For a chance to fly Enola Gay

What is that sound
high above my city
I rush outside and search the sky
Now we are running
to find our shelter
The air raid sirens start to cry

What will I say
when my children ask me
Where was I flying upon that day?
With trembling voice
I gave the order
To the bombardier of Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Your bright young eyes
will turn to ashes
In the blinding light of Enola Gay I turn to see
the fireball rising
My god, my god all I can say
I hear a voice
within me crying
My mother’s name was Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Oh when you see
the war planes flying
Each one is named Enola Gay.

— U. Utah Phillips (1994), on I’ve Got To Know

As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, in which forces acting on behalf of the United States government deliberately targeted a civilian center and killed over half of all the people living in the city at the time, remains the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world.

— GT 2008-08-06: 8:15am

The man who ordered the massacre, the war criminal Harry S. Truman, is now revered and ritually invoked by the official leadership in all U.S. government political parties as one of the U.S. government’s greatest presidents. High school and college textbooks commonly reprint Truman’s post-war claims about the hundreds of thousands of military casualties supposedly avoided by deliberately targeting civilian city centers and burning about a quarter of a million civilians alive — apparently on the presumption that massacreing civilians is an acceptable means to prevent military combat deaths, and even though Truman’s post-war claims about the lives supposedly saved have, in any case, been publicly revealed as complete fabrications after-the-fact. Earlier this year, when professional satirist Jon Stewart argued on national television that Truman should be considered a war criminal (as part of his response to a One Man’s Reductio from an apologist for the Bush administration’s own war crimes), he faced a furious pressure campaign from both statist liberals and partisan Republicans, each sanctimoniously outraged on behalf of the memory of The Good War. Stewart quickly caved under the pressure and issued a public apology. The name-calling and outraged complains that were directed at Stewart would often be called, metaphorically, a firestorm of criticism. But, under the circumstances, the metaphor seems inappropriate.

See also:

[Read the original at Rad Geek People's Daily » Dulce Et Decorum Est ()...]

The Wisdom of Harry Patch

August 6th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from Blog.

Harry Patch was buried today. He was Britain’s last combat veteran of World War I. He died on July 25 at age 111. He was also the oldest man in Europe. Patch, who rarely talked about his war experiences, boasted that he hadn’t killed anyone in combat. “War isn’t worth one life,” Patch said, it is “calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings.” In his autobiography The Last Fighting Tommy, Patch wrote that “politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.” In the last years of his life, Patch warned some young naval recruits that they shouldn’t join.

Harry Patch is a veteran that we can truly call a hero.

[Read the original at Blog ()...]

Fort Bliss soldier killed in Iraq – Houston Chronicle

August 5th, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News.

Fort Bliss soldier killed in Iraq
Houston Chronicle
© 2009 AP FORT BLISS, Texas — The Defense Department says a 19-year-old Fort Bliss soldier from Ohio has died in Maysan Province, Iraq and his death is ...
Fort Bliss Soldier Dies While Serving In
Soldier From Plymouth Dies In
Fort Bliss soldier dies in IraqEl Paso Times
all 38 news articles »

[Read the original at (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News (2009-08-05)...]

Fort Hood soldier killed in Iraq Posted On: Monday, Aug. 3 2009 04 … – Killeen Daily Herald

August 3rd, 2009

This is a syndicated post, originally from (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News.

Fort Hood soldier killed in Iraq Posted On: Monday, Aug. 3 2009 04 ...
Killeen Daily Herald
Staff Sgt. Johnny R. Polk, 39, of Gulfport, Miss., died July 25 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade on July 23 in Kirkuk, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd ...
Grenade explosion kills Fort Hood soldier in Iraq Houston Chronicle
Fort Hood soldier dies after Iraq grenade explosion News 8 Austin
Fort Hood soldier killed in three-motorcycle wreck KXXV News Channel 25
all 23 news articles

[Read the original at (killed OR died) AND Iraq - Google News (2009-08-03)...]