A late and prolonged series of spring storms drove the felines into prolonged detention here in these cramped mountain confines, and, as might be expected amongst a pack of predators, things did not go well.
A constant state of tension, broken by occasional bouts of hissing, spitting, grousing, growling, cuffing, and arch-necking, over issues of food, attention, and territory. One cat, like a cowbird, determinedly insists upon occupying another's acknowledged "nest." The Little Corsican zealously guards the living room floor, which, due to the placement of furniture, resembles the outlines of France. Anyone seeking to cross must be pursued and cuffed, except for one cat, who seems to possess a transit visa. The Corsican additionally defends a fleet of ships, in the form of an empty shoebox, at the port of Marseilles; pirates attempting to board this vessel must be driven off. Then we have the cat who will sometimes rush at and then bat about cats who happen to occupy areas where he wants to Look.
More benign and amusing than the sort of hissing, spitting, cuffing, and arch-necking that occurs on this site, and over issues that, not long after, most combatants can barely even remember (William K. Black anyone?). And certainly less deadly than the apex of such human behavior: warfare.
The seamy shit-disturber Michael Savage last summer became obsessed with the old Kinks chestnut "Living On A Thin Line," particularly with these lines:
all the stories have been told
of kings and days of old
but there's no England now
all the wars that were won and lost
somehow don't seem to matter very much anymore
Savage, because he's a simpleton, believed this song to be some sort of war chant, calling upon the English people to rise up and sally forth to recapture lost glory; he many times expressed the ludicrous (and dangerous) notion that "only the soccer thugs can save England." Savage rarely played, and certainly never reflected upon, the lines that followed:
all the lies we were told
all the lies of the people running round
their castles have burned
now I see change
but inside we're the same
as we ever were
Even though Savage champions it, this song is well worth anyone's time, as it expresses something deep and true, something Savage can't (or won't) perceive: that all the wars, all the bloodshed, all the deaths, all the lies, perpetrated in the name of "England," were all a waste, every one, because "there's no England now." All that's left today of "England," what all that fighting and dying was for, comes down to an old, tiny woman, fond of sherry and surrounded by corgis, tippling in a high-backed chair, an I-pod bud impacted in the wax of her ear.
In 1962, WWII South Pacific combat veteran James Jones stood before the Lincoln Memorial, reading the words of the Gettysburg Address, probably the most famous collection of syllables to emerge from the conflict that sparked Memorial Day. Earlier that morning Jones had toured the battlefield of Antietam with his friend William Styron, who later recorded Jones' reaction to the Memorial:
Jim's face was set like a slab, his expression murky and aggrieved, as we stood on the marble reading the Gettysburg Address engraved against one lofty wall, slowly scanning those words of supreme magnanimity and conciliation and brotherhood dreamed by the fellow Illinoisian whom Jim had venerated, as almost everyone does, for transcendental reasons that needed not to be analyzed or explained in such a sacred hall. I suppose I was expecting the conventional response from Jim, the pious hum. But his reaction, soft-spoken, was loaded with savage bitterness, and for an instant it was hard to absorb. "It's just beautiful bullshit," he blurted. "They all died in vain. They all died in vain. And they always will!"
Later that day Styron and Jones met with people in the Kennedy White House. The significance of the juxtaposition of the visits to Antietam, the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House, did not strike Styron until some years later:
Many years went by before I happened to reflect on that day, and to consider this: that in the secret cellars of the White House, in whose corridors we were soon being shepherded around pleasantly, the ancient mischief was newly germinating. There were doubtless all sorts of precursory activities taking place which someday would confirm Jim's fierce prophecy: heavy cable traffic to Saigon, directives beefing up advisory and support groups, ominous memos on Diem and the Nhus, orders to units of the Green Berets. The shadow of Antietam, and of all those other blind upheavals, was falling on our own times.
Twenty years later, in November 1982, even as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being dedicated out on the mall, down there in "the secret cellars of the White House," Ronald Reagan, Ollie North, Wild Bill Casey, et al, were again up to “the ancient mischief."
Just as Vietnam began as part of the mad “great game” against the USSR, so too began the Reagan administration’s blithe financing, arming, assisting of the mujahideen of Afghanistan. Which contributed to the expulsion of the Soviets, and the concomitant increase in power and respect for the mujahideen. Which emboldened the mujahideen to believe they should be selected to fight and defeat Saddam Hussein in Gulf War I. Infuriated when their offer was spurned, the mujahideen then inspired to declare holy war against the US, as “infidel” troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia in their stead. Which eventually, boiling out of that abandoned charnel house of the Cold War that was Afghanistan, resulted in the attacks of 9/11. Which emboldened George II to embroil this nation in one, two, many Vietnams, against the mujahideen of Afghanistan, the people of Iraq, the peoples of the world, and of his own nation.
Yet, again, "blind upheavals, falling on our own time."
So it goes.
In The Thin Red Line, the second novel of his war trilogy, Jones offers a vision through the eyes of an officer, watched by his superiors, even as he himself watches the end of men both had sent into carnage and death:
Stein had a sudden and unholy, heartfreezing picture, which transfixed him for a moment, bulge-eyed, of an identical recurrence up there now of the scene he himself had witnessed on Hill 207 two days ago. The same harrassed, apprehensive Battalion Colonel with field glasses; the same diffident, but equally apprehensive little knot of eagles and stars peering over his spiritual shoulder; the same massed mob of pawns and minor pieces craning to see like a stadium crowd; all were up there right now, going through the identical gyrations their identical counterparts had gone through two days ago. While down below were the same blood-sweating Captains and their troops going through theirs. Only this time he himself, he Jim Stein, was one of them, one of the committed ones. The committed ones going through their exaggerated pretenses of invoking the cool calm logic and laws of the science of tactics. And tomorrow it would be someone else. It was a horrifying vision: all of them doing the same identical thing, all of them powerless to stop it, all of them devoutly and proudly believing themselves to be free individuals. It expanded to include the scores of nations, the millions of men, doing the same on thousands of hilltops across the world. And it didn't stop there. It went on. It was the concept--concept? the fact; the reality--of the modern State in action. It was so horrible a picture that Stein could not support or accept it. He put it away from him[.]
Meanwhile, down in the carnage and death, a young soldier, Bell:
no longer cared very much. He no longer cared at all. Exhaustion, hunger, thirst, dirt, the fatigue of perpetual fear, weakness from lack of water, bruises, danger had all taken their toll of him until somewhere within the last few minutes--Bell did not know exactly when--he had ceased to feel human. So much of so many different emotions had been drained from him that his emotional reservoir was empty. He still felt fear, but even that was so dulled by emotional apathy (as distinct from physical apathy) that it was hardly more than vaguely unpleasant. He just no longer cared much about anything. And instead of impairing his ability to function, it enhanced it, this sense of no longer feeling human. When the others came up, he crawled on whistling over to himself a song called I Am An Automaton to the tune of God Bless America.
They thought they were men. They all thought they were real people. They really did. How funny. They thought they made decisions and ran their own lives, and proudly called themselves free individual human beings. The truth was they were here, and they were gonna stay here, until the state through some other automaton told them to go someplace else, and then they'd go. But they'd go freely, of their own free choice and will, because they were free individual human beings. Well, well.
Jones died, too young, before he could complete the third novel in his trilogy, Whistle, which was to end with his vision of the Universal Soldier. What exists, and closes the book, Jones narrated into a tape recorder shortly before his death.
Rather than return to combat, a soldier slips down the side of a troopship, to drown at sea. As his life ebbs away, he is granted a vision in which he, a simple GI, swells, and swells again, until he eventually encompasses all the universe, and then he shrinks, and continues to shrink, until he is the size of an atom, and finally of nothing at all.
George Orwell, another soldier who died too young, had offered a few years earlier, in 1944, his own vision of the Universal Soldier, this one taken from real life.
Among the German prisoners captured in France there are a certain number of Russians. Some time back two were captured who did not speak Russian or any other language that was known either to their captors or their fellow prisoners. They could, in fact, only converse with one another. A professor of Slavonic languages, brought down from Oxford, could make nothing of what they were saying. Then it happened that a sergeant who had served on the frontiers of India overheard them talking and recognised their language, which he was able to speak a little. It was Tibetan! After some questioning, he managed to get their story out of them.
Some years earlier they had strayed over the frontier into the Soviet Union and had been conscripted into a labour battalion, afterwards being sent to western Russia when the war with Germany broke out. They were taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to North Africa; later they were sent to France, then exchanged into a fighting unit when the Second Front opened, and taken prisoner by the British. All this time they had been able to speak to nobody but one another, and had no notion of what was happening or who was fighting whom.
It would round the story off neatly if they were now conscripted into the British army and sent to fight the Japanese, ending up somewhere in Central Asia, quite close to their native village, but still very puzzled as to what it is all about.