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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.

Originally posted to blueness on Sat May 23, 2009 at 08:14 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  always waterloo (22+ / 0-)

    Spring comes to Kirrie, all the world’s in bloom,
    Winter is forgiven now, fooled by April’s broom,
    Kirrie, oh Kirrie, you were aye my hame
    Till Napoleon’s bloody cannon hit their aim.

    Jeanie, oh Jeanie, I am surely done,
    Stricken down in battle, at the mooth o Boney’s guns,
    Jeannie oh Jeannie, aye sae dear tae me,
    Let me hold you in my mind afore I dee.

    For the cold returns in autumn
    when the wind rakes the trees,
    And the summer lies forgotten
    In a cold bed of leaves,
    As winter begins, aye mind Boney,
    It wasn’t only you,
    Who was broken on the field of Waterloo.

    Surgeon, oh surgeon, leave me wi my pain,
    Save your knife for others, who will surely rise again,
    Surgeon, oh surgeon, leave my blood to pour,
    Let it drain into the bitter clay once more.

    Daughter, oh daughter, listen dear tae me,
    Never wed a sodger, or a widow you will be
    Daughter, oh daughter, curse your lad to die,
    Ere he catches the recruiting sergeant’s eye.

    Boney, oh Boney, war was aye your game,
    Bloody field your table, cannon yours to aim,
    Boney, oh Boney, we aye lived the same,
    Drilling laddies not to fear the muskets’ flame.

    For the cold returns in autumn
    When the wind rakes the trees,
    And the summer lies forgotten
    In a cold bed of leaves,
    As winter begins, aye mind Boney,
    It wasn’t only you,
    Who was broken on the field of Waterloo.

  •  what was mad about the great game? (0+ / 0-)

    nice epic history with bad guys losing. you ought to be grateful it didn't work out otherwise.

    waterloo was an excellent outcome as well.

  •  My husband can't bring himself to visit the Wall (10+ / 0-)

    Seeing the names of boys he knew, though he's now well into a middle age he feels he somehow doesn't deserve, would be too much.   He can watch the military channel and point to the helicopter he served on or the jets he supported, mechanical things..proud machines.   But the names of the boys are too painful for him to bear.  

    Oh, cursed be those cruel wars, that ever they began,
    For they have robbed our country of manys the handsome men.
    They've robbed us of our sweethearts while their bodies they feed the lions,
    On the dry and sandy deserts which are the banks of the nile.

  •  . (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LithiumCola, Pluto, blueness, crose

    THESE hearts were woven of human joys and cares,  
    Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.  
    The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,  
    And sunset, and the colours of the earth.  
    These had seen movement, and heard music; known        
    Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;  
    Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;  
    Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.  
    There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter  
    And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,        
    Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance  
    And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white  
    Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,  
    A width, a shining peace, under the night.

    ~ Rupert Brooke (1914)


    "Let reverence for the laws . . . become the political religion of the nation." ~ Abraham Lincoln

    by noweasels on Sat May 23, 2009 at 08:41:22 PM PDT

  •  Nihilism revisited. Very nice diary. (5+ / 0-)

    Here's a little poem to celebrate the meaninglessness of war, even a "good" one:

    The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

    From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
    And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
    Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
    I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
    When I died they washed me out of the turret with a  

    Randall Jarrell

    It's not a campaign anymore, Mr. Obama.

    by huntergeo on Sat May 23, 2009 at 08:44:12 PM PDT

  •  Most Excellent and Extraordinary (7+ / 0-)

    As I was reading, I thought each quoted passage was the crescendo -- and then the next one would break more surreal and evocative than the one before. Thanks blueness. I'm going to read it again....

  •  Sometimes I am mere at a loss (10+ / 0-)

    to understand people like Michael Savage, or any person over the age of, say, 30, who harbors for militarism anything more than a contemptuous shrug.

    It's not like these words you quote, from people who have seen the face of war, are a secret.  These words, and many others, have been published.  People can read them.  It doesn't need to be a discovery.

    And yet it is.  Generation after generation.  So many people think they want a war, think they have to have a war.  They learn better, and write about it, in texts that we in later generations can read and understand, if we want to.

    History may be an open wound but it is also an open book, or enough of one.  It's not a secret.  It just takes a little open-heartedness.

    Space. It seems to go on and on forever. But then you get to the end and a gorilla starts throwing barrels at you. -- Fry, Futurama

    by LithiumCola on Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:01:48 PM PDT

    •  btw outstanding post (3+ / 0-)

      Space. It seems to go on and on forever. But then you get to the end and a gorilla starts throwing barrels at you. -- Fry, Futurama

      by LithiumCola on Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:02:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh, That's What I Was Going to Ask! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      capelza, blueness

      Does this have anything to do with why Savage is being savaged by the UK as an "no entry" entity? I listen to him, you know, on the radio. I'm in thrall of his existence and reality.

      •  i don't know (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        capelza, Pluto

        the specific reasons behind that ban. All I've heard is Savage's ravings about it. I intend to research it at some point. Apparently the Home Secretary played some snippets of his show to complaining Conservatives. Will be interesting to hear those. Despite Savage's protestations that he has never endorsed violence, I heard him, with my own ears, years ago, say that if the anti-affirmative action measure approved by California voters was blocked by the courts, the people might need to turn to "bullets, not ballots."

    •  This Has Been the Most Disappointing Season... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LithiumCola, dancewater, crose, publicv

      ...These words, and many others, have been published.  People can read them.  It doesn't need to be a discovery.

      And yet it is.  Generation after generation. Daily Kos, as our depraved and obscene presence in Afghanistan is defended by clueless progressives. Disgraceful.

    •  very well put (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simplify, LithiumCola, Pluto, huntergeo

      You ought to flesh that out a bit, and turn it into a diary. ; )

      As for Savage specifically, I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean most of what he says . . . which makes him even more despicable. This is a guy who hung out with the Beats and at Leary's place, tramped around the tropics for years, wrote natural-healing tomes before they were popular. The radio gig came when he was dead broke, in his early 50s, having been turned down for a teaching position at UC Berkeley. He decided he was a victim of affirmative action, and the rest flowed from there. I heard his early shows when he was a fill-in on KGO; they were nothing like what he's become. Some of his long-time friends say what he really wanted to be was Lenny Bruce. You can hear him trying to do that sometimes, in the context of being a raving right-wing freak. Sad.

      •  Read somewhere that Joe McCarthy (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pluto, blueness

        didn't really care all that much in principle about "anti-communism," but it got him fame and notoriety, so he went with it.  Good theory...  Heard the same about Rush Limbaugh.  After all, how could he have been serious about what he was saying, calling his own fans "dittoheads?"  Granted, after enough harping, they probably believe their own spew.

        Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

        by Simplify on Sat May 23, 2009 at 11:05:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This was an important addition (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    capelza, LithiumCola, Pluto, blueness

    needed also when remembering this holiday. it made me think of Celine's, Journey to the End of Night.

    Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

    by publicv on Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:09:19 PM PDT

  •  Members of my family (6+ / 0-)

    served in every American War from the Revolution through Korea.  Both of my grandfathers served in WWI ~ one as a pilot over France (with neither radar nor parachute), the other in a tin-plated submarine in the North Atlantic.  My father graduated from the United States Naval Academy during the Korean War.  Had it not been for a paper he wrote during his Youngster Year that caught the eye of someone up the chain of command, his first duty would have been in a special unit in Korea; none of those who went came home.

    I do not agree with everything in this haunting and exquisitely written diary, but I do know this: Those who actually serve in war have a far different perspective than those who never did.

    "Let reverence for the laws . . . become the political religion of the nation." ~ Abraham Lincoln

    by noweasels on Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:14:00 PM PDT

  •  Mrs McGrath (7+ / 0-)

    Oh, Mrs. McGrath, the sergeant said,
    Would you like to make a soldier out of your son Ted?
    With a scarlet cloak and a big cocked hat
    Oh, Mrs. McGrath, wouldn't you like that?

    With a too-ri-a, fol-di-diddle-da, too-ri, oor-ri, oor-ri-a
    With a too-ri-a, fol-di-diddle-da, too-ri, oor-ri, oor-ri-a

    So Mrs. McGrath sat on the sea shore
    For the space of seven long years or more
    'Til she spied a ship come a-sailing on the sea
    Oh hello, oh hello, for I think it is he!


    Oh, Captain dear, where have you been?
    Have you been sailing on the Mediter'een?
    Oh, have you any tidings of my son Ted
    Is the poor boy living, or is he dead?


    Then up stepped Ted, without any legs,
    And in their place two wooden pegs
    She kissed him a dozen times or three
    Crying holy Moses, it isn't thee!


    Oh, was you drunk, or was you blind
    When you left your two fine legs behind?
    Or was it walking upon the sea
    Wore your two fine legs from the knees away?


    I wasn't drunk, I wasn't blind
    When I left my two fine legs behind,
    But a cannon ball on the fifth of May
    Cut my two fine legs from the knees away!


    Oh, Teddy my boy, the widow cried
    Your two fine legs were your mother's pride
    By the heavens, I'll make them rue the time
    They swept the legs from a child of mine!


    All foreign wars, I do proclaim
    Between Don John and the King of Spain
    I'd rather have my Ted as he used to be
    Than the King of France and his whole navy!


    -An antiwar song,"about two hundred years old" as sung by Pete Seeger on a 1960's album.

    True then, still true now, except now the legs are not wooden, but hi-tech alloy.

  •  That is one hell of a title. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rita in DC, capelza, dancewater, blueness

    One of the most evocative images I've read in a while.

    Great diary too.

    "As the watchmen cannot be seen, they need not be on duty at all times, effectively leaving the watching to the watched." Jeremy Bentham

    by sceptical observer on Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:27:19 PM PDT

  •  Evidently the Rapture Left Me Alone (7+ / 0-)

    of all the boomers, who grew up among combat veterans of two world wars, who did not totally shut off society from their experiences.

    What I learned from world war combat veterans contradicts what I learn from the patriots and other Republicans.

    I alone.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:38:22 PM PDT

  •  some really dark humor (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, blueness, crose

    from The Onion:  Bring your daughter to war day

    The occupation of Iraq will not be disrupted. - Chris Hedges 3/2/09

    by dancewater on Sat May 23, 2009 at 09:53:59 PM PDT

  •  Madness in the species (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueness, crose

    A few decades ago, the world was geared for nuclear war, nuclear winter, and possible extermination of humanity, all to fight a system that lasted all of 70 odd years and dissolved of its own accord. Now there's talk of attacking Iran, a nation comprised of a majority  of young people who hate their rulers and will rid themselves of them in due course. And the band played Waltzing Matilda.

  •  Wonderful diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    capelza, blueness

    makes me think of this great movie:

    "When the government becomes a lawbreaker, it invites every man to become a law unto himself." ~ Justice Brandeis

    by ActivistGuy on Sat May 23, 2009 at 11:21:14 PM PDT

    •  my favorite (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      capelza, ActivistGuy

      scene from that film involves the final encounter between the aging Australian admiral, and the young female junior officer.

      Before they, forever, abandon their station, the admiral asks a question that has nagged him throughout the long twilight that is this film: why his young aide had not long ago abandoned her post, to spend the final days of the human race with one or more ardent lovers.

      Her answer: "They never asked me."

      The admiral considers. Nods ruefully. Carefully pours sherry. A glass for him; a glass for her. The glasses clink. Their eyes meet. The admiral pronounces, then, the epitaph for the film, for the human race:

      "To a blind, blind world."

  •  Most excellent your blueness. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "The truth shall set you free - but first it'll piss you off." Gloria Steinem

    Iraq Moratorium

    by One Pissed Off Liberal on Sun May 24, 2009 at 05:59:39 AM PDT

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