“War Is Delightful To Those Who Have Not Experienced It.”

Erasmus of Rotterdam
15th/16th century Dutch humanist and theologian

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The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corpse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O’er the grave where our hero we buried.

We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light
And the lanthorn dimly burning.

No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest
With his martial cloak around him.

Few and short were the prayers we said,
And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,
And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

We thought, as we hollow’d his narrow bed
And smooth’d down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head,
And we far away on the billow!

Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone,
And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him–
But little he’ll reck, if they let him sleep on
In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

But half of our heavy task was done
When the clock struck the hour for retiring;
And we heard the distant and random gun
The foe was sullenly firing.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
But we left him alone with his glory.

Charles Wolfe (Peninsular War)

Sir John Moore
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Every year here, Banned Book Week is “celebrated” at my library and to commemorate this event, I usually read one of my favourite novels of all time, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. This is a novel, released just as World War II was beginning, that tells the story of a World War I soldier physically destroyed by an artillery shell but left with a complete mind. It was sensationally, and brilliantly, recreated by Metallica as their song “One” and used footage from the 1971 movie in the video.

Dalton Trumbo was, most famously, one of the “Hollywood Ten”, blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee of Senator McCarthy. But this was not necessarily the reason that the book has been banned all over the country. It is more of a case that this novel deals with the reality of war as seen by combatants: stark and without heroism. And the plight of John Bonham (not the Led Zeppelin drummer) is suddenly very relevant given the current state of modern battlefield trauma care resulting in the survival of horrifically wounded combatants who would previously died on the field of battle.

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Drummer Hodge

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined – just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew –
Fresh from his Wessex home –
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge forever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellation reign
His stars eternally.

Thomas Hardy (Boer War)

Boer War

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If there is anything that was promised by Barack Obama, it was the end of the Iraq war and then the end of the war in Afghanistan: something that that has just about come to pass. From personal observation, family observations and recollections, historical study, and even economic study, it is pretty obvious that all one war does is set the table for the next war.

There have been family members fighting in the Napoleonic, Crimean, Boer, Spanish-American, WWI and WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq I and II, and the Afghanistan war. This does not even begin to include “police actions” in places like Aden, Kenya, Panama and Somalia.

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Anthem For The Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
– Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
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.

Wilfred Owen (World War I – “The Great War”

somme

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Hell, there was a Neuville who landed with William the Conqueror and fought against the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. And in all probability, given the rather cantankerous nature of the Scottish (or at that time Pictish) side of the family, there were ancestors stripping naked and painting themselves blue in order to terrify Fred the Roman and convince him to fuck off back over Hadrian’s Wall into the known world.

I come from a family that is much entwined in the military of both the US and the UK. My sister has even been decorated for bravery for actions in Iraq as has her USMC husband. My grandfathers were both awarded medals for conspicuous gallantry in World War II. My great-grandfather won medals at the Somme and the Marne. I consider myself to be pro-military but anti-war. The next generation is already in the navy and looking to go get some.

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Suicide In The Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Siegfried Sassoon (World War I – “The War To End All Wars”)

marne

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I have no doubt that if I had stayed in the UK, I would have ignored the wishes of my mother to go to London School of Economics in order to become a Capitalist Pig and would have enlisted in the army: probably the paras, since there is a lot of family history there. And if possible, I would have gone into 7 SAS as well. This is another regiment with family members defending the crown, doing great deeds (and some rather dark deeds too ‒ it is the SAS after all) and bleeding for Queen and Country. I would have fought in the Falklands alongside several other boys who I went to high school with.

But talking to the people who have been there, and done that, so to speak, there is nothing heroic about war other than surviving it intact in mind, body and spirit. And from listening to my great granddad, granddads, godfather, brother-in-law, sister, best friend, etc. nobody can return with all three intact.
Something has to be sacrificed. Something is sacrificed.

There is no greater good in a war: even stopping someone like Hitler. Genocide can happen anywhere, at anytime, and using military force is just like stepping on a balloon. It disappears from one place and emerges somewhere else. Humans, en masse, lack humanity.

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How To Kill

Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches.

Keith Douglas (World War II ‒ the war after “The War To End All Wars”

dday

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Wars create martyrs, who create myths, which lead to further wars. Events in Iraq will linger for fifty to one hundred years: minimum. A castrated Iraq has led to an invigorated Iran. An invigorated Iran is leading to an even more paranoid Israel. A paranoid Israel is even more intolerant of the nations around it. The nations around Israel are seeing themselves as threatened. Iran is using that threat to galvanize an Islamic awakening. An Islamic awakening makes Israel even more paranoid ……..

And in the middle of this seething cauldron of paranoia, hatred and religious intolerance are the US and British forces. The best place for them to be is anywhere but in middle of a religious, nationalist and tribal whirlpool. This is an area that was racked with wars when Genesis was being recorded (not the eponymous album, but the first book of the Old Testament) on clay tablets. Nothing much has changed in the intervening millennia.

And probably, several millennia into the future (should humans survive so long), there will still be wars fought in that area. It is the cradle of civilization. Civilization equates to governments. Governments raise armies to protect themselves. Armies need to be “entertained” so that, like a fighting pit bull, they do not turn on their handlers (think Rome’s Praetorian Guard). This has been a pattern since Assyria ruled the world…..

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No Heroes

There were no heroes here
Amongst the men who tramped through
Rutted, quaking moor,
Or crawled, cat-silent,
Over skittering scree
To prove the way.

No heroes fought the blazing fires
Which sucked the very blood from
Ship and man alike.
Or braved knife cold
Without a thought
To save a life.

No heroes they, but ones who loved
Sweet life and children’s laugh,
And dreamt of home
When war allowed.
They were but men.

David Morgan (Falkland Islands)

port stanley

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Throughout the years, war has been glamorized. It was glamorized by many of its biggest detractors as a self-protective device. The soldiers who fought the battles told the stories in a self-deprecating and self-effacing manner in order to obscure what the sights, and sounds, and smells of war did to them. And in doing so, they have perpetuated the myths that “there is a certain nobility in war”. But authors like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon stood up and gave the soldiers another voice: and theirs is a voice that needs to be heard and heeded.

The same great-grandfather who told amazing tales of charging across no-man’s land also cried himself to sleep for the next fifty years. My grandfather who survived Dunquerque and Sicily and Normandy died at a relatively young age from the way that training troops to go and die ravaged his psyche. My brother-in-law has spent three tours in Iraq and has PTSD and even my sister is not sure of quite what he has seen and done. My godfather walks around armed to the teeth in England (legally) because he has so many bounties on his head as a result of the things (very bad things) he did in Northern Ireland for the SAS.

There is no glory in these things. There is honor in upholding an oath to defend and protect either the Constitution or the Crown. But that honor should not be taken advantage of by a self-serving government.

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Kill Me A Son

God looked down and said
Kill me a son
But when one son was dead
The killing wasn’t done

The killing went on
And more sons came
Some said it was wrong
But more were still slain

Why did we make war?
To that place in the East
WMDs for sure
The devil’s had his feast

Gregory Robert Samuels (Iraq)

iraq

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Go West Young Man

As surprising and as fulfilling and as terrifying and as wonderful as my life has been, I always take time out to remember landing in America.  It was 36 years ago today that I came through immigration at Sea-Tac.  The rest, as they say, is history.

LMF

Feival

It Still Counts As One!

I am a blessed individual. I have two daughters and they are now 23 and 19 (almost 20) and they still love to hang out with dad. Over the years, even though I am that most despised of societal creatures – the divorced father, I have forged a very tight bond with both of them.  We do a lot of things together all of the time even though the oldest is now married (sometimes she even lets her husband tag along) and the youngest is busy starting forge a modelling career and travelling the world. Besides our love of all things Warhammer 40K, we love to go fishing together.

Willamette RiverAnd it is just as much fun going fishing with the oldest now she is 24 as it was when she was 14 and even as much fun as when she was 4: and taking a 4 year old fishing is a riot. Dad, being dad, used his trusty Shakespeare fishing pole from Larry’s Bargain Basement that is 30+ years old now while junior wing-girl #1 used her new UglyStikk that an over indulgent father purchased for her.

Standard family fishing league rules applied: you have to land it to count it and in the event of a tie it is down to the number of bass caught. Please note that in the picture I am indicating that this whale (you have to squint to really see it) counts as one (the commissioner of the family made a ruling) and a myriad of tiny cousins of his also each counted as one. There were some nice bass caught too – along with a pair of underpants that were at one point tidy-whities and now had a permanent skid mark colour (and the commissioner ruled that this did not count as one (but maybe a number 2)).

lrg_1375021729189_9028293444_fe0dd2c8So dad took the day, which is actually a rarity when fishing against either daughter, and we had a good time. Next up is salmon season in September and October which is where I do my best work. Oh, the son-in-law does not fish and hates touching the yukky worms and gets bored after ten minutes and talks incessantly while fishing ….

Fuck It!!!

7-stupid-people-funny-quotes

And so, two and a half weeks ago I made what could, should and would have been the most reckless move of my professional life.  I gave into impulse and after that metaphorical, and in this case, literal last stupid question, I packed up my coffee mug, grabbed my calculator and quit my job.  Right there, right then, I walked up to my pseudo-boss and said “I am done”.

Now dealing with stupid people and stupid questions is integral to what I do for a living.  In fact, if a business had no stupid people working there making bad decisions, then there would not be a need for a person such as myself to come in and fix things and get the business running and the shipments flowing.  But come on people, enough is enough.

stupidpeople

Up until three weeks ago, I had never quit a job in my life.  Not once, not ever:  not when I was working as a sixteen year old prep cook at a delicatessen (and gaining a love of cooking); not working in retail while I was in college; not even working in manufacturing where quitting is almost a rite of passage.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have been fired (quite rightly too) and I have been laid off.  But never in thirty five years of working hard, day in and day out as a slave to the grind, had I ever just achieved that moment of clarity (and that is really what it was) where it was all summed up by two simple words – “Fuck it!”

It reminded me of how my outdoor soccer career ended.  It ended exactly as the sage of all sages (my father) told me it would.  I would wake up one morning and I would know that I was done.  And he told me it would be something innocuous that would be the catalyst rather than a serious injury or conflict with coaches and/or teammates.

warning labels

In this case, I woke up one Sunday morning in February and it was cold and windy and rainy as only Portland in February can be, and those two magic words sprung to the fore – “Fuck it!”  And just like that, my outdoor career was done.  I no longer had the desire to run around in the rain and snow and wind in order to kick people around, over and into the mud bogs that doubled as “soccer fields” at that time in this area.  I did play indoors for another seven years.

Shakespearean aside now complete, I will get back to the original topic:  two and a half weeks ago, I quit my job at 10:30 am.  I was sick from working long hours; I was worn down from the constant stress of trying to get everybody following the plan, and I was mentally beaten down from working with the certainty that I was wasting my time and my skills on this company.

dont get mad at stupid people - craftsnark

I had tried to give my notice in mid-February, and I even gave them four week’s notice in order for them to adequately replace me.  But after meetings with the owner (who I think is an amazing individual) and the head of HR (who said all of the right things) I agreed to give it twelve weeks.  I made it six weeks.  I should have left after the original four weeks.

But all’s well that ends well.  I have already been working for a week at another company.  My phone started ringing the day after I left and it has not stopped ringing since then.  I am working at another manufacturing company for the next three months and that is everything that I want right now.

thank bp

Goodbye Jill

“And in the end …

lilies

…the love you take is equal to the love you make”

In Recognition Of My Resurrection

Fifteen years ago today I made the biggest decision of my life and walked away from my wife and two daughters, a career in the “family” business, a beautiful home and most of my friends and acquaintances.  I also walked away from ten years of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional abuse that left me with scars in place of self-esteem.  I really was one of those “abused” husbands that one hears about.

In an act of desperation to survive, I climbed into the car and drove to the coast and then one thousand  miles south down Hwy 101 all the way to Southern California over the course of three days to wind up on my Aunt’s doorstep.  I remember calling my then wife and saying “I am done.  We are done.  I will not be coming back.”

To me, what the end of my marriage represented was the one true failure of my life. And to this day it casts a shadow over a lot of my life.  After all, I am a first born son, and a Thursday’s child, from an Irish family and as such was created, shaped and expected to achieve greatness. But no matter how one analyzed or interpreted, there was a very basic failure on my part to recognize the context of my marriage and the character of my partner.

There was a failure to recognize the person I had chosen for myself. If one answers that by saying that she was a chameleon, then I failed to recognize the need to get out of the marriage much sooner than I did. One can even say that I failed by not enduring the marriage and creating a life within its confines.

What I ended up with was a nine year black hole. There really is a gaping hole in my life that consists of nine years of minimal memories. I can remember the birth of my daughters and the passing of my grandfather; but that is about all. I do not even have any photographs from that time period.

It really is a gaping void. Of course who needs photographs when one can just look at the scars? The memory of being stabbed with the kitchen knife is still very vivid as is being hit across the back with a two by four.  Not having photographs could be considered a failure too as they would be a record that there was happiness at times: even if there was no contentment. But honestly, they just do not exist.

I have only one friend from within that time period. She is a college professor who became good friends with both my ex and I and she was the only person who remained a friend to me after the split. She was very perceptive to the treatment I was receiving at home and was always there for me as a friend. She had an alcoholic mother and recognized all of the signs in the ex.  She is still one of only three truly trusted friends in my life.

True failure is a combination of many things. It can be bad timing, bad karma, bad taste, bad judgment or just plain bad luck. Combine these ingredients well and shake in more than just a pinch of insanity and, just like that, you have my marriage.  But fifteen years later I have a life.  Some would even say it is a good life.  I literally started over from less than scratch:  no money, no job, and no place to live – just for starters.  And from there I have built a new life based around my basic needs and then the basic needs of my daughters.

I have gone from borrowing $500 from my aunt in order to get back to Oregon to having financial security.  I will be removed from a rather draconian support order in a short period of time but I have still gotten my oldest through school and the youngest on her way there.  I have a clean home that suits me perfectly and I have two daughters who are a permanent (sometimes too permanent) part of my life while they have drifted away from their mother.

All in all I have to say that my personal feeling on what has transpired is pride tinged with sadness.  I would love to indulge in gloating over the miseries that have afflicted my ex-wife, but that is just not me.  Instead I look back and understand that I had to take the fork in the road that I did or I would have been destroyed by my ex-wife’s life much as it has destroyed her.  It really is a case of “there but for the grace of God ….”

People Who Like To Be Alone Should Not Be Confused As Being Lonely

“The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”   

Aldous Huxley

I have to admit that I love being alone. Being alone, does not mean that I am lonely. I have always been that way, and after 48+ years, I probably always will. My life is not, in any way, diminished by being a loner. I have understanding friends should I choose to go out to dinner or go to the pub. I have plenty of invitations to go to parties, holiday dinners and family events.

I learnt to embrace solitude very early in life as I grew up Catholic in an Anglican area. I went to a school where you were sent in a form of “religious walk of shame” to the library when everyone else had Religious Knowledge class. I grew up Irish in an area where the IRA was continually letting off bombs. I had friends but I learnt to keep thoughts and opinions to myself.  Of course, this also means that I tend to keep my true thoughts to myself and am very guarded about revealing myself. It is almost a tap drip mentality of revelation: a tiny amount over a long period of time. But remember that this was also how the Grand Canyon was formed.

“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company” 

Jean-Paul Sartre

I really learnt to enjoy my own company when I came to America and found out very quickly that talking different was just like looking different and I was “entitled” to wear the same bull’s-eye here that I wore in London. Adding to the stigma of being different was the fact that I was very smart in school: and this has always made a student a target. You might as well draw a bulls-eye on those “A” papers and tape them to your chest. I am arrogant enough that I will not “dumb down” for anyone. In fact, there were times in school, I was pissed enough that I set out to bust the curve (and usually did, if I set my mind to it).

The need for my own space and company was something that my ex-wife never came to terms with. I was labeled as “weird” by her family. Everything with them was carried out at full volume; in full view, in what I would have to say was “Fortissimo”. It was like an Italian opera or Mexican Telenovella. This was painful to me. And the fact that I was quiet would, inevitably, be taken that I was, for some reason, pissed off. Nothing could be further from the truth: I was just sitting back and absorbing.

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Albert Camus

Being capable of retreating into a state of invisibility and silence was wonderful in many ways when my marriage collapsed. The ability to compartmentalize my life was also never so important. I could separate being a father from being a husband (yes, they are profoundly different), and I could prevent home life impacting my work, and everything from impacting on football.

And, surprisingly, this was the period in my playing career when I played my very best football and moved away from being a dirty player to being a team leader, a skillful player, and dare I say it, the best player in the area. And to this day, I do not know why my game went in this direction. I would have expected my game to have become more violent, more destructive and more a game borne out of the rage and frustration in my other lives: compartmentalization is my friend.

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.” 

Aristotle

For years, I have endured people trying to talk to me in a fake English accent. One of the biggest things that people cannot understand is that as far as I am concerned, I do not have an accent. Everyone around me has one. Also, there is a mindset in many that it is not racism if the other person is white too.  I have had this very discussion in private with a senior manager at a former job who delighted in talking in his version of an English accent to me. He was under the misguided impression that it amused me, and made him appear “cool”.

I wonder if I made a fundamentally stupid comment to him about his Mormon faith if he would be offended. Of course, this is not something that I would do since a person’s faith is sacrosanct, as is their heritage. (Now I do have one pet peeve to do with heritage, and one day I will write a post about it, but until then …Nor do I feel an overwhelming urge to speak in a voice other than my own.

“In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”

Flannery O’Connor

The senior manager was truly peeved when I asked if he talked in a fake Japanese accent to the company’s Japanese general manager. Much more frighteningly, he could not make the quantum leap to understand what I was saying to him. And since it was a work environment, the “whisper in the ear” really could not come into play. Trust me when I say that if someone does the “London whisper” to you, you take note and do not offend again.

So now, at 48, I am a confirmed bachelor for life. I am neither “Alan Harper” nor am I “Charlie Harper”. I fit somewhere in between.  I support myself and my daughters and still have some money to put away or indulge my hobbies.  I owe very little, take very little, and want very little.  Solitude is a very clean, and unemcumbered, way of living.

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous – to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.” 

Thomas Mann

Most of all, I like being alone because I am beholden to nobody. I choose to live as I wish.  Saturday, because of an incredibly stressful week at work, I decided to have a “me day”. I unplugged the phone when I got up, I never bothered to go online, and I just spent the day in companionable silence with myself and my thoughts. And being alone, nobody is around to criticize me for it; to harp on me for being me.

Being a tribe of one, I can enjoy my hobbies and can indulge them at will. Not surprisingly, these are hobbies that are solitary. I never have to fight with anyone over the decorating colors (red in the kitchen and dining room, red and gold in the living room, and dark brown, gold and red in the bedroom) or where all the money went (or is going), or what to watch on television, if it is on at all.

“Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness. The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines.” 

Paul Brunton

Never, does the phrase “what is this shit you are watching / listening too” resonate through my place. And while my youngest daughter came to live with me eighteen months ago, she is gone so much of the time either to dragon boat training or school or work that she really does not intrude on my solitude

Most important of all, my thoughts are my own and I can share them as I feel the need to share them.

“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind,– the realm of your own.”

Marcus Aurelius