combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2003

The Only Second Chance

It has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that fortune which loves the brave.
by John Hay, in a 27 July 1898 letter as Secretary of State to Theodore Roosevelt

The sunshine patriots are unfurling their flags, and the summer soldiers are polishing their buttons ... there is another rumor of war, and violence is snarling at petty restraints. Amidst the clamor of saber rattlers and the din of professional protestors, the mild voice of calm reason cannot be heard. Bad music and worse reasons always sound so wonderful when marching off to war!

As every scarred witness can testify, war is a terrible thing ... but it is not the worst of all things. It is far worse to violate one's principles, to betray one's neighbors, to abandon one's home to the disrespect and depredations of one's adversaries. It is far worse to acquiesce in our own destruction, to assist in our own extermination. Whether the imputed motives or demonstrated agendas are sufficient to warrant the mayhem inherent in war is the question that reason asks and prejudice usurps. Any adequate justification for local disputation, such as Lusitania or Mattox, 7 December or 11 September, can expand into a global crisis. Trade conventions and treaty obligations can escalate limited conflicts into unlimited war. America has always been willing to go to great lengths to defend her interests, to take enormous trouble preserving her principles, and (perhaps) too willing to impose her values upon others.

No price is ever too high for zealots ... especially if others can be made to pay the ultimate price for zealous convictions! Just as zealots were once a viable military force, so skeptics were formerly the guardians of sacred truth. The sanctum was worthy of protection against casual or insincere visitation, so applications were dubious of acceptance into the worthy. Now the battle is worthy, and the scrutiny is dubious ... which is how politicians without combat experience can proclaim that the liberty Tree must be occasionally refreshed by watering it with patriotic blood. It should be noted that sacrifice is not the objective, but only a means, and only one of many methods to achieve or preserve that ultimate goal. Fanaticism is picturesque, and bold gestures are more attractive than boring words. A skeptic will not attend to what is said as much as to what is done; for many talk, but few act. Unlike soldiers, who bleed for every miscalculation, politicians seem to have fungible convictions and immunity from ramifications. The fact that scallywags and reprobates keep getting re-elected merely reinforces the maxim that people get the kind of government they deserve. That journalists are irresponsibly complicit in this travesty is no excuse.

In deciding about ultimate objectives, the choice is not between blood and ink, between virtue and concession, between reputation and success. It's been well established by too many confrontations that what people fight for is much more important than why they fight ... since humans have a propensity for rationalizing anything and everything. The person who achieves effortlessly has been denied the opportunity to learn from adversity; as the nation that abandons uncertain attainments has lost the values proffered by defeat. Mankind has always learned more from mistakes, while strength, of body and of character, is only acquired by challenges ... hence the victor must know that inevitable defeat is unpredictable. If defeat is the result of making the last mistake, or victory is the result of making fewer mistakes, then imputing criminality or arrogating judgement upon one's foe is an invitation to another war in the next generation. No entity can act as multi-cultural policemen to the world if there are no unifying global standards. If the fundamental international premises are incompatible, then placing uniformed social workers of universal diversity in harm's way is an invitation to disaster.

It is no more ironic that soldiers hate war than that police hate crime and medicos hate disease. War is where soldiers go to serve their community, to represent their ideals, to exemplify their history. Tradition is not worth the life of a single soldier, but the death of a single soldier can create traditions! History is not worth the life of a single patriot, but patriots will accept death for a better history! The battlefield is where adversaries contest, avoiding victims and exercising skills, but combat is invariably conclusive. Talk is always subject to interpretation, and is inherently inconclusive. War, for better or worse, is decisive. Even when the battles become multi-generational, the results are indisputable, and the effects last forever. War is the final extremity of reason; where the unreasonable complements reason, and the irrational exacerbates the rational. If it is to be done, it must be done well and truly. No doubt, no second-guess, no ulterior objective ... war exists to render a clear-cut resolution.

In the real war, the stakes are too high for egocentrism and ethnocentrism, so the good people of every stripe will determine the prevailing ethics. In current events, there are deficient juveniles at play in a volatile snake pit, leaving the reasonable adults with no good options. Inevitably, amateurs have re-written the manual of war; so innovation is the only recourse for conventional wisdom. Declaring war on human nature is futile, and using destruction to change minds is pointless ... no explanation is ever adequately understood by a corpse. War cannot eradicate evil, and the potential for harm is endemic in normal existence. Freedom is inherently chaotic, and liberty cannot be secured with restraining fetters. Combat can relieve oppression, but can never impart knowledge or instill wisdom.

Every declaration of war is couched in the finest arguments and dressed in the best reasons. War is always painted as a dispute between good and evil, right and wrong, superior and inferior codes of conduct; but these are not valid military objectives. The military objectives of any impending war must not be abstract or theoretical, lest one invite genocide. The proper arena for combating ideas is in the social institutions, from school rooms and court rooms to pulpits and bully-pulpits, with their latitude and license defended by advocates and conservators. A society which declares war on ideas has declared its moral and intellectual bankruptcy. Except by annihilation, no armed force knows when it has accomplished an intangible goal ... and the fight must be renewed any time these improper concepts are reborn. Dispatching our highest hope to redeem our greatest expectations by forlorn hope is a tragedy; sending them after pie in the sky to preserve our pie on the table is a travesty! The honorable citizens pledged in the defense of their homeland are too precious to be squandered by political poltroons and journalistic bigots.

The empty sack can be held open for filling with anything; and a weak sack can be propped-up by a mob of improbabilities. The reasons and feelings that motivate people to exert themselves, and inspire people to persist, must be culturally substantiated. Facts can be substantiated into proofs, and improbabilities can be converted into beliefs by explicable demonstrations. It is incumbent upon citizens to test the social propositions arrayed before them as political options, not only because the cost of their implementation will be imposed upon the taxpayers and their transfer will be actuated by selected members, but because everybody will be compelled to live with the results. The most immediate effect of any war is exhibited in market scarcity and absent relatives or neighbors, but the final price is the lost generation of missed opportunities and wasted resources. War makes everyone poorer ... even the victor ... and the debt can never be repaid.

It's essential that citizens be informed, be careful, and be decisive. The terrible thing about human affairs is that everyone seems to have his own very best reasons for his misconduct. There is no such thing as a little war, and there is no second place in combat. The only second chance that anyone gets in this violent world is the opportunity to prevent catastrophe.

It's not greed and ambition that makes wars — it's goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons, for liberation or manifest destiny, always against tyranny and always in the best interests of humanity. So far this war, we've managed to butcher some ten-million people in the interest of humanity. The next war, it seems we'll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity.
by Paddy Chayefsky and Arthur Hiller, screenwriters of 1964 movie, based on "The Americanization of Emily" by William Bradford Huie

[nb: for readability, allusions have not been specifically cited; but the author readily acknowledges his intellectual indebtedness to Sun-Tzu, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Voltaire, Ramsay, Hume, Locke, Clausewitz, Paine, Franklin, Jefferson, Thoreau, Mill, Nietzsche, Renoir, James, Freud, Pirandello, White, Baldwin, et al]

by Erin Galloglass
... who is a combat disabled veteran, a bookseller, and freelance writer.