combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 02 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2004

Parthian Shot
a fleeting editorial dart inviting chase

Many Are Called

"So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."
Matthew 20:16 Bible

One of our colleagues complained that putting this magazine to bed is just like cramming for final exams at school, only more frequent! Hearing about this observation, an associate commented on the whole process, saying that: publishing is not a job ... it's a lifestyle! Even when not actually doing it, it invariably obtrudes upon distractions, squelches avocations, and looms persistently in the background. Just as with writers, many are called, but few are chosen, and just as the Marines have endured with a few good men ... our staff now snuffs the electronic equivalent of printers' ink the way we once savored gunsmoke. After each battle, begrimed and exhausted, we pause, if ever so briefly, to reflect on what has transpired in the victory attained.

Unlike the sense of accomplishment inherent in short or long composition, in writing a poem or story or essay or book, there is no end to serial publishing ... and in that sense, it resembles more a Sisyphean condemnation than a task or a chore. There are no plateaus to hold the rock and rest the weary in the endless struggle uphill ... and in that regard, it reminds us of the proverbial endless war, where anytime the mission is not being advanced is a time when the enemy is exploiting opportunities and investigating vulnerabilities. It is mentally and physically and emotionally exhausting ... and one asks Why? such suffering is necessary, and promises to rest or quit at every step, knowing those promises to be lies, and pushing forward again by measured steps ... on and on.

Does anyone know why we do what we do? Many have tried to explain it scientifically or spiritually, with inspirations and predispositions, with tendencies and predilections, but that's just tautological rationalization. We think we'll understand life if we can analyze it, that we can comprehend the whole if we can interpret its parts, that we can master our fears if we can explain them ... but we still whistle in the dark, and tremble in the presence of majestic power. The fact is that some of us are oriented in certain ways, and others aren't; that we form associations and connections based on innate strengths or acquired skills or inexplicable happenstance. Outdoorsmen are drawn to various activities as an excuse to be outside; as are sportsmen and cooks and gardeners and gamesmen and ... to their particular milieu. Gamblers, for example, will bet on anything! And by dint of their obsession, invent pastimes for the rest of us to enjoy.

One of the almost universal games is paper / cutter / rock, wherein each element is both dominant and vulnerable to the other elements, making a realistic contest. The game rules are simple and are played for points or property: paper wraps rock but can be cut, cutter can slice paper but is broken by rock, rock can break cutter but can be wrapped by paper. Analogically, the rock is equivalent to violence, the cutter is equivalent to technology, and paper is equivalent to documentation, especially history or civilization. So when paper wraps rock, it is equivalent to culture subordinating violence; and when paper is cut, it is equivalent to revolution.

The implication of predispositive characteristics is that writers will write even if nobody else reads them ... hence the personal diary and private journal. By contrast, take note of how many public figures, from Washington to Truman, have destroyed their correspondence when they had the opportunity to set their affairs in order and dispose of keepsakes before their inevitable end. The publishing revolution has generated a communication overload that tends to over-simplify the complexities of human relations. And with an excess of words we have been made aware of the diminished human condition, the diminished value of thought, and the diminished value of expression. If everyone is talking then no one is listening.

By temporizing our environment, we have a tendency to accept the glib and facile ... to adopt simplistic solutions to complex problems that are based upon insufficient information. In this schema, uncertainty becomes unacceptable: too uncomfortable, too dangerous, too unpredictable. It's better to hide in a group with the illusion of security than risk individuality, autonomy, independence ... such as when joining the mass migration of lemmings. The herd mentality never confronts daunting truths. It's easier to believe what everyone else believes, even if one's intimate evidence refutes it; since second-guessing has become the new dominant lifestyle, where the ignoble is made noble. It's always easier to turn to heroes for rescue or gods for protection, instead of developing into a wholly capable person oneself. Not only is it more comfortable to hide behind the shield of a leader, complaining about his feet of clay, but followers are never responsible for the results of the choices that they didn't have the courage to make. Predation and failure are never the fault of followers, who just want to get along with everyone, to get on with their silly little lives of pathetic routine.

Please don't misunderstand ... this is not a CounterCultural screed, nor a paean to the ÜberMensch. We value delineated roles and divided labor ... we want TAC-AIR and ARTY for support and RECCE ahead of the MLR. We pushed this damned rock uphill in combat, and now we know that we'll be pushing it all our lives! It won't ever get any easier, but having some engineers and chaplains admixed with the squids and paratroopers will make it a little better. We have found that the perpetuation of values, of technique, of lore, of almost anything deemed worthwhile, necessitates shared commonality as the catalyst. If we are ever to know: What is worth living for? ... worth dying for? ... worth killing for?, then we must share common referents. The objective of intergenerational sharing is the transmittal of allegory and lore ... not cloning replacement soldiers in a persistent war over genetic prejudices or cultivated bigotries.

Penetrating and navigating the historical plexus evokes touchstones, that forever shape and color all other acts and affairs, events and interests. A touchstone wrapped in a legend can break the terrible swift sword ... except that this deadly contest is not an idle game for curious children to play. And regrettably, in averting the foreseeable, we shall undoubtedly fall prey to the unexpected ... condemning more of the chosen few to endlessly toiling uphill. We transfer the messages in the dust to the stone, where they will disappear more slowly, until we all finally fade away.

by Ed Staff