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

Verbal Shrapnel
a desiderative pastiche

The word experience is like a shrapnel shell, and bursts into a thousand meanings.
George Santayana (1920, 1956)

For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
Saint Paul [I Corinthians 14:8 Bible]

So strong is the propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.
James Madison

The history of most countries has been that of majorities — mounted majorities, clad in iron, armed with death, treading down the ten-fold more numerous minorities.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr [30 May 1860 speech]

Wars are, of course, as a rule to be avoided; but they are far better than certain kinds of peace.
Theodore Roosevelt (1897)

For what is war? ... but the getting together of quiet and harmless people, with swords in their hands, to keep the ambitious and the turbulent within bounds.
Lawrence Sterne [Tristram Shandy (1710)]

There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.
Edmund Burke

Life comes in a thousand shades of grey, and everyone except madmen think what they do is reasonable, and maybe even the madmen do too.
John D. MacDonald

No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism.
Winston L.S. Churchill

A Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me.
Robert E. Lee [Jan 1861 letter]

THE ROAD was changing with the season, though in many ways it still held the shape of spring, when it was churned by cavalry, deep-rutted by guns and limbers and the heavy train of armies pursuing and pursued. Infantry had passed here too, and the mud still bore in places the prints — barefoot and shod — of men who had come this way, and some of these were dead now, and some were home, and some were traveling other roads homeward. But all this impress was fading under the rains, and soon the ruts and the marks of men would collapse little by little and dissolve into summer dust. Then whatever memory the road clung to would be gone as well, as if what had happened here had never happened at all. Such was the way of roads then, if not of those who journeyed them.
Howard Bahr [The Year of Jubilo (2000)]

One thing alone not even God can do,
To make undone whatever hath been done.
attributed to Agathon, the Athenian poet, by Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics [also attributed to George Santayana as "Not even God can change the past." (1951)]

Just as a culture has grown decadent when its past has become more glorious than its future, so a man is decrepit when his regrets supplant his dreams.
paraphrase of John Barrymore

Tim pictured his father here — [a] wild young version who flew helicopters, pretty impressed with himself, a girl on each arm, but oblivious to the greed and desperation in their glances. The last time Tim had seen his father, the old man had bragged about feeling invincible, being invincible. "I'm still around aren't I?" said Dad; "Most of the guys I knew didn't have what it took." Tim had just looked at him, realizing that he was older than his father had been during his Asian tour. Still no clue, his old man — no survivor's guilt, no respect for the cosmic roll of the dice, flip of the coin, track of the bullet that said 'you live', 'you die'. "Maybe you're still alive because of dumb luck — not because you control the universe. I thought combat was supposed to teach you that," Tim would tell him one day.
Patricia McFall [The Foreigner's Watch (2004)]

"What! Are you saying that when some dip-shit lieutenant disobeys orders and puts his men at unnecessary risk, he is being heroic? You officer types might think that way, but that's not what us Snuffies think. We understand the accomplish the mission thing. But, we also think an officer's job is to make sure we get back to The World; and, if there is anything we don't need it's somebody who wants to trade in our Dog Tags for a hero medal."
Anthony F. Milavic, MAJ USMC(ret)

"That's right," he said, "I must remember that: not to get excited. Everybody is very thoughtful. They put you in uniform and teach you what every young man ought to know, and take you across the ocean into the middle of hell — bombs, bullets, shells, flamethrowers, your friends die right against you and bleed down your neck, and after two years of that, they bring you home and turn you loose and tell you: 'Now remember, don't get excited'. I'm all right," he said calmly.
Rex Stout

And then he said the one thing he had to say, while his hatred of the necessity twisted across his gray face and left its bitter taste upon his lips. "Gentlemen, I am operating under orders. You are operating under my orders. You need therefore have no thought for the consequences of tonight's work. That will be thrashed out thousands of miles away by men who wear clean clothing and sit in comfortable offices."
James Warner Bella [Mission With No Record]

The white man regards the universe as a gigantic machine hurtling through time and space to its final destruction: individuals in it are but tiny organisms with private lives that lead to private deaths: personal power, success and fame are the absolute measures of values, the things to live for. This outlook on life divides the universe into a host of individual little entities which cannot help being in constant conflict thereby hastening the approach of the hour of their final destruction.
policy statement of the Youth League of the African National Congress (1944)

Let me give you my simplified Marine's perspective on democracy: you know you're in a democracy if you can stand on a soap-box or wave a protest sign at a crowded corner and not wake up the next day in prison, or laying dead in a ditch. That's democracy.
Oliver North [radio comment on Iraq liberation (1 July 2004)]

Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have been called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans — we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments to the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
Thomas Jefferson [1801 Inaugural Address]

Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say, "What should be the reward of such sacrifices?" ... If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!
Samuel Adams

The bottom line is this: Republican or Democrat, approve or disapprove of the decision to go to war, you need to support our efforts here. You cannot both support the troops and protest their mission. Every time the parent of a fallen Marine gets on CNN with a photo, accusing President Bush of murdering his son, the enemy wins a strategic victory. I cannot begin to comprehend the grief he feels at the death of his son, but he dishonors the memory of my brave brother who paid the ultimate price. That Marine volunteered to serve, just like the rest of us. No one here was drafted. I am proud of my service and that of my peers. I am ashamed of that parent's actions, and I pray to God that if I am killed my parents will stand with pride before the cameras and reaffirm their belief that my life and sacrifice mattered; they loved me dearly and they firmly support the military and its mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. With that statement, they communicate very clearly to our enemies around the world that America is united, that we cannot be intimidated by kidnappings, decapitations and torture, and that we care enough about the Afghani and Iraqi people to give them a chance at democracy and basic human rights.
Kevin Brown [Open Letter to America from a Marine Cobra AH-1W Pilot in Iraq (11 Sep 2004)]

One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.
George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]

The plain fact is that free speech in international affairs is a very dangerous privilege, and that its exercise would probably do vastly more harm than good. Nations get on with one another not by telling the truth, but by lying gracefully. The truth, no matter which way it runs, is always unpleasant and often intolerable.
paraphrase of Henry Louis Mencken

If you believe everything you read, better not read.
Japanese proverb

If you are not a thinking man to what purpose are you a man at all?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

It is the same in all wars: the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front line trench except on the briefest of propaganda tours.
George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]

Diplomacy: The patriotic art of lying for one's country.
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

Diplomacy without armament is like music without instruments.
Frederick II "the Great"

For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America.
George Walker Bush

I have heard talk and talk, but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country, now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father's grave. They do not pay for all my horses and cattle. Good words will not give me back my children.
Chief Joseph the Younger ["An Indian's View of Indian Affairs", The North American Review no 269 vol 128 (1879)]

Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.
Will and Ariel Durant [The Lessons of History]

The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.
Paul Johnson

I have a rendezvous with death
At some disputed barricade,
When spring comes round with rustling shade
And apple blossoms fill the air.
But I've a rendezvous with death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true.
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Alan Seeger [nb: KIA 1916]

There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime.
Never to laugh nor love again
Nor taste the summertime.
Joyce Kilmer [Rouge Bouquet (7 March 1918)]

This war was a revolution against the moral basis of civilization. It was conceived by the Nazis in conscious contempt for the life, dignity and freedom of individual man and deliberately prosecuted by means of slavery, starvation and the mass destruction of noncombatants' lives. It was a revolution against the human soul.
anonymous [p15 Time (14 May 1945)]

When the deserving receive their just deserts, the innocent always suffer with the guilty.

We are going to win the war, and we are going to win the peace that follows.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1941)

And when he goes to heaven
To Saint Peter he will tell:
Another Marine reporting, sir;
I've served my time in hell.
epitaph on the Guadalcanal grave of Marine PFC Cameron (1942)

The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
Dwight D. Eisenhower [6 June 1944 Normandy landing]

Gentlemen, we are being killed on the beaches. Let us go inland to be killed.
Norman D. "Dutch" Cota [Omaha Beach (6 June 1944)]

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true: Give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
Franklin D. Roosevelt [D-Day prayer (6 June 1944)]

We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.
Friedrich A. Hayek [The Road to Serfdom (1972)]

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And 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 hose.
Randall Jarrell [The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner (1945)]

Is the world a better place for all the death and suffering we have endured for the sake of these visions [of more perfect societies]? The moral content of human experience does not differ much I think from one epoch to another. All we shall ever know of order and meaning is that we live and nurture life in others, that we grow food and eat it, that we beget children and that we die. What else is there? And yet, we have the soldiers ... always the soldiers coming at us, faceless and solemn, through the mists of dawn, and armed with noble causes, descending upon our little village [that's] waking to the ever fresh delight of the uncreated day ... scaring the children, scattering the chickens, infuriating the dogs ... to insist that there is greater purpose and splendor to our lives than breakfast in the pool of morning, the unhurried walk of a high haunched woman, orange trees in blossom, and a page of fine prose like claret in the mouth.
Andrew Jolly [A Time of Soldiers (1976)]

But it was a long trail yet, a long and lonesome way, before the brightness of real peace would live in the hearts of man — until no man ran howling, wild with fear, any kind of fear, would there be actual peace — until the last man threw away his weapon, any sort of weapon, the tribe of man could not be at peace.
Clifford D. Simak [Way Station (1963)]

His masculine honor, it appeared, had been outraged. To the hint that he was less than he ought to be, there could be no answer, save a bath of blood. Unluckily, all this took place in the United States, where the word honor, save when it is applied to the anatomical chastity of women, has only a comic significance. One hears of the honor of politicians, of bankers, of lawyers, even of the honor of the United States itself — everyone naturally laughs — so everyone laughed at him. More, it ascribed his dudgeon to mere publicity seeking, which caused him to rise to even higher dudgeons still.
paraphrase of Henry Louis Mencken

Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.
T.S. ELiot [p111 The Cocktail Party (1974)]

If we don't have anyone else to fight, we'll fight each other!
old Scottish adage

Men never do evil so fully and cheerfully as when we do it out of conscience.
Blaise Pascal

All I'm saying is [that] violence can be helpful. Sometimes it's the best way to make your point.
Carl Hiaasen

Speak softly and carry a big stick.
Theodore Roosevelt

I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
attributed to Soh Yamamura Yamamoto, Imperial Japanese Navy Admiral commenting on Pearl Harbor attack

Jackson suddenly exclaimed, "How horrible is war!" "Horrible, yes," McGuire replied, "but we have been invaded. What can we do?" "Kill them, sir!", Jackson shouted in savage tone, "Kill every man!".
13 Dec 1862 comment by Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during the battle of Fredericksburg as reported by Hunter Holmes McGuire

The only thing worse than having a war is losing one.
Harry Turtledove

And for America, there will be no going back to the era before September the 11th, 2001 — to false comfort in a dangerous world. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.
George Walker Bush [7 Sep 2003 nat'l address]

No nation has ever been attacked because it was too strong.
paraphrase of "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong." by Ronald Wilson Reagan (29 June 1980)

Anyone who thinks he understands the situation here simply does not know the facts.
attributed to an ambassador to Laos

There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.
Eric Hoffer

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
Martin Luther King Jr

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C.S. Lewis

Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself.
George Santayana

Nowhere at present is there such a measureless loathing of their country by educated people as in America.
Eric Hoffer [First Things, Last Things]

I don't mind a healthy debate, but don't ever use a line of crap like that on me again. I'm not one of your naïve college students, and I'm not some little sycophant[ic] political activist. I've seen people killed, and I've killed people in the service of our country. Your idealistic philosophical theories might fly in the hallowed halls of Congress, but they don't work in the real world. Violence is a fact of life. There are people who are willing to use it to get what they want, and in order to stop them, they need to be met with violence. If it wasn't for war, or the threat of waging war, people like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin would be running the [entire] world. And you would get shot for going around saying stupid things like: "violence only begets violence"!
Vince Flynn (2002)

Examine the records of history, recollect what has happened within the circle of your own experience, consider with attention what has been the conduct of almost all the greatly unfortunate, either in private or public life, whom you may have either read of, or hear of, or remember, and you will find that the misfortunes of by far the greater part of them have arisen from their not knowing when they were well, when it was proper for them to set still and to be contented.
Adam Smith [The Theory of Moral Sentiments]

To save your world you asked this man to die: Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
W.H. Auden [Epitaph for an Unknown Soldier (1945)]

If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.
Michael Davis O'Donnell [MIA/KIA 1970 near DakTo RVN]

compiled by Ed Staff

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones