combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2005

Verbal Shrapnel
a desiderative pastiche

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

The natural approach to human relations presumes that to know any person well enough is to love him, and that therefore the only human problem is a communication problem. It refuses to admit the possibility that people might be separated by basic, deeply held, genuinely irreconcilable differences — philosophical, political, or religious. Thus the effort to trivialize etiquette as being a barrier to the happy mingling of souls actually trivializes intellectual, emotional, and spiritual convictions by characterizing any difference between one person's and another's as no more than a simple misunderstanding, easily solved by frank exchanges or orchestrated encounters. Many forms of etiquette are employed exactly to disguise those antipathies that arise from irreconcilable differences in order to prevent mayhem.
Judith "Miss Manners" Martin

Minister: An agent of a higher power with a lower responsibility. In diplomacy and officer sent into a foreign country as the visible embodiment of his sovereign's hostility. His principal qualification is a degree of plausible inveracity next below that of an ambassador.
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

Plenipotentiary: Having full power. A Minister Plenipotentiary is a diplomatist possessing absolute authority on condition that he never exert it.
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.
Mohandas Karamchand "Mahatma" Gandhi

Peace may be far more comfortable than war, but we learn more from sorrow than from ecstasy, from labor than from idle, from challenge than from security ... and from this learning we acquire understanding ... and through understanding we may obtain wisdom.

The more prosperous and settled a nation, the more readily it tends to think of war as a regrettable accident; to nations less fortunate the chance of war presents itself as a possible bountiful friend.
Lewis H. Lapham (1991)

A self-respecting nation is ready for anything, including war, except for a renunciation of its option to make war.
Simone Weil [The Power of Words, Nouveaux Cahiers (1937; 1962)]

Patriotism is an ephemeral motive that scarcely ever outlasts the particular threat to society that aroused it.
Denis Diderot [Observations on the Drawing Up of Laws (1774; 1921; 1966)]

I do not mean to exclude altogether the idea of patriotism. I know it exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But I Will venture to assert, that a great and lasting war can never be supported on this principle alone. It must be aided by a prospect of interest, or some reward.
George Washington [21 April 1778 letter]

For most men, their love of country is only represented in their courage to suffer the flagrant abuses of patriotism.
paraphrased from Duc François de la Rochefoucauld and Le Comte de Lautréamont [Isidore Lucien Ducasse]

You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.
Malcolm X [Little]

You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free.
Clarence S. Darrow

The mark of a civilized person is his willingness to deny his own self-interest in recognition of some greater cause or finer motive. Culture, being the ultimate development of self by cooperative extension, would not exist without selflessness. Whenever justifying our transgressions, destruction seems to be inherently coupled with our aspirations; but some ill-defined things of no extrinsic value are worth dying for. These bloodstained dreams have made us better than we were.

Sacrifice and giving are the foundations of the good society. In fact, sacrifice is the pre-condition for a free people. Its neglect comes at the cost of all that has made America what it is. Promoting the common good is something that each of us must take up ourselves. America lives today because for two hundred years there have been women and men who prized freedom above life itself.
Jerry Brown

War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it.
Benito Mussolini [The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism Enciclopedia Italiana (1932)]

Several young ladies were assembled engaged in scoffing at our men as they passed, but they were treated with contempt or derision. I heard of nothing witty said by any of them. It was made evident however that they were not ladies in the southern acceptation of the word. The men I spoke to acknowledged that the brutalities practiced by their troops, upon the southern people, fully justified our retaliating and were surprised at our moderation — the poorer classes told me that our troops behaved better to them than their own did. ... The people of Chambersburg are decidedly. The men dare not show it but by their looks, the women tried to be sarcastic on various occasions but succeeded in being vulgar only. They are a very different race from the southern. There's a coarseness in their manners and looks and a twang in their voices — which grates harshly on the senses of our men; the distinction of class, the poor and sick is very marked. Everyone speaks for peace at any price, and since war has been brought to their own homes, they look desponding to the last degree, and begin to believe that they have been vastly deceived by engaging in it — I have found no one to speak of Lincoln as a man of either capacity or patriotism, everyone even the women think he is under abolition influence entirely, and they assert boldly that freedom should not be the lot of the negro.
Lafayette McLaws [15 June 1863 letter]

The flat unsmiling face, the glinting bayonet, and the polished boots all seemed impervious to thought, let alone fear. There is, as I later found out, no real fear unless you think about it. There is sudden terror, but that is more easily controlled than the kind of fear that gnaws away over a period of time. The first thing we had to do was make these people think. I use the word 'people' loosely, because except for the one I saw briefly smiling, they were as impersonal as tanks.
Nathaniel Benchley [Bright Candles (1974)]

It is fear, not law or clemency, that constrains the wicked. ancient axiom

Do not look back in anger, nor ahead in fear, but around in awareness.
James Grover Thurber

And yet here's a peculiar thing. Even in the echo of that awful deafening crash, which seemed to freeze me up from top to toe, I had time to think that there's something grand about the bursting of a big projectile. What does it sound like? It's hard to say; because what you hear is mixed up with what you're frightened of. Mainly it gives you a vision of bursting metal. You seem to see great sheets of iron bursting open. But the peculiar thing is the feeling it gives you of being suddenly shoved up against reality. It's like being woken up by somebody shying a bucket of water over you. You're suddenly dragged out of your dreams by a clang of bursting metal — and it's terrible — and it's real.
George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]

[battle is not] the real war.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian Wars

The real war was not movements or maps; it was not enlistments and discharges; it was not the relative abilities of officers and politicians. Nor was the real war manufacturing and supply; it was not regimental formations and battery organization, solid shot or shoes for horses; it was not numbers and losses, nor even killed and wounded, or battlefields and cemeteries. It was not anything we can count, measure, or read. The real war was a nightmare.
Kent Gramm [Somebody's Darling, Essays on the Civil War (2002)]

War is not a true adventure. It is a mere ersatz. Where ties are established, where problems are set, where creation is stimulated — there you have adventure. But there is no adventure in heads-or-tails, in betting that the toss will come out of life or death. War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [Flight to Arras (1942)]

The ifs can kill you, and the never agains can gut you ... time divided by life equals death every time.
John D. MacDonald

There are no medals awarded for regret.

I had seen so much of real suffering, of conflict, danger and death, that for years I could read neither romance or history, for nothing equalled what I had seen and known. All tales of war and carnage, every story of sorrow and suffering paled before the sad scenes of misery I knew of.
Cornelia Peake McDonald [April 1865 diary entry]

The baby-boomers who advocated peace and championed the counter culture don't have any real battles to talk about, so they feel compelled to amend, colonize, annex, quantify, qualify, trammel, co-opt, usurp, steal, or commodify every meaningful thing from any other generation in hopes of investing some genuine value into their pretentious and selfish lives.
paraphrase of Joe Queenan

From my earliest childhood I have been toiling & wearing my heart out for other people, who took all I could do & suffer for them as no more than their just dues.
John Randolph [letter to John Brockenbrough]

The Army sure knows how to take the patriotism out of a man.
Irwin Shaw

When baiting a trap with cheese, always remember to leave room for the mouse.
Saki [Hector Hugh Munro]

The shattered heel and what remained of the calf of his right leg began to pain Doniphon [Lear], and he began to lean more heavily on the cane, which he had never learned to use properly, and with which he was even more clumsy now that he depended upon it more. It was a good cane, from what he knew of canes, a plain black military cane with a solid rubber tip, which they had issued him at the hospital, as though it were any other standard piece of Army equipment, with its own serial number stamped or engraved upon it somewhere, though he'd not yet found it. The fault was not with the cane but with him. He had never given canes enough thought in those days when he had not needed them. He had not prepared himself to be a cripple. He'd always been prepared to be a corpse, because that took only a certain viewpoint which had always been a part of his nature; but it required a special skill to be a cripple, and he had not foreseen that. The Army should give courses preparing men to be cripples. The mistaken assumption was that you survived battle intact, or you became a corpse. But there were always more cripples than corpses. He could imagine training lectures entitled: Procedures on Adapting to the Behavioral Pattern of a Minimal Functioning Human Organism; and the opening sentences of such lectures appeared in his brain as though they were printed on the brownish paper of military manuals. But since neither he nor the Army had had the foresight to prepare him to be a cripple, he had to drag himself inefficiently down the empty avenue, the smart click of his good left foot against the cement followed by the soft thump of the cane and scrape of his wounded leg. [He was] A hurt hawk, a fallen but undead Icarus on disability pay.
Andrew Jolly [A Time of Soldiers (1976)]

What the horrors of war are, no one can imagine. They are not wounds and blood and fever, spotted and low, or dysentery, chronic and acute, cold and heat and famine. They are intoxication, drunken brutality, demoralisation and disorder on the part of the inferior ... jealousies, meanness, indifference, selfish brutality on the part of the superior.
Florence Nightingale [5 May 1855 letter, Forever Yours, Florence Nightingale; Selected Letters (1989)]

To me war is like an aging actress — more and more dangerous and less and less photogenic.
Robert Capa [Andrei Friedmann]

Two things greater than all things are
The first is love and the second war
And since we know not how war may prove
Heart of my heart, let us talk of love
J. Rudyard Kipling

For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold [Dover Beach]

Life is not a spectacle or a feast; it is a predicament.
George Santayana

It can be plausibly argued that the best possible contribution to a world in turmoil is sitting quietly and doing nothing; for only then will the ferment and upheaval have a chance to settle.
paraphrase of Alan Wilson Watts [The Way of Zen (1957)]

Who can make sense of a world like cloudy water?
Left alone and still, it becomes clear.
Should this stillness be maintained?
Moving hastily will surely cloud it again.
How then can one move and not become clouded?
Lao-Tzu [#15 Tao Te Ching]

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Edna Saint Vincent Millay [Dirge Without Music (1928)]

You did much more than grow-up when you went away to war ... you left as a man and returned as a human being.
paraphrase of Stephen Hunter

Those who have been immersed in the tragedy of massive death during wartime, and who have faced it squarely, never allowing their senses and feelings to become numbed and indifferent, have emerged from their experiences with growth and humanness greater than that achieved through almost any other means.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross [ch 5 Death: The Final Stage of Growth (1975)]

You can't pick up a paper without seeing where the Marines were landed to keep some nation from shooting each other, and if necessary we shoot them to keep them from shooting each other.
William Penn Adair "Will" Rogers (5 Jul 1925)

The only thing that's been a worse flop than the organization of non-violence has been the organization of violence.
Joan Baez

I don't know how a lot of these other nations have existed as long as they have till we could get some of our people around and show 'em how to be pure and good like us.
William Penn Adair "Will" Rogers (27 Feb 1932)

The truth [about this ideological war] is in the millions of innocent families who have suffered the most horrible tragedies ... [they were] people who understood what was happening in only the vaguest way. The truth of this war lies buried with its victims, with those who died, and with those who are consigned to live in an oppressed silence, for now and for the coming generations. A silence the world calls peace.
Bui Diem

compiled by Ed Staff

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