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

Verbal Shrapnel
a desiderative pastiche

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

As civilization advances, the wilderness withdraws ... for history is just like the rule of beasts. It has ever been this way, and shall forever be ... such that when we are strong, we would not change it, and when we are weak, we cannot change it.
paraphrase of Elmer Kelton

Men never do evil so fully and cheerfully as when we do it out of conscience.
Blaise Pascal [#813/895 Pensées (1670)]

When you learn of the solemn and determined preparations for war being made by otherwise decent people, you think them ludicrous. And when you learn of the grotesque and devastated aftermath of this ever so essential war, you think them unreal. You do not understand how seemingly normal people can plan and execute such abnormalities, and then decry those same effects while pleading their innocence. You do not understand such mad recklessness; and because you are not utterly enthralled by their abandon, you shall be their next target.

I swear I've seen a hundred million miserable faces with those empty looking eyes [that] all those refugees [have] got ... Christ, you get tired of it. They [leaders] send you into these things [interventions], and you're supposed to just ... they call these things humanitarian operations, but a real humanitarian would go in and knock the crap out of the bad guys, wouldn't he? A real humanitarian wouldn't stand around putting Band-Aids on them after they got hurt. A real humanitarian would keep them from getting hurt in the first place, don't you think?
Brian Haig

Strength is inherently dangerous.
Dorothy M. Johnson

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

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)

It [this weapon] kills people when that is a thing that has to be done, even though you can never be certain after it has been done that it had to be done, but when you get that far, survive it that much, it doesn't make any difference, because you can never get back into that time to find out for sure whether it was the thing that [really] had to be done. All you can do is get ready for the next time it may seem to be [necessary].
Andrew Jolly

GUNPOWDER: An agency employed by civilized nations for the settlement of disputes which might become troublesome if left unadjusted. By most writers the invention of gunpowder is ascribed to the Chinese, but not upon very convincing evidence. Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels with, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels. Moreover, it has the hearty concurrence of the Hon. James Wilson, Secretary of Agriculture. Secretary Wilson became interested in gunpowder through an event that occurred on the Government experimental farm in the District of Columbia. One day, several years ago, a rogue imperfectly reverent of the Secretary's profound attainments and personal character presented him with a sack of gunpowder, representing it as the sed of the _Flashawful flabbergastor_, a Patagonian cereal of great commercial value, admirably adapted to this climate. The good Secretary was instructed to spill it along in a furrow and afterward inhume it with soil. This he at once proceeded to do, and had made a continuous line of it all the way across a ten-acre field, when he was made to look backward by a shout from the generous donor, who at once dropped a lighted match into the furrow at the starting-point. Contact with the earth had somewhat dampened the powder, but the startled functionary saw himself pursued by a tall moving pillar of fire and smoke and fierce evolution. He stood for a moment paralyzed and speechless, then he recollected an engagement and, dropping all, absented himself thence with such surprising celerity that to the eyes of spectators along the route selected he appeared like a long, dim streak prolonging itself with inconceivable rapidity through seven villages, and audibly refusing to be comforted. "Great Scott! what is that?" cried a surveyor's chainman, shading his eyes and gazing at the fading line of agriculturist which bisected his visible horizon. "That," said the surveyor, carelessly glancing at the phenomenon and again centering his attention upon his instrument, "is the Meridian of Washington."
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

Therefore, if we find civilised nations do not put their prisoners to death, do not devastate towns and countries, this is because their intelligence exercises greater influence on their mode of carrying on War, and has taught them more effectual means of applying force than these rude acts of mere instinct. The invention of gunpowder, the constant progress of improvements in the construction of firearms, are sufficient proofs that the tendency to destroy the adversary which lies at the bottom of the conception of War is in no way changed or modified through the progress of civilisation.
Karl von Clausewitz

Customs always have a reason behind them, sometimes good, sometimes bad. This is a good one. ... in the first place, an armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization. That's a personal evaluation only, but gunfighting has a strong biological use. We do not have enough things to kill off the weak and the stupid these days; but to stay alive as an armed citizen, a man has to be either quick with his wits or with his hands, preferably both. It's a good thing. Of course, our combativeness has to do with our ancestry and our history; but we have preserved that inheritance intentionally.
Robert A. Heinlein [Beyond This Horizon (1942, 1948)]

Guns don't kill people — people kill people.
slogan adopted by the National Rifle Association

A gun is just a tool. No better and no worse than any other tool ... a shovel, or an ax, or a saddle, or a stove, or anything. Think of it always that way. A gun is as good, and as bad, as the man who carries it.
Jack Schaefer (1948)

Death, wounds, suffering, and privation remain the same, whatever the weapons employed, and their reaction on the ultimate nature of man is the same now as in the struggle a century ago.
Karl von Clausewitz

Love is just another way of giving someone everything they may need to use in order to destroy you.
paraphrase of Marc Olden

When armageddon finally occurs, it will not be the ultimate contest between the forces of good and evil, but will be the final battle between true-believers and former believers – between those converted communists or christians or whatever and those formerly converted – in which they wrathfully condemn and righteously savage each other unto their utter extinction!
paraphrase of Arthur Koestler

The world is more apt to be destroyed by bad politics than bad physics.
Albert Einstein

The human race lost something when people stopped bashing one another with sticks, and started using [advanced] technology in their disputes; and what they lost was their humanness. We'll all wake up some morning and find that we're the aliens.
Donald E. Westlake (1975)

This [catastrophic] war may be the first in history which [selectively] kills the stupid, rather than the bright and able, where it makes any distinction. [Past] Wars have always been hardest on the best young men, [but] this time the boys in service are safe, or safer, than civilians; and of civilians, those who used their heads and made preparations, stand a far better chance. Not in every case, but on the average, and that will improve the breed. When it's over, things will be tough, and that will improve the breed still more. For years, the surest way of surviving has been to be utterly worthless and breed alot of worthless kids. All that will change.
Robert A. Heinlein

Combat takes from each soldier according to his ability, and gives to each according to his situation.
a Murphy Law of Combat [paraphrase of Comte de Saint-Simon]

As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly.
Samuel Johnson

One does not use good iron to make nails, nor good men to make soldiers.
ancient Chinese proverb

Hui-Tzu said to Chuang-Tzu, "I have a big tree of the sort that people call 'useless'. Its trunk is too gnarled and bumpy to apply a measuring line to, its branches too bent and twisty to match up to a compass or square. You could stand it by the road and no carpenter would look at it twice. Your words, too, are big and useless, and so everyone alike spurns them!" ... Chuang-Tzu said, "Now you have this big tree and you're distressed because it's useless. Why don't you plant it in Not-Even-Anything Village, or the Field of Broad-and-Boundless, relax and do nothing by its side, or lie down for a free and easy sleep under it? Axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there's no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?"

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.
Samuel P. Huntington

Defeat was one thing — anyone could have a bad day and get beaten in a fight. Humiliation was another thing altogether. You could live down a bad day — you lived with humiliation forever, if only inside your own head.
Mercedes R. Lackey (2001)

They say a good soldier fights a battle, never a war — that's for civilians.
John Ernst Steinbeck [Winter of Our Discontent (1961)]

Sometimes you win / Sometimes you won't / Sometimes you beat that devil / Sometimes you don't / We're all just killin' time / 'til the Good Lord calls us home / And the best that you can hope for / Is to die / With your boots on
Toby Keith

To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman Of guns, and drums, and wounds, — God save the mark!
William Shakespeare

I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.
Isaiah 63:3 Bible

The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
Joseph Conrad [Teodor Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski]

There's a dark side to intelligent beings — an irrational craving for war, personal defilement, and reckless destruction, even if we know better.
Thom Jones

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what Iíve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost (1923)

Anger is like the sharp blade of a sword — it's too dangerous to hold for too long.
African proverb

Violence is always waiting for you around the next corner.
Lawrence Block

We're nearing a critical point. One day soon, two strangers will bump into each other at high noon in the middle of New York; but this time they won't snarl and go on. They will stop and stare, and then leap at each other's throats in a dreadful silence. The infection will spread outward from that point. Old ladies will crack skulls with their deadly handbags. Cars will plunge down the crowded sidewalks. Drivers will be torn out of their cars and stomped. It will spread to all the huge cities of the world, and by dawn of the next day, there will be a horrid silence of sprawled bodies and tumbled vehicles, gutted buildings and a few wisps of smoke. And through that silence will prowl a few, a very few, of the most powerful ones ... ragged and bloody ... slowly tracking each other down.
John D. MacDonald

I am existentialist. War enables people to be what they really are. The sadists become torturers. The psychopaths make brave frontline troops. The bullies and the victims alike have scope to play their roles to the hilt. And the whores are always busy.
Ken Follett (2001)

The moral effect of a victory increases, not merely in proportion to the extent of the forces engaged, but in a progressive ratio — that is to say, not only in extent, but also in its intensity.
Karl von Clausewitz

Integrity is not a conditional word ... it is your inner image of your [interactive] self. Integrity is not a search for the rewards of [reliable] integrity ... it is not supposed to be a productive asset.
John D. MacDonald (1972)

We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in place of reality.
Daniel J. Boorstin [Intro The Image (1962)]

Difficulties is the name given to things which it is our business to overcome.
Ernest J. King [Adm, USN CNO (1942)]

The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.
U.S. Army Service Forces motto (1945)

Be All That You Can Be.
U.S. Army recruiting motto (1980)

Military service does not build character — it reveals it!
a military leadership maxim

War doesn't mature men ... it merely pickles them in the brine of disgust and dread.
Rex Stout (1939)

His expression spoke volumes for the adrenalin euphoria of war. Once the perils of a situation have been escaped, the good times roll. It's alot like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer. It really feels good when you stop. And beyond that, there's no point or moral lesson to be learned whatever.
Thom Jones

There are more pleasant things to do than beat-up people.
Muhammad Ali [Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr]

It is by no means self-evident that human beings are most real when most violently excited; violent physical passions do not in themselves differentiate men from each other, but rather tend to reduce them to the same state.
Thomas Elliot

A hot war cannot be fought with cold blood.
D. Dean Rusk

There is the old brute, too, the savage, the hairy man who dabbles his fingers in ropes of entrails; and gobbles and belches; whose speech is guttural, visceral -- well, he is here. He squats in me.
Adeline Virginia Stephen Woolf [205p The Waves (1931; 1943)]

... excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st [of July 1863], and he [R.E. Lee] labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.
James "Pete" Longstreet [From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America]

Destiny doesn't care about people. You can slaughter all the people you want and nobody will care. After the piles of flowers are taken away and the TV funerals are over, people forget. Killing people just rearranges carbon and water ... blood can be erased.
John Hockenberry (2001)

First you destroy those who create values. Then you destroy those who know what the values are, and who also know that those destroyed before were in fact the creators of values. But real barbarism begins when no one can any longer judge or know that what he does is barbaric.
Ryszard Kapuscinski [A Warsaw Diary (1985)]

The savage in man is never quite eradicated.
Henry David Thoreau [Journal (1859)]

Man was born into barbarism, when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience, and he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another's flesh.
Martin Luther King Jr

It is fortunate that each generation does not comprehend its own ignorance. We are thus enabled to call our ancestors barbarous.
Charles Dudley Warner [Second Study Backlog Studies (1873)]

We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us seeing it.
Blaise Pascal [#166 Pensées (1670)]

When a romantic fails at something, they give him a medal; but when a pragmatist succeeds at it, they just curse him for it.
Stephen Edwin King

Hell, what do you expect? ... as long as there are [natural and man-made] jungles, there will be rapacious animals.
Chester Himes (1965)

We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.
Albert Camus [Moderation and Excess pt 5 The Rebel (1951; tr 1953)]

But there was no one, nor any other sound but the monotonous drone of the crickets. Then he thought "No, I have seen this before" and remembered how it was: how a man might be sitting by the fire, or cleaning his musket, or bending to tie his shoe, and all at once he would crack open, lift his face in terror as some dormant image burst unexpected out of his fragile heart. Gawain had seen men cry like this, had heard the sounds they made as they tried to push closed the door of memory. Most times they succeeded and would slink away abashed while their comrades pretended to be busy with the fire. But sometimes a man could not close the door again. Then he might cry out and wave his arms and run madly away, the demons pursuing like a cloud of hornets — or he might sit upon the ground, moaning, rocking slowly back and forth, gone to a place where no one could reach him. This was the worst, for when his comrades knelt before him, they could see their own fate in the dull mirror of his eyes.
Howard Bahr [The Year of Jubilo (2000)]

The bourgeoisie of the whole world, which looks complacently upon the wholesale massacre after the battle, is convulsed by horror at the desecration of brick and mortar.
Karl Heinrich Marx

I understand what it is. I'll tell you what it is. I was there, and it was horrible. You can't imagine it, but I don't have to imagine it ... I was there. So what I have is a memory, and memories fade. All memories fade ... that's what they do ... but you don't have the memory. All you have is imagination, and imagination never fades.
Donald E. Westlake

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills] [pt 2 The Critic as Artist (1891)]

It is becoming more and more obvious that it is not starvation, not microbes, not cancer, but man himself who is mankind's greatest danger, because he has not adequate protection against psychic epidemics, [which are] infinitely more devastating in their effect than the greatest natural catastrophes.
Carl Gustav Jung

... closed his eyes and realized its great streaming force, and knew he was under the sway of the enemy .... You could not really feel the full implications of [a natural disaster] without knowing that any conflict between men could never be more than internecine. And once you felt this, your patience grew shorter with the voices of hate. You came to know more clearly that whatever hand reached for the sword must be chopped off by the sword. Once you knew ... that [natural disasters] were the great eternal enemies of man, there could be no tolerance for those who sought to replace the processes of patient reason by violent joint effort, by war. More clearly could you see that whatever force sought to divide the people, on whatever pretext, was the enemy of the people; the toxin that would, if permitted, destroy their strength and blight their decent aspirations. Further, [a natural disaster] told you that until humans could rise to the necessity to trust each other, their vigor would be lost in disunion. It told you that if salvation, in the form of progress and fulfillment, were ever to come to men, it must come through intelligent trust, by rising above fear, and by means of the natural affection of man for man that automatically occurs when fear is removed, like the emergence of green leaves when winter is over.
George Sessions Perry [Hold Autumn in Your Hand (1941)]

War is a formless and furious evil that brutalizes everyone ... leaving some stunned, some haunted, some terrified, some fascinated, some ashamed, and too many dead.

To say that war is madness is like saying that sex is madness: true enough, from the standpoint of a stateless eunuch, but merely a provocative epigram for those who must make their arrangements in the world as given.
John Updike [ch 4 Self-Consciousness: Memoirs (1989)]

When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (12 Apr 1959)

We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analysing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a programme would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.
Neville Chamberlain [6 Oct 1938 speech to House of Commons after Munich Conference]

Ultimatum: In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

I know how to stop war, to put an end to fighting, to halt the bleeding and suffering — finish it!
paraphrase of Elmore Leonard

If you're going to count the casualties, then you should never have gone to war in the first place.
Lawrence Sanders

I shall fight to the death, and I shall not count my life more valuable than freedom.
ancient Hellenic oath

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?
I Corinthians 15:54-55 Bible

For something as large as it is, death doesn't look like much ... at first.
Robert B. Parker

Creation destroys as it goes, throws down one tree for the rise of another. But ideal mankind would abolish death, multiply itself million upon million, rear up city upon city, save every parasite alive, until the accumulation of mere existence is swollen to a horror.
D.H. Lawrence [St. Mawr (1925; repr 1979)]

The dying ask questions that the living cannot answer, and the dead will never tell.

Everyone who dies joins everyone else who ever died through water .... Somehow, wherever they fall or are buried, water connects them. Rain falls on their quiet resting places, and runs off to join other water. It's the melding agent of wars. For the blood of soldiers from all the battles of history have been washed away by the rain, and eventually found its way down rivers and streams to some ocean, becoming one with its salt and the blood of others.
Sue Henry

It is better for us to die in battle, than to behold the calamities of our people and our sanctuary.
I Maccabees 3:59 Apocrypha

Death before dishonor.
proverbial military slogan

When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.
Thomas Paine [Common Sense (1776)]

Honor is not heritable, but the common man does not aspire to the condition of his commonness. Remember that tragedy is an expression of the people ... not a representation of them ... for as each man comes forth to be tried, the whole community is tried. No one escapes. Soldiers are always around, in one capacity or another, whenever things are happening, because they need to protect the present from the future ... or for the future ... in ways that imperil their precious honor.
Andrew Jolly

The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword.
Lamentations 2:21 Bible

Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1888)

Victory without God is mockery and delusion, but defeat with God is not defeat.
William Faulkner

What does not destroy us, we destroy, and it makes us stronger.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche [earlier version of 1888 maxim]

Seest thou these great buildings? There may not be left a stone upon a stone, that may not be thrown down. And when ye may see the abomination of the desolation ... let him not come down to the house, nor come in to take anything out of his house; and he who is in the field, let him not turn to the things behind, to take up his garment. And wo to those with child, and to those giving suck, in those days; and pray ye that your flight may not be in winter, for those days shall be tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the creation that God created, till now ....
Mark 13:2,14-18 (YLT) Bible

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sand stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley [Ozymandias (1818)]

The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.
Nahum 1:3 Bible

compiled by Ed Staff

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