combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2005

Verbal Shrapnel
a desiderative pastiche

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

And having gone forth, Jesus departed from the temple, and his disciples came near to show him the buildings of the temple, and Jesus said to them, "Do ye not see all these? verily I say to you, There may not be left here a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down." And when he is sitting on the mount of the Olives, the disciples came near to him by himself, saying, "Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?" And Jesus answering said to them, "Take heed that no one may lead you astray ...."
Matthew 24:1-4 YLT Bible

And when we decide to destroy a nation, we first send warning to those who are given abundance in this life and still transgress, so that the sentence is proven against them, then we annihilate them utterly.
Koran 17:16.5

Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Isaiah 59:6-8 KJV Bible

Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!
Omar Khayyám [st 12 The Rubaíyát]

How good bad music and bad reasons sound when we are marching into battle against an enemy.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche [aph 557 "Into Battle Against an Enemy" (1881)]

A scrap of phrase, a wail of bugles ... all countries bleed and die in the same way, and for the same thing.
Andrew Jolly

Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.
Sun-Tzu [ch 6 ax 9 The Art of War (ca490BC)]

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is [only] momentary.
Mohandas Karamchand "Mahatma" Gandhi [Satyagraha Leaflet No. 13 (3 May 1919)]

Whenever time permits, thought before action; but when time does not permit, above all, ACTION! ... quick, thorough, decisive action.
military maxim

In time of war, first commit the nation, then commit the troops.
H. Ross Perot

Strategy fixes the point where, the time when, and the numerical force with which the battle is to be fought. By this triple determination it has therefore a very essential influence on the issue of the combat. If tactics has fought the battle, if the result is over, let it be victory or defeat, Strategy makes such use of it as can be made in accordance with the great object of the War.
Karl von Clausewitz

Because military affairs often employ scientific methods, too many practitioners neglect its concomitant artistry ... no formula can counter inspiration, neither can intuition be backtracked.

Perseverance is more prevailing than violence; and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little.

The few who command the many are never as formidable as the many who command themselves and lead the few. A conscript army must be kept strong enough to defeat its adversaries, but never strong enough to defeat its leaders. A mob has only numbers to lend it strength for any purpose. But an army of free men is composed of soldiers who captain their own skills and general their own cause. They lead by example, reinforce one another, and inspire others to follow. Free men will rout driven conscripts and factious mobs ... they can only be conquered by exhaustion and treachery.
paraphrase of Hellenic justification

Real soldiers, the professionals, can always recognize each other, can sense another's presence and smell their skill.
paraphrase of Brian Haig

Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.
Sun-Tzu [ch 5 ax 17 The Art of War (ca490BC)] [explanatory note by translator Lionel Giles: "If you wish to feign confusion in order to lure the enemy on, you must first have perfect discipline; if you wish to display timidity in order to entrap the enemy, you must have extreme courage; if you wish to parade your weakness in order to make the enemy over-confident, you must have exceeding strength."]

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Isaac Asimov

Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.
Leo Buscaglia

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Man is the cruelest animal.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Those who love to be feared fear to be loved, and they themselves are more afraid than anyone, for whereas other men fear only them, they fear everyone.
Saint Frances de Sales

We see, therefore, how, from the commencement, the absolute, the mathematical as it is called, nowhere finds any sure basis in the calculations in the Art of War; and that from the outset there is a play of possibilities, probabilities, good and bad luck, which spreads about with all the coarse and fine threads of its web, and makes War of all branches of human activity the most like a gambling game.
Karl von Clausewitz

As always, victory finds a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.
Galeazzo Ciano [on 9 Sep 1942 in The Ciano Diaries: 1939-43]

Victory has innumerable parents, while defeat is an orphan.
ancient maxim

Blunders are an inescapable feature of war, because choice in military affairs lies generally between the bad and the worse.
Allan Massie [pt 3 ch 11 A Question of Loyalties (1989)]

The oplan is always perfect in the briefing session, and the op order is always clear in the headquarters, because the system is designed to protect itself. There is no such thing as "freedom of movement" in the chain-of-command. Any operational element that has been given a license for tactical initiative has not been granted permission to innovate or interpret, and is not independent or autonomous, but rather has been issued a blueprint for scapegoating.
paraphrase of Jeff Rovin

Unfortunately, our species has demonstrated a striking lack of caution in the past. It is hard to imagine that we will behave differently in the future. We think we know what we are doing. We have always thought so. We never seem to acknowledge that we have been wrong in the past, and so might be wrong in the future. Instead, each generation writes off earlier errors as the result of bad thinking by less able minds, and then confidently embarks on fresh errors of its own.
Michael Crichton

War is an act of belief on the past of a people in their conception of the meaning of human life. The way in which people make war is influenced by this conception.
Andrew Jolly

History is about what actually happened; not about what didn't happen. Speculating on what might have happened is not history, it is fiction.
paraphrase of Stephen E. Ambrose

Today we know that World War II began not in 1939 or 1941 but in the 1920's and 1930's when those who should have known better persuaded themselves that they were not their brother's keeper.
Hubert H. Humphrey

There is always a chance that he who sets himself up as his brother's keeper will end up by being his jailkeeper.
Eric Hoffer

This [Spanish Civil War] is not a war. It's a comic opera punctuated by an occasional death.
attributed to George Cox by George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Alfred Tennyson [The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854)]

For every state, war is always incessant and lifelong against every other state, for what most men call peace, this is really only a name. In truth, all states, by their very nature, are always engaged in an informal war against all other states.

Neither side ever wins a war. The best that can happen is that some good comes out of the bad, that in some small way the rights of the innocent survive, that in some unknown manner civilization will learn from its mistakes, so another historical debacle may be averted.
paraphrase of Clay Fisher [Henley W. Allen]

"Direct action ... that's your style. You're an old relic. You ought to be displayed under glass in a museum. Manipulating the law is better than manipulating a gun ... safer, more profitable."
Jack Schaefer

If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning.
Jennifer Crusie Smith

It's a little ironic that we're advancing civilization by eliminating all hostility and resistance to it ... something like a lawman taming a town by threatening to kill everything until peace is the only thing left! We are the essential men, the necessary evil, who make the development of civilization possible, but then there is no room for us in that new society, no place left for us. We are unwelcome in the very thing we enabled. Having worked ourselves out of a job, there is nothing else for us to do ... nowhere else for us to go. From once being important and essential, we have now become worthless and unwanted.
paraphrase of Elmer Kelton (1956)

There will always be men who need killing, and there must be good men to do this necessary killing as well as possible, but when once started, how will they know when to stop?
paraphrase of Loren D. Estleman

All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties.
William Bradford [History of Plymouth Plantation (1630-1651)]

It is the object only of war that makes it honorable.
Thomas Paine [#V The American Crisis (21 March 1778)]

Every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.
Nathan Hale [10 Sep 1776 letter to William Hull]

Who, then, is the servant, faithful and wise, whom his lord did set over his household, to give them the nourishment in season? Happy that servant, whom his lord, having come, shall find doing so; verily I say to you, that over all his substance he will set him. And, if that evil servant may say in his heart, "My Lord doth delay to come", and may begin to beat the fellow-servants, and to eat and to drink with the drunken, the lord of that servant will arrive in a day when he doth not expect, and in an hour of which he doth not know, and will cut him off, and his portion with the hypocrites will appoint; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth.
Matthew 24:45-51 YLT Bible

You have done all I asked and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your homes and all you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay only [a little longer], you will render that service to the cause of liberty and to your country which you probably never can do under any other circumstance.
George Washington

I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious.
Nathan Hale

Men are often false to their country and their honor, false to duty and even to their interest, but multitudes of men are never long false or deaf to their passions.
Fisher Ames [8 Feb 1800 speech]

When your decisions, the best no less than the mistakes, result in the deaths of good people, then you weigh the risks against the potential for dishonor or disgrace, so that you may be worthy of the uniform you wear.

Honor is impossible in a defeated country.
Niccol di Bernardo Machiavelli

In spite of the moral and political confusion, in spite of the horror and shame of war, we knew that by our own lights that we had done something good. And we clung to that belief even when the war and its warriors were out of fashion.
William Broyles Jr

Bravery never goes out of fashion.

Men fight wars the way they must ... not the way they want ... and having made their choice, but not their preferred one, the results are never pleasing. Their personal desires, like their private hopes, are put away for a better, for a finer, for a safer time.

The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.
Chinese proverb

Anything worthwhile will be challenging, and will also be desired by others, who will threaten your possession. As long as you let your enemy define you, you will continue to be on the defensive ... you can never proceed while sheltering, you can never achieve while shielding, and you can never progress while preserving. You must struggle to survive, and you must risk defeat in order to win mastery over your opponents. Victory is not for the fainthearted.

Chi Hsing Tzu trained fighting cocks for King Hsuan. He was training a fine bird, and the king kept asking if the bird was ready for combat. "Not yet", said the trainer. "He is vain and confident of his own strength. He is ready to pick a fight with every other bird. He is full of fire." After ten days the trainer answered again. "Not yet. He starts at shadows, and flares at the crow of another bird." Ten days later the king asked again. "Not yet. He still glowers fiercely, and swells his ruffled feathers with rage." After another ten days the trainer responded. "He is nearly ready now. When another bird calls, he doesn't flinch — his eyes don't even flicker. From a distance, his stance resembles a statue carved from wood. He has mastered his power. When faced by him, other cocks will turn and run."

Train hard; fight easy.
Field Marshal Suvorov

The more troops sweat in training, the less they'll bleed in combat.
military maxim

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
Sun-Tzu [ch 3 ax 2 The Art of War (ca490BC)]

The bitter and sweet come from the outside, the hard from within, from one's own efforts.
Albert Einstein [Out of My Later Years (1950)]

If things get bad at the rear, go to the front ... things are always better up at the front.
William Tecumseh Sherman

Honor always seems to lead to violence, and that's because violence is where honorable behavior is most important. When things are easy, the requirements of honor are meaningless. But when things are hard and times are tough, when sacrifice and discipline will affect the final outcome, then honor is more than necessary ... it's essential to the preservation of common humanity.
paraphrase of Robert B. Parker

Every contest has its rituals and rules, so when the restraints on action are fewest, one's adherence to them is greatest ... such that the least order promotes the highest standards, the finest skill, and the best performance. It is not unlike courage or honor in war, regardless of victory.
Thai kick-boxing aficionado

A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

A soldier who trains all the time for a battle he never fights is like a politician who talks all the time about averting disaster.

The untruthful soldier trifles with the lives of his countrymen, and with the safety and honor of his country.
Douglas MacArthur

The right things to do are those that keep our violence in abeyance; the wrong things are those that bring it to the fore.
Robert J. Sawyer [Calculating God (2000)]

The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.
Omar N. Bradley [15 May 1951 Korean conflict expansion speech to U.S. Senate committees on Armed Services and Foreign Affairs]

The order for this attack, which I could not favor under better auspices, would have been revoked had I felt that I had that privilege.
James "Pete" Longstreet [re: Pickett's Charge at the 1863 battle of Gettysburg]

We must cut our way out as we cut our way in.
Ulysses S. Grant [re: when surrounded at Belmont Missouri on 7 Nov 1861]

Fortune favors the bold.
Terence (Publius Terentius Afer) ["Fortes fortuna adiuvat."; also cited as: Fortune favors the bold but abandons the timid.]

All good fortune is a gift of the gods, and ... you don't win the favor of the ancient gods by being good, but by being bold.
Anita Brookner

As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: so man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
Job 14:11-12 Bible

"You have to think about whether it is worth risking your neck for someone who will turn around and shoot at you. We didn't come here to fight a war. We came here to help."
SPC Cliff Ferguson [527th Engineer Battalion during relief after hurricane Katrina]

Democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable... We refused to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"I never thought that, as a National Guardsman, I would be shot at by other Americans, and I never thought I'd have to carry a rifle when on a hurricane relief mission. This is a disgrace."
SPC Philip Baccus [527th Engineer Battalion during relief after hurricane Katrina]

compiled by Ed Staff

Table of

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