combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2007

Verbal Shrapnel
a desiderative pastiche

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

May they [mothers] be seen, may their work be valued and raised ... especially the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait – wait for their children to come home from danger, from harm's way and from war. ... if the mothers ruled the world there would be no goddamn wars in the first place.
Sally Field

Right now, I could kill George Bush. No, I don't mean that. How could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that.
Betty Williams [keynote speech by Nobel Peace Prize winner to the International Women's Peace Conference]

Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate 'war, pestilence, and famine' than to act as obstructionist to a war already begun .... The most favorable posthumous history the stay-at-home traitor can hope for is – oblivion.
Ulysses S. Grant

Contrary to what you've read in the newspapers, we are not debating whether to change course in Iraq. We are debating whether to accept defeat in Iraq. Contrary to what you've seen on television, there is no way for us to end the war. If we retreat from Iraq, the war will not just continue but expand. The only difference is that a battlefield on which we are now killing our enemies will be transformed into a base from which our enemies can safely plan to kill us. Yes, it's disappointing that the American-backed government in Baghdad has not yet met its benchmarks for enacting political and economic reforms. Iraqi politicians have failed to pass laws dividing oil revenue among the country's main population groups; excluding fewer Ba'athists from obtaining government jobs; and scheduling provincial elections in areas where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are competing for power. But let's get serious: Passing such laws is no longer our primary goal in Iraq. What is? Preventing al-Qa'ida (and/or Iran's radical mullahs) from defeating us on what they call the central front of the global war being waged against America and the West. Should they beat us in Iraq, they will be seen as giant killers. Recruits will pound on their doors. What would our enemies do next? No need to guess. Al-Qa'ida leaders have vowed that after they expel the Americans from Iraq they will launch a jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.
Clifford May

While conflict may be inevitable, war is not; and while disagreement can foster understanding and growth, violence does not.
Eve Ensler

What else can be done with someone too stupid or too arrogant to learn from her own misunderstandings and from the mistakes of others, except stay clear of the inexorable force that will crush her while it destroys her illogical propositions, in hopes that we have retained enough to rebuild on her ridiculous rubble.
unknown critic

And though I'm no warrior, I'd gladly fight for the things which Nazism seeks to destroy. Living in a sanitary age, we are getting so we place too high a value on human life, which rightfully must always come second to human ideas.
Elwyn Brooks White

Comrades! We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all.
Nikita Khrushchev [address to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party (25 Feb 1956)]

In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American .... There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag .... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language ... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.
Theodore Roosevelt (1907)

A country that won't fight for its beliefs doesn't deserve to be honored by the sacrifices of loyal defenders – those best soldiers, those favorite sons, those earnest hostages – it doesn't even merit the sweat of the least of them – for a country with nothing to fight for has nothing to live for.
paraphrase of Dale Dye

The strength of a wall is neither greater nor less than the men who defend it.
Genghis Khan [Jenghis Khan, Jenghiz Chan, Chinggis Khan; Temüjin]

[He] acted with perfect sincerity. We are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honor when we have done our best.
Winston L.S. Churchill [eulogy for Neville Chamberlain]

He was a soldier tried and true. Clad in a rough uniform, shielded by his heart and armed with his mind, his quenchless spirit led our every charge against fortified odds. He was not decked with spangles and led by fife and drum into the madness of battle ... such intoxicated soldiers have not been rare in any army of any period. But he was there, on the field, in the forefront of every hopeful advance, given no furlough from the desperate struggle, until mustered out of his call to arms by the last parade before the one Greatest Leader of all.
paraphrase of Clarence Seward Darrow [eulogy for John Peter Altgeld]

Do nothing shameful.
parental admonition to their Japanese-American sons when departing for the defense of their adopted nation

Good conduct means that you shouldn't get caught doing wrong, and honorable means that if you are caught, then you should accept the consequences!
unknown Marine

Avoid shame but do not seek glory – nothing so expensive as glory.
Sydney Smith [v 1 ch 4 Memoir (1855)]

I will not by the noise of bloody wars and the dethroning of kings advance you to glory: but by the gentle ways of peace and love.
Thomas Traherne ["First Century" (1672)]

Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.
George Jean Nathan

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.
Joseph Conrad [Teodor Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski; “Heart of Darkness (1902)]

I came here to die with you or live with you. Dying ain't hard for such as you and me. It's the living that's hard.
Forrest Carter [Asa Earl Carter]

We can breathe the air of liberty only to the extent that we are ready to bear the burden of moral responsibility associated with it.
Wilhelm Röpke

To come with me, you must bear your own cross.
Sun Myung Moon ["Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:27 Bible]

Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong?
Holly Near

The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.
Joel Stein [Warriors and Wusses Los Angeles Times (24 Jan 2006)]

There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.
John E.E. Dalberg-Acton

If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.
Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens]

I thought it was a good idea to let you all know what the perspective is over here. I'm tired of hearing the media's skewed version, [hearing] the politicians squabbling over what they read in a report, and [hearing] the average ill-informed American ranting about things he knows NOTHING about. I've been over here a couple of months now, and I've learned more about this country than a year's worth of watching CNN. I've sat in mission briefs with colonels, talked with village elders, had tea with sheiks, played with the kids. And I agree with the president. We need more troops and we need to take greater action. The insurgents who battle the Coalition forces are from outside the country. And the biggest problem down here isn't the insurgents. It's the politicians.
SPC "Doc" Shurley, 2/5 Cav, 1st CB (17 Jan 2007)

Official records are indispensable for fixing dates and time of major events and troop movements. But anyone familiar with the way the records of combat units during battle are made up will know that they seldom tell the essential facts of what happened, and how, and why. They are often the products of indifferent clerks transcribing, at places remote from the scene of action, a minimum of messages for something – anything – that will satisfy the official requirement for a report. Those who know the most about an action or an event seldom take the time to tell, or write, about it. They are too tired, or too nearly dead, or they are [simply] dead.
Roy E. Appleman [South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu]

I should very much like to give you a lesson in practical morality with the help of a few bullets.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

The first thing a hunter learns is how to detect his prey; then he learns how to avoid becoming prey to another hunter.
James Alexander Thom (2000)

Hunters give their animals respect. If you have no respect for what you do, you're not going to be very good, or you're going to make a mistake. We try to give the benefit of the doubt [in target selection]. You've got to live with it. It's on your conscience. It's something you've got to carry away with you.
Jim Gilliland, SSG Shadow Team leader, Task Force 2-69 [16 Jan 2006 interview about 27 Sep 2005 sniper activity; confirmed by LTC Robert Roggeman, CO Task Force 2-69, who said: "It's a very godlike role. They (snipers) have the power of life and death that, if not held in check, can run out of control. ... Every shot has to be measured against the Rules of Engagement, (with) positive identification and proportionality."]

Killing: the unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life.
official definition of the U.S. Department of State

You see my son, I am mortally wounded; you can do me no good; go fight for your Country.
Thomas Knowlton (16 September 1776)

I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.
Clara Barton

It is not unseemly for a man to die fighting in defense of his country.
Homer [The Iliad]

They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.
Ernest M. Hemingway

All history is modern history.
Wallace Stevens [Adagia, Opus Posthumous (1957)]

Against war one might say that it makes the victor stupid and the vanquished malicious. In its favor, that in producing these two effects it barbarizes, and so makes the combatants more natural. For culture it is a sleep or a wintertime, and man emerges from it stronger for good and for evil.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche [aph 444 "Human, All-Too-Human" A Glance at the State (1878)]

Provoking a war is like teasing a wild animal, and going to war is like having sex with that wild animal ... it's stupid and dangerous, and the results will only stop when the beast is finished. It doesn't matter what your initial motives were ... what your strategic plan or engagement policy or withdrawal tactic might have been ... because the unleashed forces are beyond human control as soon as they are precipitated.
folk wisdom

It takes both sides to make peace, but only one side to make war.

It takes two to make peace, but only one to make war.
anonymous [maxim also cited: "It takes two to create heaven, but only one to create hell."]

It takes two sides to make war. It only takes one side to make a massacre.
attributed to Al Samawah (1991)

It is far easier to make war than to make peace.
Georges Clemenceau [14 July 1919 speech, Verdun, France]

It is always harder to make peace than to make war.
ancient proverb

A country cannot simultaneously prepare and prevent war.
Albert Einstein

There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy.
George Washington

In peace, like a wise man, he appropriately prepares for war.
Ausus Raptor ["In pace, ut sapiens, aptarit idonea bello."]

He, therefore, who desires peace should prepare for war. He who aspires to victory should spare no pains to form his soldiers. And he who hopes for success should fight on principle, not chance.
Vegetius [De Rei Militari (AD4c)]

To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.
George Washington [first annual "State of the Union" address to Congress (8 Jan 1790)]

Arms once taken up should never be laid down but upon one of three conditions: a safe peace, a complete victory, or an honourable death.
Jeanne Albret, Queen of Naverre

Anyone who really wants to go to war, has never truly been there before! No one can appreciate the real value of peace without having been to war.
anonymous veteran

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.
Albert Einstein

Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.
Sun-Tzu [The Art of War (ca490BC)]

'Tis better to be fortunate than wise.
John Webster

The punishment of wise men who refuse to take part in the government is to live under the government of worse men.

Preparation for war is the surest guaranty for peace ... as ... an armament fit for the nation's needs, not primarily to fight, but to avert fighting.
Theodore Roosevelt ["Washington's Forgotten Maxim" speech to Naval War College (1897)]

The innocent stones may bury an anxious hammer, or break an unskilled one, but there will always be another hammer to pound rock; so it is better to be the hammer than the crushed stones. When force prevails, ways and means are less vital than ends.
Vietnamese aphorism

War will disappear, like the dinosaur, when changes in world conditions have destroyed its survival value.
Robert A. Millikan

Do you mean to tell me that some men, sitting in their room thousands of miles away, can make a decision about my life, even though I am innocent and harmless, that will utterly destroy me, my family and friends, my colleagues and neighbors, just because they believe certain things that are not true? ... and afterwards, when they learn of their mistake, nothing will change in the way they conduct public affairs, and they will proceed to wreck other innocent lives? ... ruining the peaceful hopes of ignorant and naive people who are only guilty of minding their own business? ... whose crime in this secret court is being at the wrong place at the wrong time, rendering them disposable in some power play? ... all in the name of a just and proper war against their distorted definition of wrong or evil? And you tell me there's nothing anyone can do to prevent it? How have we come to this state of affairs?
paraphrase of Ted Allbeury

A cock has great influence on his own dunghill.
Publilius Syrus [#397 Sententiae]

So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth.
Marguerite Higgins

No one should ever confuse enthusiasm with capability. People like things that are fast and noisy and powerful whenever there's danger. There's a tendency to confuse what looks good with what is good, and that difference can result in disaster. If you say that you'll do something then you'd better be able to do it.
paraphrase of Peter Schoomaker

When politicians get big things wrong, they still get re-elected. When academics get big things wrong, they get tenure. When Special Forces officers get even the smallest thing wrong, people die. That gives SF leaders a seriousness you rarely encounter elsewhere – unless it's among others in uniform.
Ralph Peters

To plan secretly, to move surreptitiously, to foil the enemy's intentions and balk his schemes, so that at last the day may be won without shedding a drop of blood.
Tu Mu

Where tigers and crocodiles reign, a thoughtful life is simply a matter of choosing one's preferred manner of death ... like favoring the birds or the insects with one's corpse.
Chinese aphorism

For what can war but endless war still breed?
John Milton

Military science consists in knowing what is relevant, while military art consists in knowing when it's relevant.
leadership maxim

War: A by-product of the arts of peace. The most menacing political condition is a period of international amity. The student of history who has not been taught to expect the unexpected may justly boast himself inaccessible to the light. "In time of peace prepare for war" has a deeper meaning than is commonly discerned; it means, not merely that all things earthly have an end — that change is the one immutable and eternal law — but that the soil of peace is thickly sown with the seeds of war and singularly suited to their germination and growth.
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

Peace is an interval of confusion between wars.

Peace is the necessary interval of recovery and preparation between wars, for nothing is ever resolved, except that its confrontation is postponed.

In war, nothing is ever finished.
Karl von Clausewitz [also "For the conqueror the combat can never be finished too quickly, for the vanquished it can never last too long."]

You shall love peace as a means to new wars—and the short peace more than the long one.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche ["On War and Warriors" Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)]

Before today, I knew nothing of war. I'd never trained to fight nor planned an attack. Everything I'd heard made it seem horrible and devastating, something that no one would ever want to happen. And now that I've been in combat, I know that this is the most valuable thing that a man can do. He can do many other things, some very important, but if he doesn't defend them with his blood, then neither he nor they is worthwhile. War is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying, exhilarating and frustrating. Even though I was alert and aware, it was somehow confusing; but when I persisted, it resolved itself. It happens too fast to be understood, and so slowly that every sense knows all its details. Now that it's over, I miss it ... and I'll remember its every aspect for the rest of my life. This episode has forever redefined me.
adapted from Bruce Sterling (2004)

I think a curse should rest on me &ndashh; because I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment – and yet – I can't help it – I enjoy every second of it.
Winston L.S. Churchill [1916 letter]

War will exist as long as there's a food chain .... [it's] better that we study to conduct war as decently as possible, and as little as necessary.
P.J. [Patrick Jake] O'Rourke

War is the natural state of man.
variously attributed to Thomas Hobbes, Herbert Spencer, Ernest Renan, Charles James Fox, John Adams, et al (homo homini lupus)

Men speak of natural rights, but I challenge any one to show where in nature any rights existed or were recognized until there was established for their declaration and protection a duly promulgated body of corresponding laws.
Calvin Coolidge

I wonder, among all the tangles of this mortal coil, which one contains tighter knots to undo, and consequently suggests more tugging, and pain, and diversified elements of misery, than the family tie ... a twisted skein of loyalty and duty, hope and faith, love and possession that is betrayed by personal failings and individual foibles, by uncertainty and animosity, by carelessness and selfishness, from parents and commanders, siblings and comrades, descendants and subordinates. Such an interlaced fastening can only be sundered ... never untied and re-tied ... and once severed, is made useless by its destruction.
adapted from Edith Wharton (1909)

When the dispute divided this country, they tried to remain neutral ... friends to both, enemy to neither ... and both sides hated them until they were finally destroyed.
paraphrase of Ernest Haycox (1942)

According to our religious tenets, no one has any legitimate cause to hate his fellow man ... and while that supposition may be true, it is entirely meaningless, because no one needs any cause to hate his fellow man! ... it's natural, normal, innate. And that's why the mayhem will never stop. We humans are endlessly inventive when rationalizing our motives and impulses. We are thoughtlessly terrible, but whenever provoked into justifiable retaliation, we have been much worse than unreasonable or uncivilized ... we can be horribly cruel and evil beyond imagining.
paraphrase of Lawrence Block

The idea that everything must "justify itself before the bar of reason" goes back at least as far as the 18th century. But that just makes it a candidate for the longest-running fallacy in the world.
Thomas Sowell

Meanwhile, those men stood talking together, easy, calm in their manner and calm in their minds. How could they do this? How could such people exist? To kill innocent inoffensive families for some ... what? ... for some temporary geopolitical advantage to somebody somewhere which would, given the history of such things, not even accomplish anything. If all the schemes and machinations of these realist political tough guys were any damned good, the world would be sorted out by now, wouldn't it? ... for good or for ill, somebody would've won. But they don't care. They're pragmatists. They ride roughshod over real human beings for ephemeral advantages in a contest that never ends. They've traded-in their humanity for something they think is better. They don't smell their own stink. Do they always have to win? Do they make their messes and just move on? Untouchable? Full of their rotten expertise? Was there nothing for him to do but play the part of mouse among these cats?
Donald E. Westlake (2002)

There can be no peace until fear is destroyed and hate is buried by war. More and greater violence is sometimes the only solution to violence.
paraphrase of Vince Flynn

Let them hate as long as they're afraid.
Gaius Caesar Caligula

He who serves the revolution plows the sea.
Simón "El Libertador" Bolivar

He who resists the revolution feeds the sea.

He who avoids the revolution walks above the sea.

Trying to remain neutral in war is like trying to remain still in a storm-tossed boat.
anonymous Vietnamese refugee

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in a time of crisis.
Dante Alighieri

Adversity has the effect of eliciting talent which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.
Horace [Quintus Horatius Flaccus]

Fire is the test of gold; adversity the test of the man.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

I am going to explain to you why we went to war. Why mankind always goes to war. It is not social or political. It is not countries that go to war, but men. It is like salt. Once one has been to war, one has salt for the rest of one's life. Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because it is the one thing that stops women from laughing at them.
John Fowles [The Magus]

Cheaters moan and quitters cry, weaklings whimper and thinkers plead, but women still scream and men still laugh! Is so, has been and will always be such.

It is not human to be wise. It is much more human to err ... and saintly to err on the side of mercy.
Rafael Sabatini (1922)

The passage of time heals nothing. The only thing that changes during this intervening period is that enough other things happen such that what once mattered so much has been displaced and become remote – no longer urgent and vital, but not forgotten – and it simply doesn't matter as much anymore.
paraphrase of David Baldacci (2003)

Philosophical temperament is not a result of elapsed time, but the decline of our vital elements ... if we remained vigorous as we matured with knowledge and experience, we would be even deadlier adversaries than we are already!

Just as a man who cannot forgive another's insult would have no friends at all, so a nation that cannot forget another's betrayal would never have any allies.
Italian aphorism

[After Dunkirk,] Churchill said in the Parliament very simply, "Wars are not won by evacuations." And we need to remember that today. They're not won by retreat or wishful thinking. They're won by determination, they're won by understanding the nature of the enemies we face, and the consequences, I would say the dire consequences of failing to understand them or failing to defeat them.
Donald Rumsfeld

Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
Paulo Freire

They should take, who have the power, and they should keep, who can.
William Wordsworth [st 9 Rob Roy's Grave]

When the rich wage war, it is the poor who die.
Jean-Paul Sartre [The Devil and the Good Lord]

compiled by Ed Staff

Table of

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