Swans Commentary » swans.com November 2, 2009  



What Have We Learned?


by Martin Murie





(Swans - November 2, 2009)   Pundits, politicians, and right-wing blatherers can't bring themselves to analyze our empire's global strategy. They hammer away with "Hate Government," racist hatred directed at the president, and support for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nobody yet has the nerve to write or talk about the reality of war.

Consult the dead -- they are the best experts on war.

One man, blind Homer, in the seventh century BCE, must have known war in all its political and bodily reality. Maybe he was in combat. Maybe war talk was more open in those days. Or maybe a poet who had experienced war in all its political and deadly dimensions added his own revisions of oral transmission.

Achilles' dear friend's body lies in Achilles' tent, but it begins to stink, ripe for interment in the dark earth. In battle, mighty warriors sometimes turn cowardly when faced with someone they visualize as bigger or more skillful. There is a moment when an Achaean fighter holds his own guts as they tumble from his body.

Homer doesn't throw garlands of charm as cover for the political level. A messenger thinks to himself, "I wish my overlord hadn't said that." Rebellion in the ranks: a lowly fighter stands up in Council, says, "We've been here ten years and gotten nowhere. Let's get in our ships and go home." This fighter is rebuked by Ulysses. "You should not open your big mouth in the presence of Princes."


A great scene, Hector in his war helmet holds his young son. The son is repelled by the helmet. Hector lays it aside and hugs his son. Then he takes the helmet and goes to another battle in defense of Troy.

The role of the gods is noteworthy. There is a god or goddess for every regularity of nature and human activity: The hunt, springtime, war, the underworld, the sea, rivers, thunder and lightning. The gods quarrel too. Isn't this just like the operations of ecosystems, springing conflicts, horrors, surprises?

On a related topic, we will stay ridiculously stupid and on the sidelines if we go on cherry picking quotes from John Muir, that any and all contact with "nature" is benevolent. We are simply super-smart animals, after all. Maybe too smart for our own good when it leads to the couch where we are insulted by silly advertisements promoting greater and greater consumption.

Why can't someone bend down to the dark earth and tell us about bloated bodies, the stink of bodies, the spilling of guts, the utter futility of war?

What have we learned since the seventh century, BCE? Nothing? War is nearing its ultimate insanity as drones take to the sky in Afghanistan and Pakistan, piloted by technicians at Creech Air Base in Nevada. In WWII civilians were killed wholesale, but now the Reaper (drone) is busy reaping the body count, mostly women, children, babies, and men. Who knows if any leading Talibans are included? The intelligence is shaky, at best.

Air war has always been a sloppy enterprise. I remember watching from a foxhole a single pursuit diving at a church tower where a stubborn machine gunner commanded the entire steep slope and ridge-top village. It released napalm time and again and while it circled for another attack the machinegun spoke. Finally, silence.

The use of air power in Vietnam is a shame we can never erase. Air bombings and gunnings committed devastation on villages and cities in North Korea -- a war that is hardly ever mentioned -- in spite of huge casualties in the ranks of our military.

Drone attacks are the ultimate in cowardice from the air, and are seen as such outside the media-fenced boundaries of our own country.


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Internal Resources

Activism under the Radar Screen


Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Martin Murie on Swans (with bio).



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This Edition's Internal Links

Succumbing To PayPal - Gilles d'Aymery

Orwell's Epiphany - Michael Doliner

Rival Jingoists - Charles Pearson

Hypocrisy As Way Of Life! - Femi Akomolafe

George Monbiot And The Persistence Of The Population Myth - Michael Barker

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"Web Design" - Steve Shay

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Bough And Leaves - Multilingual Poetry by Guido Monte

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/murie82.html
Published November 2, 2009