Category Archives: war

Run for your life: The opening scene from Diamonds in the Night

Opening scene from DIAMONDS IN THE NIGHT (1964) by Jan Němec. Cinematography by Jaroslav Kucera.

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>The audacity of what?!

>Consider this post to be like one of those emails with a subject line something like “Fwd: Fdw: Fdw: YOU MUST SEE THIS.” You know the one you think you are going to delete but then end up reading and then are glad you did.

I offer a slight warning: If you are an American – meaning a citizen of the U.S.A. (as I am) and not the many millions of others living in the Americas – don’t be put off by the fact that the video comes from the Socialism 2009 conference. I say this not merely because you shouldn’t be afraid (a tendency in this country) of political/economic ideologies that are both more democratically minded as well as more committed to social justice & equality than our own current system, but because John Pilger is one of the finest journalists in the world today and has been for many years. His take on Obama, American exceptionalism, propaganda, and current trends is wonderful and, I think, hits the nail of the head.

It is difficult for me to listen to Pilger because he describes exactly what I knew I was going to get when I voted for Obama. I voted with my pragmatist’s hat on, voting against McCain and excited to see change. But I knew in my heart I would not see real change. I knew all that was fundamentally wrong with our current military industrial system, our socioeconomic structures, and our hierarchies of power within and without the borders of this country would remain the same and probably reinforced. That is what we have in Obama, a better politician and president than we have had the previous eight years, but also the same. On the other hand I love hearing Pilger say what needs to be said and to do so in a way U.S. journalists rarely can.

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Filed under American history, non-violence, pacifism, Politics, war

>Good Journalism

>Amy Goodman & Robert Sheer on the state of journalism and its implications:

I have become increasingly convinced that the state of mainstream journalism in the U.S. today is lousy. If we do not take the time to find and engage with good journalism, rather than merely consuming the mainstream media, then we are and will remain ignorant and potentially very foolish.

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>Noam Chomsky: The Stony Brook Interviews Part Two

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>Noam Chomsky: The Stony Brook Interviews Part One

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The casualties of Operation Overloard

One of the truest clichés is that war is hell.


New Zealand Commandos ready to hit the beach

Today is 65 years since Operation Overlord began – also known as D-Day. This day stands as one of the great moments of triumph in the wars of good versus evil that are seared into our consciousness. I have always viewed the actions of the soldiers who landed on the beaches to be nothing short of heroic, and I still do, but I am burdened by the casualties from the event. I wrote a post recently on my attitude towards war and I must confess I have difficulties bringing together my hatred of war and my thanks for the heroes of D-Day.


British commandos in a ruined French town, Normandy.

Consider the casualties from Operation Overlord. This is taken directly from Wikipedia and it bears reading and pondering:

The cost of the Normandy campaign had been high for both sides. From D-Day to 21 August the Allies had landed 2,052,299 men in northern France. The Allies lost around 209,672 casualties from June 6 to the end of August, around 10 % of the forces landed in France. The casualties breaks down to 36,976 killed, 153,475 wounded and 19,221 missing. Split between the Army-Groups; the Anglo-Canadian Army-Group suffered 16,138 killed, 58,594 wounded and 9,093 missing for a total of 83,825 casualties. The American Army-Group suffered 20,838 killed, 94,881 wounded and 10,128 missing for a total of 125,847 casualties. To these casualties it should be added that no less then 4,101 aircrafts were lost and 16,714 airmen were killed in direct connection to Operation Overlord. Thus total Allied casualties rises to 226,386 men. 78 Free French SAS (Special Air Service) killed, 195 wounded in Brittany from 5 June to the beginning of August. For Allied tank losses there are no direct number. A fair estimate is that around 4,000 tanks were destroyed, of which 2,000 were fighting in American units.

The German casualties remains unclear. The estimates of the German casualties stretches from 288,000 men to 450,000 men. Just in the Falaise Gap the Germans lost around 60,000 men in killed, wounded and captured. The majority of the German casualties contained of POWs as nearly 200,000 were captured during the closure of the battle. The Germans committed around 2,300 tanks and assault guns to the battle in Normandy, and only around 100 to 120 were brought back across the Seine. The overwhelming majority of the German tanks destroyed were put out of action by the Allied airforce, while very few of the Allied tank losses were inflicted by the Luftwaffe.

19,860 French civilians were killed during the liberation of Normandy, and an even greater number were wounded. The number excludes the 15,000 civilians killed and the 19,000 wounded in the bombings of Normandy in preparation of the invasion. Many cities and towns in Normandy and northern France were totally devastated by the fighting and the bombings. As many as 70,000 French civilians may have been killed during the liberation of France in 1944.

These numbers are staggering. Keep in ming that is for less than two months of fighting and such losses are entirely unbelievable by today’s expectations.


Dead U.S. soldier, Omaha beach

D-Day is considered a great triumph. It was the first major stake through the heart of European fascism and Nazi ambitions. We use the words “saved the world from fascism” and “liberated Europe” when we talk about D-Day and its heroes. I have always had strong emotions about WWII and D-Day. The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan truly chokes me up. I spent hundreds of hours as a kid pouring over my WWII book collection, closely examining photographs, reading the stories, and wishing I had been there. However, D-Day can also be seen a part of a huge failure. A failure not merely because there where many political options not exercised by the Europeans and Americans all through the 1930s that could have dealt with the rise of Hitler and fascism and avoided war altogether, and not merely because one source of WWII was the WWI (the war to end all wars) which also could have been avoided but was entered into with relish by all sides, but D-Day is a failure because all war is failure. War is a powerful and profound testament of human evil. To seek war, whether from selfish ambition, glory, or even from a felt obligation is, to use an old but still valid term, sinful.


Dead German soldier, Normandy.

More than ever on days like this one, where we appropriately remember the sacrifices of so many human lives for causes that we believe in, I am in conflict. Should those soldiers have stormed the beaches in Normandy 65 years ago to save the world? Maybe not, for war is wrong. And yet they did and I am grateful they did. So today I will remember what those soldiers did and what they gave (in fact I am in awe of their service), but I will also remember and grieve the casualties on all sides, including the civilian casualties, and I will remember that the human tendency to war and glorify war is my tendency too because I am a sinner.

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>anti-war songs

>The 1960s (which really ran from about 1956 to 1974) produced some of the greatest anti-war songs. For example follow this link and look under Vietnam War. During the 1960s music played a huge part in how people thought and felt about the Vietnam War, war in general, and violence around the world. Today there is a War on Terror (whatever that means) and there is music being produced in response as well – follow that same link and look under 9/11, War on Terror, and Iraq. But, and tell me if I am wrong, the anti-war music of today is not yet anywhere near the cultural impact as during that famous previous era. Of course, neither is the anti-war movement itself.

Here are some ‘under the radar’ recent anti-war songs:

I have to say none of these songs do it for me. The first two are nice soul searching and sad, but so what? I want anti-war songs that shake it up, move me to action, rally the protesters, and most especially, songs that people can sing along to. The third song is a critique of U.S. foreign policy. Although I agree with some of the sentiments in that song, again it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t say anything new and the video is mostly distracting.

Maybe what needs to happen first is a stronger groundswell of anti-war sentiment. We need more protests, more action, more visible activity on the whole if we want songs that can rally us. And it should not have to be the old-timers from the sixties that lead the charge.

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>Memorial Day 1865/1945

>According to Wikipedia: “[T]he first memorial day was observed by liberated slaves at the Washington Race Course (today the location of Hampton Park) in Charleston, South Carolina. The race course had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp in 1865 as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died there. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, freed slaves exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and reinterred them properly with individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch and declared it a Union graveyard. The work was completed in only ten days. On May 1, 1865, the Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of up to ten thousand, mainly black residents, including 2800 children, processed to the location for a celebration which included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds, thereby creating the first Decoration Day.”

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"Life at War" by Denise Levertov, 1966


Photograph by Chick Harrity, 1973, Vietnam

The disasters numb within us
caught in the chest, rolling
in the brain like pebbles. The feeling
resembles lumps of raw dough

weighing down a child’s stomach on baking day.
Or Rilke said it, ‘My heart. . .
Could I say of it, it overflows
with bitterness . . . but no, as though

its contents were simply balled into
formless lumps, thus
do I carry it about.’
The same war

continues.
We have breathed the grits of it in, all our lives,
our lungs are pocked with it,
the mucous membrane of our dreams
coated with it, the imagination
filmed over with the gray filth of it:

the knowledge that humankind,

delicate Man, whose flesh
responds to a caress, whose eyes
are flowers that perceive the stars,

whose music excels the music of birds,
whose laughter matches the laughter of dogs,
whose understanding manifests designs
fairer than the spider’s most intricate web,

still turns without surprise, with mere regret
to the scheduled breaking open of breasts whose milk
runs out over the entrails of still-alive babies,
transformation of witnessing eyes to pulp-fragments,
implosion of skinned penises into carcass-gulleys.

We are the humans, men who can make;
whose language imagines mercy,
lovingkindness we have believed one another
mirrored forms of a God we felt as good—

who do these acts, who convince ourselves
it is necessary; these acts are done
to our own flesh; burned human flesh
is smelling in Vietnam as I write.

Yes, this is the knowledge that jostles for space
in our bodies along with all we
go on knowing of joy, of love;

our nerve filaments twitch with its presence
day and night,
nothing we say has not the husky phlegm of it in the saying,
nothing we do has the quickness, the sureness,
the deep intelligence living at peace would have.


I post this because this is National Poetry Month.

This poem was featured on Poetry Off the Shelf. You can hear Levertov read the poem, and a discussion about it here.

Thoughts: This poems stabs deep, as great poetry should do much of the time. We see the past too often as a presented and mediated set of ideas, truncated and accepted and reaffirmed. But the war against the Vietnamese people was little different than the current wars against the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, or the war against the Palestinians. They are all raw and ugly. They are all about the human urge for power and security and control. This poem, from 1966, reminds me that the same war continues today.

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>Hauerwas on Bonhoeffer

>I have been reading Stanley Hauerwas’ book The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics and I love it. I must say that this book, along with some others, are encouraging my views to change (views that were trained into me by the chistianity in which I grew up) regarding politics, faith, and action. In other words, I am slowly shedding my Baptist/Evangelical acceptance (dare I say love) of “righteous violence” and “just war” for a more pacifist perspective.

Because I know little of Hauerwas I went looking for him on the Interwebs. I came across this lecture of Hauerwas speaking on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s perspective on truth. It is excellent.

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