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Subject: Is War Glorious? rss

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There's a quotation by Sergeant Berry Benson that Shelby Foote uses at the end of his history of the American Civil War. Benson joined the Confederate army prior to Ft. Sumter and was involved in all the major battles of the war in the Virginia theater until Lee's army surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. He saw the worst that war had to offer.

Here's what he said in his memoirs. I'm wondering what you all think of it.

Sergeant Berry Benson wrote:
Who knows but it may be given to us, after this life, to meet again in the old quarters, to play chess and draughts, to get up soon to answer the morning roll call, to fall in at the tap of the drum for drill and dress parade, and again to hastily don our war gear while the monotonous patter of the long roll summons to battle? Who knows but again the old flags, ragged and torn, snapping in the wind, may face each other and flutter, pursuing and pursued, while the cries of victory fill a summer day? And after the battle, then the slain and wounded will arise, and all will meet together under the two flags, all sound and well, and there will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say: Did it not seem real? Was it not as in the old days?

This paragraph really depressed me. I read it, considered the extent of bloodshed that still exists in the world and found it hard to believe that its possible to do away with war.
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Jon M
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I think if anyone now thinks war is glorious they are completely ignorant of history. Surely 1914-18 and 1939-45 saw the end of that.

My take on it is that whilst war is surely terrifying at times and disgusting, harrowing and generally a bad thing it is also often the times when people feel most alive. War can be a good experience for some people. They are given responsibility, they form intensly emotional bonds with people, they get to destroy things and step outside societies normal boundaries of acceptable behaviour and also get to feel part of a collective with a great purpose.
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no, next question.
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I would say that war itself is not glorious in almost every case. Individuals though, in certain contexts, caught up in a war, can act in a glorious manner.

A war against a truly evil entity, that is evil from the top to the bottom, when entered into with purely altruisitc reasons can acheive glorious status. But really, can any human conflict acted out so far meet those criteria?

I think the concepts of honor and glory are very real for the individual soldiers who are making the sacrifice to be in combat. Unfortunatly, the governments that send these soldiers into combat manipulate these sentiments so that soldiers will give their lives. The reasons for war almost never justify taking advantage of these virtues. People who pervert the concepts of honor, valor and glory to acheive political ends when there is nothing at stake that demands such noble emotions to be stirred are disgusting and contemptible. The men and women who are thrown onto the knives of the enemy deserve honor and glory, because their intentions, for the most part, are sound. The people behind the scenes doing the pushing are the ones who deserve nothing but disdain and revulsion.
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No.
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Stephen Crane
Wilfred Owen
Randall Jarrell
Paul Fussell
Joseph Heller
W.D. Ehrhart
Bryan Alec Floyd

All pretty much required reading, and all fairly unanimous about what war is like, and the people who glorify it.

Edited to add:

Michael Herr
Anthony Swofford
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Undoubtedly not.
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No. There is never anything glorious about killing.
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You know, its a lot more complicated than just 'No.'

There are always those people who never seemed to fit in well in civilian life, but in war, thrive. War then, is a place/time where they are able to be 'more' than just a shoeshine boy, day laborer, migrant farmworker. They get the attention/approval of their fellow soldiers, a sense of purpose, and a focus pushed down on them from above that they can never find by themselves.

A good example of this is the Korean war movie, "Tae Guk Gi" (The Brotherhood of War). Its the first major S. Korean film about the Korean War. Two brothers are drafted into the S. Korean army. The older brother has given most of his life's income to allow his younger brother, the smarter of the two, a chance to go to college. When war breaks out, the older brother continues to protect his younger brother, by taking on missions so that his brother doesn't have to.

The problem is, the older brother is 'GOOD' at war- and learns to find status and place in war that he would never find in civilian life. While the younger brother sees nothing good in the war, and nothing good in the changes his brother is going through, the older brother doesn't understand- he doesn't see himself as any different.

This is a common thing for many veterans. I've read and talked to veterans who have related stories of buddies in the service who could never fit in after the war was over. For them, the war was the biggest, more memorable, most 'REAL' thing to occur to them in their lives.

Yes, it was horrible, awful and tragic. Just as it brings out in the worst in men and women, war can also can bring out the best. Its a totally different world from the mundane civilian world that we cherish so much. Its terrifying and brutal, yes- but its different. And for so many veterans, its siren song still sings to them long after they go to sleep- with the sounds of Taps playing, calling a long salute to their dead mates and buddies, lying in the mud and gore of Bunker Hill, Manassas, Antietam, Montfaucon, Battan, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Pusan, Kae Song, Fallujah- and all the quiet hills and valleys were our dead lie- silent, but never forgotten.

Darilian
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Jon_1066 wrote:
I think if anyone now thinks war is glorious they are completely ignorant of history. Surely 1914-18 and 1939-45 saw the end of that.

I've read where there was a lot of German nostalgia for WWI prior to WWII.

I would think that people involved in the various decades long civil wars that are going on around the world would know more about how bad war is than anyone else. Yet they are still killing each other and worse! If it's so bad, why are they doing it? What sustains such an enduring willingness to kill?

Is it possible to end all wars?

Darilian wrote:
Its terrifying and brutal, yes- but its different. And for so many veterans, its siren song still sings to them long after they go to sleep- with the sounds of Taps playing, calling a long salute to their dead mates and buddies, lying in the mud and gore of Bunker Hill, Manassas, Antietam, Montfaucon, Battan, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Pusan, Kae Song, Fallujah- and all the quiet hills and valleys were our dead lie- silent, but never forgotten.

Sergeant Benson would certainly agree. Rationally I think war is terrible. Anyone can read a history book can read how bad it can get. But my fear is that war is wired into us at a more primal level, like eating and procreating. And once someone gets exposed to it it's, like you say, a bit of a siren song.
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All experience I have says war is not glorious, and yet when I read things from the ancient world (which I knew best about) people are really, genuinely proud of their achievements in war and having fought in battles. Aeschylus, a genius playwright, first "renowned" tragedian, who was honored his entire life for his works (the plays were judged and he regularly won), put on his tombstone that he fought at Marathon. That was how he wanted to be remembered.

Now I honestly believe war is not glorious, everything I've been raised on has pointed me in that direction. But Aeschylus was genuinely proud of fighting in Marathon. Did he think it was glorious? I don't know, but he certainly thought it was the crowning achievement of a life that was filled with numerous successes.

So I think all the answers of "no" are coming from a very limited point of view. edit for clarification: limited in terms of "a lot of people have clearly thought otherwise" I don't actually disagree with the answer
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Germans not only had nostalgia for WWI; there was also an active sense of betrayal, not only nurtured in contempt against the winning powers, but also nurtured in contempt against "undesirables" who supposedly betrayed the German people and caused them to lose the war. Communists, degenerate artists, trade unions... ah, irony.

Anyway, people fight for a variety of reasons even knowing war is inhuman to begin with, making it one of the most human activities.

Who can say why the Russians went on fighting outside Kiev, with over a million or so lost in the course of maybe a week of fighting outside the city -- or outside Moscow itself, when it was even too cold to bury the dead? (Fighting against foreign invasion -- probably one of the most legitimate reasons for firing shots in anger.)

I guess it helps if you don't think of your enemies as human, as being worthless vermin. Works for Zyklon B, Year Zero, Abu Ghraib and crowded buses in Tel Aviv. (Ideology, against civilians: one of the least legitimate reasons.)

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I think were the problem is not limited experience, it's concept of glory.

I would find no glory in driving a spear through an opponent, nor would I find it in shooting them. Some people did/do.

I am not one of them.
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BagpipeDan wrote:
All experience I have says war is not glorious, and yet when I read things from the ancient world (which I knew best about) people are really, genuinely proud of their achievements in war and having fought in battles. Aeschylus, a genius playwright, first "renowned" tragedian, who was honored his entire life for his works (the plays were judged and he regularly won), put on his tombstone that he fought at Marathon. That was how he wanted to be remembered.

Now I honestly believe war is not glorious, everything I've been raised on has pointed me in that direction. But Aeschylus was genuinely proud of fighting in Marathon. Did he think it was glorious? I don't know, but he certainly thought it was the crowning achievement of a life that was filled with numerous successes.

So I think all the answers of "no" are coming from a very limited point of view.


If I had to guess, Aeschylus remembered his experience in the same way Russia's heroes of their Great War remember theirs: each one saved their country from extinction. It's something to be proud of and remember, even if, in both cases, their countries entered decline afterwards.
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cold_fuzion wrote:
I think were the problem is not limited experience, it's concept of glory.


I did say point of view, not experience I know people, I have in fact read things by people, who have fought in wars. They do not describe it as glorious. They have way more experience than I ever hope to have, and that's why I've always taken it for granted war is just awful.

But as you said plenty of people have no problem with it. Just look at mercenary forces throughout history.

I would almost say it's a question of "is it more glorious to die/starve than fight in a war?" but there are definitely people who have gone out looking for it.
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bbenston wrote:
It's something to be proud of and remember, even if, in both cases, their countries entered decline afterwards.


Actually Aeschylus would have died around the height of the Athenian Empire. Not disputing your point, just a little fyi

I guess it is more of a "relative" thing. I would never say war is glorious by any objective standard, just wondering how people even can
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BagpipeDan wrote:
bbenston wrote:
It's something to be proud of and remember, even if, in both cases, their countries entered decline afterwards.


Actually Aeschylus would have died around the height of the Athenian Empire. Not disputing your point, just a little fyi

I guess it is more of a "relative" thing. I would never say war is glorious by any objective standard, just wondering how people even can


Well, I ain't the classics major

(Just shows how ignorant I am about some aspects of history. I thought Aeschylus was a rough contemporary of Thucydides -- tons of ranty goodness about the decline in the Peloponnesian War.)

As for how someone can pick up a bayonet and run it through another human being, I suppose there's a scale of ethics, starting with actual invasion/harm done to loved ones at the top, in which it becomes almost self-defense; and, possibly, assassinated Archdukes and some concept of "national honor" and broken treaties near the bottom, along with the kind of religious zealotry that compels people to order thousands of teenagers to advance into an Iraqi mustard gas attack.

As I was alluding to before, it also helps if you can't see the face of the person you're murdering for the state: if you can shoot them from far away with an artillery round, or better yet, drop napalm on their village from 30,000 feet.

Fuck, can we move on to something else? I'm not having a lot of love for my fellow human beings in the abstract as it is.
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bbenston wrote:
Fuck, can we move on to something else? I'm not having a lot of love for my fellow human beings in the abstract as it is.


No need. Bringing up Thucydides made me think of this, which is so full of sheer WIN and awesome, not to mention total history dorkitude, that I can't help but be cheered up.

Kate Beaton's other comics work is pretty damn cool too.

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bbenston wrote:
Well, I ain't the classics major


Ah, yes. Correcting people on minute details in history so old it is worthless. The pinnacle of all my hopes and dreams upon pursuing these lofty heights of knowledge!

Oh well, at least I really, really enjoyed the comic Thanks for that. Poor, gullible Herodotus.
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To be fair, there are some folks who fail at every endeavor they attempt, until they find their place in street gangs. In the gang structure, they find that they have leadership and logistical skills that they weren't able to develop theretofore. Does it follow, then, that gangs and drug dealing are honorable? Some would say "yes"; I demur.

This isn't to draw too close a parallel between soldiers in the military and soldiers of the streets, but just because some individuals find fulfillment in unwholesome activities doesn't imbue those activities with honor. War is hell, no matter which way you cut it. Individuals may act with valor in the service of an inglorious cause, and it speaks only to the honor of the individual, not the war.

A simple "no" may stand.
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BagpipeDan wrote:
The pinnacle of all my hopes and dreams upon pursuing these lofty heights of knowledge!


See, in a recent ChitChat thread you brought up the phrase "using my classics major". I was about to point out that this was the most convoluted euphemism for masturbation than I thought possible, but then I remembered I was an English major in a long-ago past life and shut the hell up.

Or maybe I didn't. Anyway, I can't recommend Kate Beaton enough. Hot diggity, that shit's funny. Particularly if you're a total nerd like we are.
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Glorious doesn't necessarily mean 'good'.

There is a bit of a difference here.

But I get your meaning- My point, however, is that there is a part of humanity that 'feels alive' in that particular type of society that only exists in war. And I agree with you that gang violence and the 'gangsta life' is an attempt to recreate much of that life in a civilian form- there is an extreme 'tribal' element that is so very primitive and appealing in an odd way. How different are the battles of the Crips and Bloods from the squabbles of Athens and Sparta? They are each battles of 'freedom'- as defined by the particular cultures of these people.

But yet, also, there are times when I feel that there is some 'good' to be found in war. As awful as WWII was, there was good in destroying the menace of Fascism from the world. There was good in protecting S. Korea from the invasion of the North. There was good in TRYING to protect S. Vietnam, despite our failures in fighting there. And, I would argue that there IS a nobility in the desire of our men and women in uniform today who volunteer to serve to fight to help Iraq be more than it has ever been before, to help Afghanistan try and overcome generations of endemic war.

As McArthur said, "The Soldier, above all, loves PEACE. For he alone truly knows the cost and horrors of war." So while there is no glory in war, ITSELF, there is a noblity and glory in the SERVICE that the men and women, answering the call of their country, give to us.

Darilian

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ninja I sure am glad I was born in the 21st century. Yup, them folks back throughout all history was just SO stoopid. 'Course now, we're so much smarter....

Okay, now that I got the sarcasm out of my system:

Is war glorious? Since "glory" is acclaim and praise for the do-er after the fact, yes, very often it is. Is war a bad thing? Depends on the circumsatnces. Is killing bad? Same thing.

Considering war "glorious" was never actually about the war itself. Even the Homeric epics include the horrors of war which the ancients recognized no less than modern people do. Indeed, being more often confronted with more brutal wars, they probably realized this more. Yet warriors, i.e., soldiers, were understood to risk their lives to defend the people at home and their interests. THAT was the source of glory-- doing a dangerous job and doing it well for the benefit of everybody.

If war glorious? yes. Is it horrific? Yes. The two are by no means mutually exclusive. in fact the soldier who risks his life getsthe praise of his countrymen pecisely because war IS so terrible. Glorious is not the same as good in and of itself.
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whac, that is an excellent answer that really gets at the heart of my conflict. A+
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