This poem refers to crew members (called crew dogs) of B-52 bombers and to their war-time mission of dropping munitions to destroy things and kill people, thus the dogs of war. This is a dark and threatening piece, set in six stanzas of six lines each, with even and odd lines rhyming. Misery and woe are metaphors for the many types of weapons dropped. The shrill is the eerie sound bombs make as they fall. The dog, or beast, refers to the model D, or variant of B-52, which is painted black on the bottom of the airplane. Please question in comment.
Dogs of War by Bill Reynolds
Let us slip from nature’s gravity hold
We war dogs of old, both willing and bold.
Into skies we shall go with misery and woe.
To maim and to kill, who we don’t even know.
Our airman’s life is to die if we will.
Into Death’s realm, we’ll send you the shrill.
We’re lashed to the beast, the marvelous dog,
Behind us we leave the stink and a fog.
The thunderous sound of flying around
We send you a hell, you on the ground.
Wonders of war are set at our feet
Our old friend death, soon you will meet.
Destruction we’ll rain on your cities and towns,
You won’t know we’re there, we don’t make a sound.
Concussion will break you and all that is near,
Along with destruction, we’ll send you the fear.
The black-bottom dogs will come as you sleep
To rip and to tear, into hearts of your sheep.
The countdown will start, as our hearts will race,
But Death we’ll deliver at one horrible pace.
The flashes we’ll see and the fires will rise,
The dogs of war unleased, to your demise.
The horror will come as sure as the sun,
This nightmare relents when war is won.
Safe home again with guilt, we shall not feel,
Because of the blow, we were vowed to deal.
To the bar we’ll retire and review the day’s mess,
In laughter and stories, we consider success.
The beast is now resting and finding a tune,
Ready again, the dogs shall return again soon.
The horrors of war are hidden away,
The death and the misery kept well at bay.
From dogs to humans we slowly turn,
To our homes and lives we always return.
Havoc returns with the dogs of war,
Until we can say, no war! No more.
Look both ways, mind the gaps, and fill the world with love and peace.
“…Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
~ Marcus Antonius in Julius Caesar,
Act 3, scene 1, 270–275
Reading or writing about events like Bataan, we often focus on man’s inhumanity to man – that dark side of our nature, which we often shun until memoir time. Throughout known history, our capacity for cruelty is well-documented. Genocide (killing to eliminate a group, race, ethnicity, religion, or language) is too common. While respecting victims of atrocities, I want to focus on survival, with one survivor in mind.
When survivors tell their story, they become windows to history, guiding and motivating our chant of never again. From their dark stories, we learn to prevent future atrocities. On the bright side, survival stories are inspirational. What others endure, survive, and subsequently achieve are symbolic of human resilience: that remarkable human physical and spiritual asset.
I discovered Benjamin Charles Steele long before I met him, as I was feeding my curiosity about Bataan by reading books. I only read five. “Only,” because so many books and articles have been written about the Death March, many by survivors or their families.
One of those books, Tears in the Darkness by Michael and Elizabeth Norman, focuses on Ben’s story. While the Normans included much more within the pages of their ten-year project, they trace Ben’s life experiences, particularly during the war years. I recommend it.
Born in 1917, Ben Steele grew up on his parent’s Montana ranch. The family lost the ranch during the Depression Years, when he was about 15. Ben continued to work as a ranch hand, which interrupted his education several times before he finally graduated from high school in 1939. The following year, Ben joined the Army Air Corps. Eighteen months later he was a prisoner of war (POW) in the Philippines.
Ben may have developed a passing interest in art when had delivered art supplies. But, he had little exposure, and no formal training. Ben received his formal art degrees after the war.
For much of his early POW time, Ben was ill (Beriberi, dysentery, pneumonia, blood poisoning, and malaria). He worried about adding mental illness to the list, as so many others had. So, he began to draw. Risking severe punishment or death to stay sane, Ben started a self-prescribed therapy to fight off life-threatening melancholy. He had seldom drawn anything during his life.
Unknowingly, from his sick-bed in the wretched Bilibid Prison, he was launching a seventy-four-year, successful art and teaching career. This late high school graduate, Army enlistee, and future college professor, was barely hanging on to life. While starving and hardly existing in some of the bleakest living conditions imaginable, Ben used charcoal and sticks to do his first primitive drawings.
“I used to sit there day after day. I thought I’d lose my damn mind. I wanted something to do, so I started drawing with anything I could find to draw with. I’d draw on walls. People around me said, ‘Why don’t you draw the guys? You know, there are no photographs taken of this stuff.’ So, I started drawing stuff around the camp and sketches of people and portraits as close as I could. I wasn’t very skillful.” ~ Ben Steele
Eventually, Ben was moved to mainland Japan where he worked as slave labor in coal mines. The only two of his original drawings to survive the war were done there. The original drawings he did in the Philippines were in the possession of a fellow prisoner, catholic priest, and army chaplain, named Father Duffy. When the ship Duffy was on sank, the drawings ended up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. A few years later, as he recovered in a Spokane, Washington, hospital, Ben reproduced his lost drawings from memory (part of his therapy).
When the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, Ben worked 75 miles south. He heard the blast. Soon the war ended. Ben and others were on the road home and toward recovery from the three-and-a-half-year ordeal. Ironically, some survivors eventually fell victim to mental and emotional problems resulting in suicide, death from substance abuse, or other such maladies. However, most survived, and I was fortunate enough to meet some of them.
When Ben’s art was displayed in a building on White Sands Missile Range in 2011, I was there for my last Death March. By then I’d read Tears in the Darkness, and other books about Bataan. So, I knew Ben’s story.
When I went to see the art the day before the March, Ben was there. His daughter was escorting him in his wheel chair – he was 93. We shook hands. He signed my book about his art and we talked, mostly about his life as an artist.
I immediately knew I was talking to a Montana cowboy, who happened to have been a POW, college professor, well known artist, an American hero, and a witness to much about life’s realities.
At his core, this happy man who was pleased with life and was the same cowboy who joined the Army Air Corps 71 years earlier.
“Little things that probably bother a lot of people don’t bother me. I figure I’m probably living on a little borrowed time, and I’d better enjoy it!” ~ Ben Steele
Another WWII veteran I knew, Joe P., said virtually the same thing to me last year. Both men died in 2016, in their late 90s after living full and happy lives. Perhaps their life choices were reflected in the last three words I quoted from Ben, “…better enjoy it!”
Life has its ups and downs; reality in art, literature, history, and personal stories enable us to look both ways, to the dark, or to the light. Enjoy life, but mind the gaps.
This is based on my experience with the Bataan Death March Marathon. It is the second of three posts on this subject. To read the first, click here. The next post in this series will focus on Ben Steele, Bataan Death March survivor, Montana cowboy, and artist.
Why Do This?
The doctor looked at me, with my wife listening, “You can get all the cardio you need walking. If you were on active duty, I would profile you so you could not run. I suggest you stop marathons, and consider not running at all. You will not have a heart attack. With this problem, you will likely be dead before you hit the ground.”
Before that, between ages 59 and 65, I’d completed 15 marathons. Four of those, I walked. Each took me about nine hours to finish, in the Chihuahua Desert, north of El Paso, Texas. Training for such endurance events is hard. Participating is fun, but demanding. I discovered the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon when l was searching for an off-road, full marathon for walkers. About 85% of this “March” participants walk it.
In early March of 2008, we flew from San Antonio to El Paso, rented a car, and drove 45 miles north to the US Army post at White Sands Missile Range in southeast New Mexico. I checked in at registration, looked around the base, then drove 17 miles to Las Cruses for the night.
Well before dawn the next day, my wife took me back to White Sands and stayed with me as a hoard of 5,000 marchers and runners, plus many friends, and event staff descended on the large outdoor breakfast area, next to the starting-line assembly corral.
The Emotional Start
Sunrise and the start are at about 0600 hours. Everyone arrives long before dawn. After we parked, drank coffee, juice, and I scarfed up whatever I could eat, marathon ritual requires queuing up at one of the numerous port-a-potty toilets. I watched as some male participants strolled over to the golf course to give it a watering, I would have too, but they were run off by staff. It was dark, their backs were to us, it made the loo lines shorter, and the area had little grass. I didn’t see the problem, but dropped the idea.
The opening ceremony at sunrise was the most patriotic and emotionally stirring that I ever witnessed. I was in the starting corral by that time, and being surrounded by my tribe added to my feeling of being part of something special. After few short speeches, accolades, and expressions of gratitude; a low altitude, noisy flyover of fighter jets from Holloman Air Force Base marked the final countdown to the starting gun. The crowd got quieter as the excitement and tension grew.
We were startled by a loud, unexpected blast when the starting gun was a thunderous, awakening, cannon blast. This was an Army post, so of course. As we slowly worked our way through another narrow gate and into the crowded final corral, a marching band of kilted drummers and bagpipers led the parade of 5,000 hopefuls through the 15 feet wide, by 50 feet long, starting area. Lining the sides of the narrow start area, the Bataan Death March survivors, most sitting, old and frail former POWs shook hands and spoke with as many participants as possible. Since the Bataan Death March is 75 years old now, few, if any, actual survivors remain.
We heard a distinctive beep as each marcher walked over the starting strip. That sound is an electronic signal from a timing chip attached to a shoelace. I noticed a barefoot participant, who tied it to his ankle. I would see him two more times; once, struggling in agony just past the 10-mile marker. I notified the next staff member I saw. The next time he was riding on the back of a golf cart on his way to a medical tent. Since then, footwear has been required. The military is good at making rules for common sense. I’ve seen barefoot marathoners before, but they ran on paved roads. This was a rough desert environment.
Those wishing to run fast were out of the corral immediately after the band. Last to start were the “heavy” military and civilian groups, with each person carrying a 35-pound backpack, plus water and other consumables for the course of the day. The pack must weigh at least 35 pounds at the start and finish.
A Killer Experience
More Death March survivors were stationed along the route. The idea was for marchers to meet the survivors, shake hands, talk briefly, and then move on.
It normally goes like this as I take his outstretched hand, “Howdy, Sir. My name is Bill Reynolds. Thank you for serving our country and winning the war.”
Then, he might say, “Hello, Bill. My name is John Richards. Thank you for marching to honor me, my friends, and what we did.”
I always wanted to stand and talk longer, but others were lining up behind me.
While this is no race for a best time, top finishers within each category receive awards. Only a small percentage of participants run all 26.2 miles, and none of them run their fastest marathon. This event is a patriotic history lesson, a physical and mental challenge, an amazing sight to see, and a motivating experience. Most of the course is on Jeep trails more suitable for tanks. The ubiquitous sand mixed with irritating gravel and scree finds its way into all shoes and boots. Gaiters helped a little.
The six-mile, 1,200-foot climb to the half-way point, 13.1-miles into the march, is on Mineral Hill at 5,397 feet. It’s notorious for ending many a marcher’s day. By that time, dehydration, bloody blisters, twisted ankles, sun burns, human exhaustion, and all manner of mental and physical maladies are screaming at marchers to give it up and ride the golf cart to the finish line, which about 15% must do, if they’re not taken away in one of the many ambulances that continually haul off the more seriously ill and injured. Even the young and fit fall prey to this challenge when they fail to pace themselves, especially if they neglected training.
I had read about the infamous Sand Pits, which we descend into just after completing 20 miles. These arroyos are 15 to 20-foot deep ditches, lined and filled with several feet of washed-in, soft sand that made walking even more demanding.
These pits alone are a challenge to walk through, but after enduring six hours of arduous walking, it’s agony. The subfreezing morning high-desert temperatures were long-past, yielding to the sun and its rising mid-day heat, making those arroyos The Pits of Misery, indeed. I used my hiking poles as I felt my exhausted, 61-year-old aching body, painful feet, and stabbing blisters demand that I end this insanity.
Many other marchers were combat veterans and wounded warriors, some who had been seriously injured. Seeing men and women with all sorts of physical and mental war injuries, many wearing various kinds of prostheses, some blind and being assisted by guides, but all doing what I was doing; I was emotionally moved, and I hushed the objecting voices in my head. I may have had more than 30 years on most of those folks, but I did not have to carry a spare leg in my backpack, in case my prosthesis broke or malfunctioned. I didn’t need a guide because I had been blinded by an IED in a foreign country.
After 21 miles, my emotional state totally changed. I became weepy, extremely happy, and excited simultaneously. I felt honored and privileged to be where I was, doing what I was doing, and being with the people I was with. I felt guilty for complaining internally about my plight. Then, considering that the Death March survivors I had met faced 65 miles as POWs, starved, thirsty, beaten, and guarded by an enemy solder more than willing to kill them, I found the strength to put my burden behind me and finish this.
The Longest Three
Then, 23 miles in, the last big medical tent appeared as I managed to climb the hill out of the sand pits. The base was in sight. The finish line would be there. The final three-mile hike was on a long, flat, dusty, dirt road. It was hot, dry, and slow going. Eight hours had passed since the starting cannon was fired. I was walking on near-zero energy, constantly glancing up hoping to see some sign of the finish line, but I was only able to see the same view, with the now onerous Organ Mountains to the right.
As I was dragging my old ass along, a young lady in full army combat uniform greeted me with encouraging words as she passed. I was thinking that her 35-pound pack must be more than 25% of her total body weight. Most of my pain numbed, but with every step I knew I had blisters.
After my first Death March, I discovered that I had the biggest blisters I’d ever seen on the bottom and top of both feet, four black toe nails (one would fall off), and sore heels. I was exhausted.
Going Home; I Shall Return
Over the following years, my motivation continued to grow as I learned more about the events of 1942, and the perils of the men and women who surrendered on Bataan and Corregidor. I’ve read on-line accounts and at least five books about the experiences of the survivors. I became an amateur expert of sorts, drawn to something that had occurred several years prior to my birth, but affected my life in ways that I still cannot explain, 75 years later.
The next day, at the El Paso airport, Death March Marathon participants are quickly spotted in two ways. First, while active duty military are in Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU), many others wear the distinctive tee-shirt given to each participant. The second give away is the distinctive Death March limp. In my case, it was both.
Overcoming the challenges and obstacles of life is difficult, not impossible.
In the process, always look both ways and mind the gaps.
Poem We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.
And nobody gives a damn.
Nobody gives a damn.
~ by Frank Hewlett ,1942
One Survivor’s Story
I was fortunate enough to meet Professor Ben Steele on the day before I completed my fourth Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon: 26.2 miles through a portion of the Chihuahua Desert located in Southeast New Mexico. On 26 March 2011, Ben signed my book of the drawings he had made as a prisoner of war (POW), following the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. I shook Ben’s hand and we talked about his art.
Three Parts of the Story
This is one of three blog posts about our two journeys that converged when I met this heroic Montana cowboy and historic American icon. The first post is about the war, which the US entered immediately following Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The second attack, which followed within hours of the first, was the invasion of the Philippines by Japanese military forces. It happened about four years prior to my birth, but Ben was there.
Next Tuesday, a second post will be about my experiences with the Bataan Memorial Marathon, an annual event that takes place at White Sands Missile Range, near Las Cruces, NM. It’ll cover that part of my experience as a 65-year-old runner, in way over his head, leading up to my meeting with Ben, then age 93.
If you’re a marathoner/runner/endurance walker, or even a wannabe, registration signups for this annual patriotic event close on March 5th. The marathon will be on Sunday, March 19th starting early in the cold of the high desert military post, located just east of the breathtaking Organ Mountains. For the link to the web page and instructions, click here. You need be in good physical condition, but not all are. This thing is a rigorous challenge for the average person, and the “casualty rate” is high. The good news is that 85% of the participants walk it – as I did four times.
The third post will be about the man I met and his experience. He and others were survivors of the Bataan Death March, and long-term confinement into slave labor. He was a POW survivor, an artist, and a Professor of Art at Eastern Montana College: Benjamin Charles Steele.
The Death March
As we should know, on December 7, 1941, Japanese military forces attacked the USA by dealing a devastating blow to our forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Few know that ten hours later, the Japanese attacked the Philippines. The Philippines Campaign (Filipino: Labanan sa Pilipinas), or the Battle of the Philippines, raged from 8 December 1941 to the fall of Bataan on 9 April (105 days), and the following surrender of the island of Corregidor on 8 May 1942.
The Japanese military conquest of the Philippines may have been the worst military defeat in United States history. 23,000 US military personnel, and another 100,000 Filipino soldiers, were killed or captured.
Bataan is a peninsula on the southwest end of the large Philippine island of Luzon. As the battles raged on, General MacArthur’s forces retreated to Bataan and the small island of Corregidor. Due (in part) to the breakdown of supplies and logistics (in my opinion), the Americans and Filipinos began to lose strength. Following the decision to surrender, the Japanese were overwhelmed with POWs. A torturous and deadly forced march of 65 miles by approximately 75,000 sick, injured, and defeated Filipino and American troops to prison camps ensued. The march took about eight days.
While the exact death toll on the march is uncertain, credible sources report that casualties prior to reaching their destinations were from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipino deaths, and 500 to 650 American deaths. Marchers reported severe physical abuse and wanton killings. The Bataan Death March was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.
On January 27, 1944, the U.S. government informed the American public about the march, when it released sworn statements of military officers who had escaped.
My first assignment following Air Force basic training in 1964 was to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Over 30 years later, I lived for three years in Albany, Texas. It was not until years later, when I started reading and learning more about the Death March that I learned about Lieutenant Colonel William E. Dyess. Dyess Air Base was named after him, and he was from Albany, Texas (population ~ 2,000).
Dyess was a Death March survivor, and one of the few officers who escaped the Japanese POW camps in the Philippines. Following his return, Colonel Ed Dyess wrote extensively about the March and the prison camps prior to his death in an airplane crash in late 1943.
The drawings you see in the following video are Ben Steele’s. The survivors pictured in wheelchairs are at the starting line of the marathon.
Never Ending Wars
Japan formally signed to surrender on September 2, 1945, ending World War II. After 14 years of war, “nearly three million Japanese were dead, many more wounded or seriously ill, and the country lay in ruins,” most Japanese (not to mention those who had suffered at their hands during the war) saw the end of hostilities as a blessing. The USSR and China suffered the greatest loss of life during WWII – in the tens of millions, mostly civilians, who were killed due to brutal war crimes.
There is no shortage of stories about man’s inhumanity to man, particularly in time of war. The Bataan Death March, and the subsequent treatment of prisoners, was one example. Knowing these realities, meeting those who experienced them, and listening to or reading their stories should serve to teach us the truth of what General Douglas MacArthur said, “In war there is no substitute for victory.”
Life is good and it can be better. But, pay attention. Look both ways and mind the gaps.
It will not happen again unless we allow it.
The internet is loaded with lists. Lists are recommended for writing/blogging because we read them. My wife likes to read lists to me. Neither of us have any idea why. This is my personal short list with explanations for why the item is here. In a way, it’s a gratitude list, but that’s not exactly what this is about. It’s about me, not the list. Please comment with your top five. I’d like to know if you share my opinions.
I call this the top five inventions now affecting my life. Back in history, each of these might have been considered magic. In a way, I consider them the magic of science. Many discoveries, inventions, and innovations were necessary predecessors to make these possible, and for those I am also grateful (things like electricity, fire, internet [actually came later], printing press, writing, etc.) Some are closer to my heart than others. Bill’s top five inventions are (random order):
The computer. The PC, laptop, and gadget after gadget (smart phone) using the science and technology to make my life better. I sat in front of one of these things for years at work and then spent more time on-line at home. Now in retirement, I use my laptop, smartphone, or iPad more than 8 hours a day. I type/keyboard with all ten fingers, like to write, and can make a mess with a typewriter. (electronic digital computer, 1939, Atanasoff and Berry)
Global Positioning System (GPS). I was a Master Navigator in the United States Air Force. Navigating was my profession. I was also a bombardier faced with the challenges of dropping things on targets (to put it nicely). 35 years ago, I was delighted to have technology that would tell me how fast I was going and in which direction. I used the sun and stars to determine where on earth we were, errors of miles were not unusual. I actually had mechanical/analog computers, which were also often wrong.
What I would have given for a GPS! Sometimes, we dropped hundreds of bombs hoping one might find the target. Today they use a (as in one) GPS-guided ‘smart bomb’ that can hit someone’s dinner plate. They need only one bomb per target.
Driving home, I can see a map of the roads all around me, traffic conditions, my position, and my arrival time. In 1978, the first satellite was launched and it was Y2K before GPS devices became available for personal use (instead of military only).
The Spell Checker. I often joke that the only thing worse than my handwriting is my spelling. Actually, I have no idea which is worse. Together, they conspire to make anything I handwrite virtually useless. Even I can’t read it. Professional, highly trained code breakers would never figure it out. It’s like a disability. Fellow writers often proclaim the great value of writing by hand. One page and my hand hurts. My head hurts from trying to make it legible. And my brain is pissed from focusing on scripting and spelling and not on content.
My poor penmanship has been replaced by computer writing software. Part of that software has been written to show me wrongly spelled words, and sometimes it even fixes some of them. Look – I fully understand all the pitfalls and problems of spell checkers. I’ve read the cute little poem(joke) about this. If your handwriting and spelling are adequate, good for you. Mine aren’t. This software has saved my ass from the constant embarrassment of ugly hand writing and atrocious spelling.
Stents. I am a medical science advocate. I may not agree with every practitioner, but I agree with mine. I inherited several things from my father: fondness for beer, a temper, and a circulatory system that likes to clog-up. It eventually killed him as it probably will do for me one day. But not today.
Several years ago my leg went numb while walking. A doctor said, “I think I know what’s wrong and what we can do about it.” He put three stents into myiliacarteries. They worked. Years later, I was told that coronary bypass surgery was too risky for me due to my calcified aortic arch. A Cath Lab team lead by my doctor inserted four stents to open my clogged/blocked coronary arteries. Six months later, I had two more inserted. Not heart attack required. Stents work immediately and the recovery time is measured in hours. I have a total of nine. Dad had none.
Airplanes. I like to fly. Much of my first career was spent flying or teaching others how. My second career was still associated with teaching others to fly. I like aviation museums. I also like books and movies about flying.
When I moved, I left Florida in the morning and was at my new home in the Pacific Northwest by dinner time. A forty-hour drive flown in seven. Until teleporters are perfected, we can travel to any place on earth during the same day, provided we do it in an airplane.
I could add things like the internet, automobiles, digital music, and sliced bread. But five’s enough. Right?
1 — An idealized place of great or idyllic magnificence and beauty
2 — Xanadu, China or Shangdu, the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s Yuan empire
3 — “Kubla Khan”, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which popularized the name Xanadu for Shangdu
I’m posting two things here. First is the youtube song by Olivia Newton John. I like this tune. It is uplifting and exciting — very positive. The second is a poem that I like, but which has an earthier focus, written by Anthony (Ax).
Songs from the Dark Side of Xanadu
Across the sacred river before the sea
A forest dense and dark, sparsely lit by sun and moon
Fragments filter through as beams that cut like lasers
Touch upon the ground where creatures scurry and avoid
Hide they try from demon eyes that snatch on prey
Where all that move within the light become victims of the night
Snails and slugs beneath the moss find peace
Rodents of every kind twitch and stitch inside hollowed trees
Snakes slither up to coil branches, as they lay, become one
Four legged beasts tremble, buried deep below the ground
Misty darkness hovers, a rolling fog, black as the devils heart
Devouring every ounce of life that roams about
In a world where dark rules over light
A speckled glow, orangey-red with a tail of glitter trails
It floats among the sleeping flowers spreading magic dust
To kiss its sorrowed petals awake
Colors of reds, yellows and greens scream as violets and blue begin to beam
The leaves in trees rustle with a glee as the sun rises high
Canopies open to view heavens gate as sparkles ignite
running with streams and rivers might
Faeries come by the plenty singing songs from the dark side of Xanadu
Paving the way for an entrance of two blessed unicorns
White as freshly fallen snow, soft as cotton spun by cherubs humming along
Their horns straight and true that point to a life of peace and harmony
A millennium ends for this sullen brittle land
To life it grows with the breath of salvations heart
Sparrows flying, eagles soaring, blackbirds harking heavy metal blues
Deer in the meadow, wolves howling on the hill
Butterflies and Dragonflies dance on the waves of the wind Ogni cosa ha cagione To say in life…
Everything has an underlying reason
When you ask most Americans if they know any French expressions they will say, “C’est la vie.” It may mean such is life, but it also implies a certain amount of fatalistic acceptance like “sh*t happens.” My favorite acceptance phrase in English is It is what it is. The title French phrase for this blog is different in that it points to cause – the reason things are wrong or out of whack. C’est la guerre, or it is the war, is an acknowledgement that while there is a problem, it is that way because of the war. As with many foreign phrases used in English, especially by Americans, the meaning is morphed slightly into aspects of life that don’t involve war or combat; such as work or sports competitions. The phrase was common and true in occupied France during World War II.
When I ponder c’est la guerre, my thinking goes more toward the conditions or philosophy of war, or the way of life during times of war. As an American, the concept is a little foreign to me (like our wars), since the only ground war we experienced was our war with ourselves: The Civil War. Ironically, it may have been the most destructive of our history in terms of loss of life and property. For at least the past 100 years, we have considered war as something that happens over there. Lucky us.
“It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.” ~ Sun Tzu
In the 21st century, what are the things that happen and are explained with c’est la guerre? The first casualty of war is always truth. This is usually followed by destruction, death and maiming, rape, humiliation, and man’s inhumanity to man (torture). We have travel restrictions, airport body scanners, and a plethora of personal armament. And those are purely defensive precautions for dealing with domestic terrorism.
While there are many good books regarding the philosophy of war, the classic gold standard is On War by Carl Von Clausewitz – required reading for virtually every military officer. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy may be the preeminent novel on the subject. And the classic for weaponry and strategy is The Art of War by Sun Tzu; more required reading, if not necessarily the best reading entertainment.
“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” ~ Sun Tzu
So the rhyming tongue-in-cheek variation of the French fatalistic terms (which are not so fatalistic in French) used in English go like this: c’est la vie, c’est guerre, c’est la pomme de terre (such is life, such is war, that’s a potato). Get it? It is what it is. Accept it.