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.
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.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
“War feels better than peace.”
That’s what it says. Not that war is better. It feels better. To put comments like that into context and perspective, you should read the book.
Tribe put me in touch with a part of myself that wants something which I haven’t had in long time–the feeling of belonging to a tribe. When I had it, it was temporary. I’ve lost my tribe, and I feel the void.
I don’t want to think we have a dystopian or apocalyptic world. But I realize that conflict and evil are pervasive in human nature. Also, all nature holds danger, evil threats, and risks to our survival. It has always been so and there is little sign of relief.
Junger’s book is supposed to be about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and American combat veterans returning to our normal and civilized society. It is about that, but there’s more to it. While vets are the focused subjects of the book, they are examples he uses to make an ultimate point about human nature and American society. I suspect that is why the book is so popular.
Maybe we are not what we think we are. Are we as peace-loving as we claim to be? We’ve certainly done much to create a peaceful society in America and other countries around the world, with varying degrees of success–mostly minor or the opposite of what we intended to do.
My favorite sentence in the book is just two words: “And yet.” (p. 109)
We crave peace, comfort, safety, pleasure, privacy, and independence. And yet, when we look at the history of human behavior under dangerous and stressful situations, something strange often happens to us. We are healthier and apparently (oddly?) happier—less depressed, when under stress. It should be the opposite, right?
I’ll not say more about the phenomenon because I don’t want to play spoiler. I want you to read the book. But, don’t use my library. There are now 184+ waits to read it. The word is out.
This book spoke to me. It’s my inner voice. Maybe I’m in denial. While I’m not overtly competitive and I’m so-so on some sports (I prefer playing to watching); I enjoy tension, drama, and mystery more than I like to admit. I have a love-hate relationship with fear and stress. I want them, and I don’t. WTF?
That voice is saying something. I know what it’s telling me. I know exactly what Junger is talking about—and I agree.
I avoid trouble. I want peace and love in the world. But I am a realist (in my mind, anyway). I enjoy conflict. While I’m unlikely to start trouble, when it’s forced on me, I’m in.
I despise fighting. I don’t enjoy pain or suffering, especially my own. But when I fight, I don’t want to stop. Something is deep inside me crying for more. Where’s my tribe?
When conflict is forced on me, I feel a change (a charge?) in my being–I feel strangely better. Got a tribe to protect and feed? I’m your man.
Consider the tribe concept in dealing with a crisis. We are all fighting for survival. We need each other. Your struggle is my struggle. We can share everything and overcome adversity for the good the tribe.
My personal paradox is that I’m an introvert and I enjoy my alone time. I value my privacy and a good night’s sleep as much as anyone. But I find the concept of a tribe fascinating, intriguing, and alluring—the challenge. The fight! Combat!
Our survival didn’t just happen. When you consider natural human strength, we’re easy prey in the animal kingdom. While we’re most vulnerable alone and we need protection, there’s something comforting and rewarding about the danger out there and what the tribe does for us.
Read the book.
When you find your tribe,
join them and cherish them. But, look both ways.
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?
This blog is about a book. If you look at my ‘about’ tab, under Frat Friday, think of topics 1, 2, 3, 9, 11, 12, and 13. While I will not include my personal religious or political opinions today, the book I want to talk about is about religion and politics. It is a lot about hate, causes, and it’s certainly in the news. The religion is Islam. The book is Islam and the Future of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. It is a dialog (not a debate) and only about 120 to 140 pages long. I preferred the audio version with Sam and Maajid reading their parts, but it’s a good read.
On Amazon, 315 reviews awarded an average of 4.5 stars with 92% being either 4 or 5 stars. Most of the low critiques are more personal attacks on the authors with little concern for future readers of the book. I read the book and will read it again.
Both men are intelligent, experts in their fields, and well-spoken.
Harris is a well-known American atheist, philosopher, neuroscientist, and author of several books.
Nawaz is a British Muslim and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. He is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which he left in 2007 when he renounced his Islamist past. He now advocates Secular Islam.
“What is Islamism? Islam is a religion; Islamism is the desire to impose any version of that religion on society. It’s the politicization of my own religion. What is Jihadism? The use of force to spread Islamism.” ~ Maajid Nawaz
“The only conclusion I can draw from everything you’ve just said is that the problem of ideology is far worse than most people suppose.” ~ Sam Harris
The essence and differences
While the two people in the dialogue have vastly different views on religion, they each allow a pass for the other in order to have this discussion. What they do agree upon is that there is a significant problem and threat within the Islamic faith regarding danger from some of the members. I’m not sure that they agree on who is dangerous, or how many, or exactly why.
(Not addressing this conversation, but similar ones.) “The people I really worry about when we have this conversation are feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims – all vulnerable…in many cases violently assaulted or killed….” ~ Maajid Nawaz
It may take more than one pass through to glean their exact positions. Precision of understanding and clear definition of terms are goals of both men, something Harris works to ensure. They agree that the discussion needs to take place, but efforts are confounded by people on both the fundamentalist right (mostly Muslims) and what Nawaz refers to as the regressive left (or liberals).
“…The general picture is of a white, liberal non-Muslim who equates any criticism of Islamic doctrines with bigotry, ‘Islamophobia,’ or even ‘racism.’…they deny any connection between heartfelt religious beliefs and Muslim violence….de facto organs of Islamist apology – The Guardian, Salon, The Nation, Alternet, and so forth. This has made it very difficult to have public conversations of the sort we are having.” ~ Sam Harris
The biggest problem for America, if not the world
Europe currently faces a much greater problem than America in dealing with Islamists. By comparison with Europe, America has 3.3 million Muslims (1%), while France (9.6%), Belgium (6%), and United Kingdom (4.5%) have Muslims as significantly higher percentages of their total population. What Harris and Nawaz agree on is that attempts to discuss how to solve the problems created by Islamic Extremism are taboo topics.
I think they have a point. While Sam points to the fundamentals of Islam as problematic, understanding of his basic premises regarding religion (and the same can be said of virtually any contemporary, well-known atheist) reveals that he gives no religion a pass – especially no Abrahamic religion.
The context of what is said
“One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.” ~ Sam Harris
The best way to follow what these two men are saying is to know the context of what they are saying supported by their beliefs or philosophy. To do this, it would be helpful to read other books, particularly Harris’s The End of Faith.
They’re both attacked continually and called insulting names and threatened. Both spend a good deal of effort justifying their positions and protecting themselves. Both have done TED talks that are worth viewing to understand their positions.