Sir, said she, leave your horse here, and I shall leave mine; and took their saddles and their bridles with them, and made a cross on them, and so entered into the ship.... and so the wind arose, and drove them through the sea in a marvellous pace. And within a while it dawned.
Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur
I encounter an enormous and growing number of people who have no frame of reference to the whole world, and everybody and everything in it, except that which they learned from watching, listening to, or reading entertainment. But unlike the elderly I mentioned, they are not using the TV to remind them of a world they have already participated in. They are deriving their reality from the flickering screen. Every single thing they say or do is filtered almost entirely through the lens of movies, teleplays, and magazines --paper or virtual-- things that use reality only as a veneer, if that, and simply to lend verisimilitude to wholly fictitious inventions.
(via American Digest)
There’s plenty of commentary around on Sen. McCain’s recent statement about Iran assisting al-Qaeda. I’m not going to write about whether he was right the first time –- as others have -- but I am concerned about the idea (which seems to be behind some of the commentary) that they couldn’t work together because of ideological or religious differences. I remember similar ideas from the beginning of the war – from people who assured us that Saddam’s “secular” Ba’athist regime could never work with Islamist terrorists, as it could and did.
Of course, it’s good to know the difference between Shia and Sunni, between Ismaili and “Twelver” Shia, between Salafi/Wahabi and other Sunni, between the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and more besides; I fervently wish that more of our leaders and commentators had a good basic grounding in these things (and I hope to keep improving my own, which is far from perfect). But in getting this knowledge, don’t let’s forget some of those basic truths about politics and strategy and strange bedfellows that continue to apply. Everyone knows the Assassins were a radical Shia sect; not everyone knows they allied variously with the Sunni Sultan Saladin – who had supplanted the last Shia Caliph – and with the Christian crusaders. As some say, the Arab Revolt of WWI may have been considerably exaggerated, yet it still amounted to Sunni Muslims allied with Christian westerners against Sunni Turkey – whose ruler was also the Sunni Caliph. Many have remembered the U.S. giving support to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war; not as many, I think, remember that Israel supplied arms to Iran during that same conflict. Some commentators have noted that, per the 9/11 Commission Report (scroll to “Turabi sought to persuade”), Iran did train al-Qaeda in the early 1990’s. Ideological purity doesn’t survive warfare any better than it does electoral politics. This is as true of the religious as of the secular kind. 1 Maccabees 2:32-41.
I see that Magic Island Technologies, which provides the private internet service to Camp Victory, has banned the entire Blogspot system as "a pornography site" -- I can still get to Blogger to post, but not to Grim's Hall. I expect it was our Holy Week series that did it, or possibly Joel's writings on Rules of Engagement (just the sort of thing you'd want to keep soldiers from reading).
Since I figure there's no hope of convincing the Army to reconsider, I suppose I'll just have to live down to their expectations. Here follows "The Ballad of Lily and Sam," by The Limeybirds.
A bonny young lass fresh and wholesomeThere, that ought to do it. Plus -- I swear I am not making this up -- I just received an email from "Erica Blair" advertising penile enhancements. That should really cement our status.
was married to a much older man:
Listen close to this tale we will tell you
'tis the ballad of Lily and Sam.
When he comes home in the evening
Lily sat a nice table for two.
Sam says he's already eaten,
and then heads right on up to his room.
She followed him happy and hopeful
dressed in her best lingerie,
and there he's high up on the bedposts
sound asleep, much to Lily's dismay.
She tried and she tried O to tempt him;
Sweet nothings whispered in his ear.
Sam pushed her off and he shouts up,
"Speak up girl, you know I can't hear!"
Lily slipped him one night some Viagra;
She didn't know what else to do.
But from that day on they were happy
and soon they were no longer two.
Many years later when Sam died
Lily she moaned and she cried;
We heard that old Sam had been found
Wearing naught but his socks and a smile.
So if your lover is older
Don't worry, there's hope for you still:
Just think of Lily and her Sam,
and trust in the little blue pill!
The LT G post that Eric linked to below is very troubling. That post appears to demonstrate a real lack of understanding of some important concepts within the rules of engagement (ROE). I want to stress the word “appears” because I am not currently deployed to Iraq and I do not know what guidance and/or instruction LT G may have received concerning the ROE. Furthermore, I was not there and did not see the situation develop. This post is not intended to be a critique of LT G. What follows is intended to address what I believe is a real misunderstanding of key concepts of ROE that is shockingly widespread.
LT G described a situation in which members of his unit observed individuals low crawling towards a road at midnight pushing a box. He then describes the hard decision making process he went through before telling his soldiers to flash a light at these individuals and fire at them if they ran. LT G’s order was overruled by his captain who forbade the soldiers from firing at the low crawling individuals unless those individuals fired first. The box turned out to be an improvised explosive device (IED).
As I understand the ROE, and as I instructed my Marines in Iraq, all of the above was unnecessary unless done for some other reason than simply complying with the ROE.
Let me start with some concepts and definitions. Under the Joint Chiefs of Staff Standing Rules of Engagement armed force is authorized to deter, neutralize, or destroy individuals or organizations committing hostile acts or demonstrating hostile intent.
A hostile act is defined as “an attack or other use of force by a foreign force or terrorist unit (organization or individual) against the United States, U.S. forces, and in certain circumstance, U.S. citizens, their property, U.S. commercial assets, and other designated non-U.S. forces, foreign nationals and their property. It is also force used directly to preclude or impede the mission and/or duties of U.S. forces, including the recovery of U.S. personnel and U.S. government property.
Hostile intent is defined as “the threat of imminent use of force by a foreign force or terrorist unit (organization or individual) against the United States, U.S. forces, and in certain circumstances, U.S. citizens, their property, U.S. commercial assets, or other designated non-U.S. forces, foreign nationals and their property.”
Long story short, if someone is attacking or threatening to attack you or your unit you have the right to use armed force to deter, neutralize, or destroy the source of the attack or threat.
Unlike hostile act (everyone can tell when they are being attacked), hostile intent is a broad concept can be hard to describe with specificity. What constitutes a threat can change from situation to situation. What is or isn’t a threat will depend on enemy techniques, tactics, and procedures in an often fluid environment. Consequently, I can’t provide a bright line rule that will clearly define hostile intent in every situation. However, the individual grunt does not want that. The concept of hostile intent needs to be broad in order to allow the individual soldier, sailor, or Marine to exercise personal judgment based on his knowledge of the situation and the enemy. For that very reason I would tell my Marines that if they could explain in basic commonsense terms why they thought someone was a threat then they had nothing to worry about.
Now back to the scenario presented by LT G. In the above situation two individuals low crawling toward a road at midnight pushing an object that could be an IED are, at the very least, demonstrating hostile intent. I would argue that IED emplacement, in and of itself, is a hostile act. Consequently, the individuals could be engaged with deadly force for the actions described. However, LT G wanted to flash a light at these individuals to see if they fled and use their flight as the reason to engage with deadly force. This is precisely the wrong criteria to use. Running away from coalition forces is not, in and of itself, a demonstration of hostile intent. At any rate, you don’t have to wait. As stated above, the individuals could be engaged as soon as they are observed low crawling towards the road with the box. Furthermore, there are any number of additional variables that might indicate hostile intent long before flight becomes an issue.
I used to use a much less clear scenario than that described above to instruct the Marines of my battalion that if they caught insurgents emplacing an IED that they could kill them if they believed that was what the situation required. I did this because I wanted my Marines, both officer and enlisted, to clearly understand that they could use deadly force to defend themselves and their fellow Marines. There may be any number of reasons why they may not want to shoot the insurgents, i.e. intelligence gathering, etc. Nevertheless these are tactical decisions that are separate from what is permitted under the ROE.
One of my greatest concerns is that individual soldiers, sailors, and Marine will be confused about the ROE and that this confusion will cause them unnecessary hesitation in life or death situations. It does not have to be this way.
Of course I respect the service of retired Air Force General Tony McPeak, who gave his country thirty-six years of his life. I nevertheless disagree sharply with him on his ideas about warfighting.
Longtime readers of Grim's Hall will remember that we discussed McPeak's vision for war in 2004, when he was for the Kerry campaign what he is now for the Obama campaign.
McPeak was all in favor of bombing Iraq to ruin, and then leaving it as rubble -- in spite of the fact that the majority of the people of Iraq were not part of Saddam's violence; in spite of the fact that failed states are as big a challenge to security, in the age of terrorism, as tyrannies. To replace a tyranny with a failed state is small advantage -- you may cut off a source of funding or diplomatic support to terrorist groups, or weapons, but you give them a haven in which to operate. The failure of Pakistan to control its northern provinces today shows how dangerous this is.
If we "do it right," McPeak said, we'd have to stay for a hundred years (or fifty years -- he seems to have simply meant, 'a really long time'). So he advocated doing it wrong:
Kerry's actual position was different from McPeak's, so it wasn't clear that he was paying any attention to what McPeak was saying -- he just wanted a General Officer on his team, to give him credibility.The man who headed the U.S. Air Force during Desert Storm will tell you, over black coffee in a Lake Oswego cafe, that the potential attack on Iraq is "the fight you dream about, a wonderful kind of war to have."But what to do when the war is over? The Air Force can't do the work of occupying nations that need rebuilding, but that's OK, as McPeak is against it:
The former fighter pilot calls the conflict a "no brainer," pitting the U.S. military machine -- with precision-guided munitions that he conceived -- against a nation whose gross national product is dwarfed by what the Air Force spends each year.
"Everybody's going to get decorated out of this thing," says Tony McPeak, a four-star general who retired to Oregon in 1995. "Everyone comes home. It has a lot of appeal to me."Airstrikes would wipe out Baghdad's communications system again, McPeak says. "If we go in there and occupy the place for 50 years, which is my prediction, we'll have to rebuild it."
In Obama's defense, so to speak, he seems to feel the same way: McPeak's stated positions and preferences are not apparently related to Obama's positions. We've been talking about this at the Politburo. The discussion is too long to reproduce here, but the point is that Obama's "brigade or two a month" position seems to be one that he is presenting as a "moderate, responsible" pace. In fact, a single brigade represents a massive amount of combat power, and geographic control -- and equipment! Pulling out "one or two a month" would be taxing our logistical systems; it would represent the most rapid withdrawal of forces we could actually, physically manage without simply abandoning our equipment and marching to the sea.
I'm not suggesting Obama is being deceptive -- presenting a shocking, sudden withdrawal as a 'relaxed, easy' pace. I'm suggesting he probably lacks the experience to understand just what a Brigade Combat Team is. There's no reason he should be expected to have the experience -- he was never in the military, has spent little time at the Federal level, and mostly has served in minor state or city functions. There's nothing that would suggest he's had occasion to learn what a Commander in Chief would need to know to formulate a plan of the type he's proposing.
That though, is why you have advisors. Nobody has all the experience a potential President might need. So you get people who do on your team. The problem is, Obama's statements on the Quadrenniel Defense Review are at such odds with McPeak's own preferences that I can't take away any sense that McPeak is really a "military advisor." He's a showpiece -- which, given that I disagree with his ideas entirely, is fine with me.
But it makes an issue of Obama's experience. It makes it clear that he's going on his own, and on his own, he really doesn't have a capacity to understand the issue.
The only thing McPeak has ever said that harmonizes with what others in the Obama campaign have said is his position on American Jews and their support for Israel. The piece linked there is a hit piece -- I'm not sure how McPeak's "affinity for alcohol," which is surely no business of the public's so long as he suffers no more DUI arrests, is meant to be linked to his ideas about Israel -- but they're right about his general thinking on what he considers the problem of American Jewish support for Israel, as it affects American defense policy.
Unless Obama either harmonizes his own views with McPeak's, or gets another (and hopefully a wiser) advisor, it will be hard to take him seriously. It's plain he doesn't really know what he's talking about. It's plain he isn't listening to the people he's pulled in because they know more about the subject than he does himself.
That's reason for concern.
This Easter, I would offer a lengthy meditation on some powerful legends, and how they have intertwined.
I watched the Beowulf movie recently. The story is wholly unlike that of the poem, but not in the usual Hollywood rewrite. It is, I have to say, inspired -- but inspired by what, we shall have to discuss.
Beowulf confronts Hrothgar, who tells Beowulf that Grendel's mother is indeed the last of the monsters. Unferth apologizes to Beowulf for having doubted him, and offers his sword Hrunting for use against Grendel's mother.Whether they know it or not, the filmmakers have restored the original water/earth goddess ritual to nearly its precise form. I will yield to John Grigsby's Beowulf and Grendel for a full description of the archeological and historic evidence on the point -- including hundreds of recovered bodies of high-born victims of the human sacrifice. The short version is that the ritual was a way of joining the seed of the corn god, who was symbolized in the king, with the earth/water goddess, who brought forth prosperity (as symbolized by the female capacity for childbirth). The corn god was, at the proper point in the cycle, cut down and replaced by another, who joined with the goddess in his place. This was how "good kingship" was established in the land: the king became one with the "land," symbolized by a priestess, giving his "seed" (in the movie, Grendel's mother strokes Beowulf's sword, and it dissolves to nothing -- how's that for symbolism?); and when it was time for him to be replaced, he gave his blood instead, as the land must be fertilized.
Beowulf and Wiglaf seek out the flooded cave of Grendel's mother. Beowulf enters the cave alone to find it filled to the ceiling with treasure. Grendel's mother appears to him in the form of a beautiful woman, offering him fame and power if he will give her another son. She also asks for the Dragon Horn of Hrothgar, with the promise that Heorot will be safe as long as it is in her possession. Beowulf gives in to her temptations.
Beowulf returns to Heorot, claiming to have slain Grendel's mother. He brings back Grendel's head as proof of his deeds. He says that he lost Unferth's sword and Hrothgar's horn during the battle. In private, Hrothgar points out inconsistencies in Beowulf's story and asks if he did indeed slay Grendel's Mother. When Beowulf doesn't give a straight answer, Hrothgar knowingly says that with Grendel's death, he is no longer the cursed one. King Hrothgar names Beowulf heir to the throne. Hrothgar then leaps from the balcony to his death to the surprised horror of everyone. Beowulf is crowned king, and takes Wealtheow as his wife....
Wiglaf prepares a Viking funeral for Beowulf. As Wiglaf watches the burning boat that serves as Beowulf's funeral pyre, he sees Grendel's mother kissing the corpse. Grendel's mother then appears in the water in human form and beckons to Wiglaf.
Grigsby thinks, and there is strong evidence to suggest, that the ritual existed symbolically from Egypt to ancient England and Greece; but that it was acted out physically, including the actual sex and actual murder, in Denmark. He believes the Beowulf story is the story of the end of that cult -- not by Christianity, however, which was yet to come to that land.
So who, then, went into the earth to win the secret of creation? Well, what does "Beowulf" mean?
According to Grigsby, it means "barley-wolf" -- one of the beserkers of the cult of Odin, who stole the old "mead of inspiration" that could drive men mad, and make them poets. According to Tolkien, it means "bee-wolf," that is, "bear," a raider of the bees' flocks: an animal also connected to the beserker, whose name means "bear-shirt."
How did an Odhinnic beserker become a symbol of the Christian success over pagan human sacrifice? Easily enough: for the cult of Odin, like Odin himself, prefers to go masked. Odin has over two hundred kennings for his name, most of which imply disguise: "broad-hat," "masked," "hooded," and so forth. He went about, according to legends, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and a beard, and a spear.
Remember the man who called himself Coifi, mentioned a few days ago? He presented himself to King Edwin of Northumbria as a heathen priest, one who could not use weapons or ride horses -- that is, a priest of Freyr. When he took the cross, though, he rode forth to Freyr's temple and cast a spear into it -- and then burned it to the ground.
Coifi means "wearing a coif," or, "hooded." Whether the priest, or the god himself afoot, he had no problem taking the cross. In Iceland, some hundreds of years later, "the Wolf's Cross" combined Odhinnic and Christian symbols overtly, as men described themselves as "of dual faith." This was also called the Hammer Cross, as dual followers of Thor and Jesus also used it.
The question is, was the cross only another mask?
The myths that involve Odin suggest that he moves easily between worlds, more easily than the other gods. Tacitus said he was like Hermes, but Tacitus never went to Germania in person. Had he gone, I think he would have found Odin to be more like Dionysus. Like Dionysus, Odin's cult dealt in maddening drink; and like Dionysus, whose followers believed he was the greatest god though other Greeks did not, we have poems and songs that place Odin as the All Father -- yet the archaeology suggests his cult was small, even when it was most powerful. It was inspirational to poets and warriors, even if the most of the population preferred Thor.
To return to Grigsby -- he suggests that the Beowulf poem is a Christian gloss on a story celebrating Odin's victory over the old Freyr/Freya cult. The Christian monk viewed Grendel's mother as a horrible monster, because she loved blood; but the view of the movie is just as accurate. The old cult saw her as beautiful, impossibly beautiful: the sort of woman to whom a man, even a king, would willingly devote his life; the sort to whose knife or cord he would offer his throat, rather than live when she was tired of him.
The victory over that is the breaking of the cycles of the earth. Chesterton said that the pagan religions believed in the cycle of life: what was important about the cross was that it was the only thing that broke all circles. On Easter, when Christ is said to have risen from the dead, the earthly order was overturned. Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, had only represented the fertility part of the cycle of life-to-death. Easter promised the end of that cycle, and a hope of eternal life.
Odin accomplished much the same thing, offering his friends the life they loved until the end of the world -- drinking and feasting by night, fighting by day. Though they died to this life, they would be saved from hell, and brought instead to that warrior's paradise. And they were brought there for a purpose: "because the grey wolf watches the abode of the gods," that is, because the army he raised in that way was a hedge against evil forces pitted against the gods.
It would be easy to replace one of his cult with a Christian: the early Christian mystery cult involved similar themes of death and resurrection, and having suffered and survived execution by being hanged on a tree. As with Coifi, the Odinnic cult saw no need to contest for control of the outward symbols -- indeed, as mentioned, they preferred the mask.
I think this shift began to happen early in England, where "Woden" had come with the Anglo-Saxons and been braided into the legends around a certain Celtic prophet. Odin has great similarity to Merlin as we have inherited him, not only in appearance and magic. He likewise had to do with magic swords that bestowed kingship on the man who could draw them -- see the Volsung saga, versus the Sword in the Stone. Merlin also went into a cave with the Lady of the Lake: but the legends remember him losing the contest, and having his power stolen by her.
The question, I said above, was whether or not the conversion was only another mask. There is one piece of evidence to offer: the instinct of a poet, for Odin was always a special friend to poets.
J.R.R. Tolkien imagined a powerful wizard, a wanderer who went far and wide in a mission similar to the one Merlin and Odin both set upon: to raise up great kings, as a means to ward off a terrible evil. He likewise fell into the depths of the earth to battle a demon, in order to save kings. He likewise passed through death, and return stronger. Tolkien imagined him as the greatest servant of 'the light,' the most faithful one, the one who never abandoned his mission.
He called him Gandalf: "...and if you have heard one quarter of what I have heard of him, and I have heard but a little of what there is to tell, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale."
Tolkien wrote much about the power of myth. Our culture has broken the Beowulf, and set Freya free in her own beautiful and terrible form. Odin, in his old hat but with another new name, speaks with eagles and raises kings.
What does that mean? I will leave you to seek that for yourselves. Easter, the day when the cycles renew and circles are broken, Easter is the day to think on these things.