Why straight talk is hard to deliver but so necessary

Commentary: Why straight talk is hard to deliver but so necessary
By Tom Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman June 6, 2017

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/opinion/commentary-why-straight-talk-hard-deliver-butnecessary/
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Tamir Kalifa Demonstrators gather at Austin City Hall for a “March for Truth” rally demanding
an independent investigation into the Trump administration’s possible ties to Russia on June 3. Updated: 1:12 p.m. Tuesday, June 06, 2017 | Posted: 12:52 p.m. Tuesday, June 06, 2017

We now live more and more in a world of alternative facts. True straight talk about matters that
are crucial to living good, satisfying, fruitful and socially responsible lives is hard to come by.
Perhaps it has been so ever since our Declaration of Independence declared as “self-evident
truths” that “all men are created equal … with certain unalienable rights” and “that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

These words still mean different things to different people. We waited close to century for the
Emancipation Proclamation to begin to make the first truth seem not patently false. And 150
years later, it still takes courageous voices to assert the first truth in declaring that “black lives
matter.”

Truths are hard to look at, accept and promulgate because they are often not comforting or bring only cold comfort. Truth forces us to confront our shortcomings and see the failings of our society. It is easier to live with illusions.

Poet William Carlos Williams was a doctor serving working-class patients in New Jersey. His
deep feelings for their human suffering living lives with no way out made him write in a poem
that it is difficult to get the truthful news “from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack
of what is found there.” Truth told can help, even save us.

I long have had Williams’ poetry in my heart, so I was not all that surprised to read in Vietnam
veteran poet and writer W.D. Ehrhart’s essay on “Korean War Poetry in the Context of
Twentieth Century War Poetry,” that from World War II onward American soldier poets look at
war realistically. They “wrestle with the horrors and ambiguities of war.” And they mourn that
human beings never learn what they should have learned during past wars.

Soldier poets give us truths about our wars. Even our truly “good war” — World War II — is
“butchery and mayhem and stupidity and madness” for those involved. With Korea, Vietnam and later military ventures, “anger, rage and despair” about the aims of our use of armed force
become conspicuous.

Ehrhart declares, much like Williams, that poems are the only places where soldiers can tell the truth. Why? Because, as he explains elsewhere, very few people read poems. A best-selling novel will sell hundreds of thousands of copies. A hit film will have millions of viewers. But “our best Pulitzer Prize-winning poets are lucky to sell 4,000 copies.” In other words, you can tell the truth if no one is listening.

There is a crying need for more straight talk — and it need not be offensive. Take, for example, the tragic stabbing death of UT student Harrison Brown on campus on May 1. In class later that week, I asked my students if they felt safe on campus. They all said “yes.”

I told them that they shouldn’t feel safe. The “we’re safe” mantra of the administration lulls them into thinking that an easily accessible campus in the middle of a major urban area is as safe as a backyard in a gated community. In reading about the violence the day Brown was stabbed, students thought it was all some kind of social media make-believe and did nothing to alert nearby students to the danger. If they had not been made to feel unrealistically totally safe, they would certainly have responded differently.

Likewise, when UT student Colton Tooley came to campus on Sept. 28, 2010, fired an automatic weapon into the air at nobody and then committed suicide, he was called a shooter — and the central administration praised the SWAT teams for making the campus secure, even though they came onto campus well after any killing that Tooley could have done if he truly had been a “shooter.”

Little has been done to institutionalize two campus safety truths in faculty, staff and students: the danger signals that might prevent tragic suicides like Tooley’s; and the ease with which anyone intent on violence can do real harm on campus if we are not on the lookout for warning signs. Parents and their children all know that one of the truest forms of love is tough love. The truest truths, too, are tough truths.

Palaima is a professor at the University of Texas.

Some plagiarism serious enough to diminish our faith

Tom Palaima, SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN
September 28, 2003
Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Insight

“To plagiarize is to give the impression that you wrote or thought something that you in fact borrowed from someone, and to do so is a violation of professional ethics.”– MLA Style Manual and Guideto Scholarly Publishing

The president of Hamilton College addresses incoming freshmen in September 2002. Talking about a mystery novel, he uses the exact words, without attribution, found in a review on Amazon.com. When this is discovered, he resigns.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in a book published the same month uses, without citation, ideas and words from a Nobel Prize-winning author. When he discovers what he has done, he simply changes the wording for future printings of his book.

Plagiarism is clearly a serious problem. Otherwise, Eugene Tobin would still be president of Hamilton College.

Still, it is hard to know what to do about plagiarism. A recent article describes it as “a lie of the mind.” But there are many kinds of lies, some serious, some trivial. Are there also trivial and serious forms of plagiarism?

“War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” was published about the time Tobin delivered his fateful convocation. On Page 40, the author, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges, writes: “In combat the abstract words glory, honor, courage often become obscene and empty. They are replaced by the tangible images of war, the names of villages, mountains, roads, dates, and battalions.” The phrasing and ideas are clearly taken from Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”: “Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates.” Hedges does not cite Hemingway in his endnotes or bibliography.

In early June, I wrote to Hedges’ publisher, Public Affairs, advising that the borrowing from Hemingway needed to be acknowledged. I did so after I learned that Hedges’ controversial views on war were being dismissed, unfairly I thought, because of rumors of plagiarism. I also made the case that Hedges’ plagiarism was inadvertent to my former student, Lt. Col. Ted Westhusing, who teaches at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His frank reply raises a crucial question:

” ‘Inadvertent plagiarism’? Inexcusable, especially from a New York Times commentator, reporter and author. Do you know what this would garner Hedges in the circles I run in? If truly ‘inadvertent,’ and if Hedges were a cadet, he might be lucky to garner only a 100-hour ‘slug.’ That is, he spends 100 hours of his free time marching back and forth in the hot sun in Central Area under full dress uniform pondering the consequences of his failure (a slug). If intentional, Hedges would get the boot. Kicked out. Gone.”

Indeed, why should a professional journalist be treated differently than a military academy cadet?

After some confusing responses from Hedges’ publisher, Hedges called me. Hedges later claimed that I misunderstood how he felt about the issues involved.

But the following points are clear:

Hedges attributed his unacknowledged use of Hemingway to careless transcription from his notepads, the same kind of “accidental copying” defense used by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who resigned from the Pulitzer Prize board in May 2002 after plagiarism was discovered in a book she had written 15 years earlier.

When he discovered his oversight, Hedges changed the wording of the passage. In the paperback edition, it now reads: “The lofty words that inspire people to war — duty, honor, glory — swiftly become repugnant and hollow. They are replaced by the hard, specific images of war, by the prosaic names of villages and roads.” The original idea is still Hemingway’s. The words less so.

When I asked Hedges why he had not simply added a citation of Hemingway to his original passage, he replied that he was concerned about increasing printing costs by changing the page layout. But a brief endnote citation would have been easy and cheap.

I pointed out that changing words did not resolve the issue of plagiarism. Hemingway is now unacknowledged on Page 40 in all copies of “War Is a Force” as the source for Hedges’ ideas or words or both. According to University of Texas research librarian Shiela Winchester, more than 900 American libraries have purchased at least one copy of the book. Hedges stayed on message. The offending passage, in his words, was gone. But what about new readers who notice the original plagiarism or how it was disappeared?

Reactions from colleagues have ranged from the cynical: “What do you expect? He’s a journalist,” to laments that Hedges did not have better editors. But Winchester pinpoints why it matters: “The insidious thing about catching an author at this . . . is that it makes the reader doubt everything.”

All this may strike readers, as it did Hedges’ publisher, as a “pedant’s pedant(ry).” After all, a professional historian defended the late Stephen Ambrose against charges of plagiarism by maligning “outside critics (who) worship those sacred quote marks.”

Likewise, many professors at Hamilton College wanted to exonerate their president. One of them, Maurice Isserman, writes that he tried hard before deciding that plagiarism was inexcusable, because as an act of intellectual theft, it prevents students from acquiring “ownership of the words they use.” This is why institutions of higher learning take plagiarism seriously.

But what about outside academia? When public intellectuals like Stephen Ambrose or Doris Kearns Goodwin commit plagiarism, they are not merely stunting their own intellectual development or disappointing their professors.

By disguising the fact that they are not speaking in their own voices, they keep us from understanding how they arrived at their ideas, and they diminish our belief that their voices are original and worth listening to.

Historians and journalists, in particular, are like police officers assigned to protect for us the truth about the past and the present.

More than ever, we need honest cops. Plagiarism is one indicator that a cop is less than honest.

But, like bribes taken by real cops, cases of plagiarism vary in seriousness.

One thing is clear: If Hedges were a cadet at West Point, he would not have had the option of obscuring the wording of the offending passage. He would be marching back and forth under full dress uniform in the hot sun.

Tom Palaima, a MacArthur fellow, is a Raymond Dickson Centennial professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin. tpalaima@mail.utexas.edu.

For the record

This article uses:

* Maurice Isserman, ‘Plagiarism: A Lie of the Mind,’ The Chronicle of Higher Education 39:4 (05-02-03) B12-B13

chronicle.com/weekly/v49/i34/34b01201.htm

* Rick Perlstein, ‘The Arrogance and the Ecstasy,’ Village Voice Literary Supplement (May 2002)

villagevoice.com/vls/177/perlstein.shtml

* Richard Jensen, ‘In Defense of Stephen Ambrose,’ History News Network (05-20-02)

hnn.us/articles/738.html

PLAGIARISM: Historians, journalists have special duty to protect truth

The missing entries from ‘A Gaza Diary’. September 25, 2003

JERUSALEM POST Sep. 25, 2003

by Tom Palaima.

CAUTION. THIS WRITING DISCUSSES AN INCIDENT IN WHICH CHILDREN WERE KILLED. YOU MAY FIND IT UPSETTING. USE YOUR OWN JUDGMENT ABOUT WHETHER TO READ FURTHER.

ITS POINT IS TO SHOW HOW EVEN SUCH A TRAGIC INCIDENT CAN BE DISTORTED IF REPORTERS DO NOT ADHERE TO STRICT STANDARDS IN PURSUIT OF ACCURACY AND TRUTH.

“Every reporter struggles with how malleable and inaccurate memory can be when faced with trauma and stress. Witnesses to war, even moments after a killing or atrocity, often cannot remember what took place in front of them.” – (Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning).

On the back cover of Chris Hedges’ controversial book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Public Affairs 2002), Prof. Michael Ignatieff of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, assures us, “You can trust Chris Hedges. He has been to the worst places and seen the worst things human beings can do.”

In June 2001, Hedges traveled to one of those worst places, the GazaStrip and the Palestinian refugee settlement of Khan Yunis. He then wrote “A Gaza Diary: Scenes from a Palestinian Uprising,” published in Harper’s magazine (October 2001). Hedges explained the methods he used in “Gaza Diary” to journalist Uriah Shavit (Haaretz, November 2, 2001):

“The article was written… in first person, present tense; it was done on purpose. Had I written for The New York Times I would have requested a comment, but I wrote journal-style… nothing other than what I saw. I did not interview officials of the [Palestinian] Authority or of Israel. The whole idea was to write without rhetoric. I know the territories well enough to realize that something that you have not seen with your own eyes is not the truth.”

Hedges claims he relied entirely on what he saw, and therefore didnot follow his normal procedures for fact-checking and seeking and weighing alternative viewpoints. But his writing has credibility because he is a correspondent for The New York Times and a member of a team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. He is identified with such credentials on the first page of “Gaza Diary” and on the cover of his book. There is no indication in “Gaza Diary” that he is not using his normal reportorial methods.

“Gaza Diary” has gained notoriety because of Hedges’ highly rhetorical description of how Israeli Defense Force troops opened fire upon Palestinian demonstrators at Khan Yunis on June 17, 2001, killing two. One, Ali Murad, age 12, died that very day. During this period of unrest in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians were using petrol bombs, mortar attacks, anti-tank grenades, and sniper fire against IDF troops.

Hundreds of demonstrators were dispersed by gunfire at Khan Yunis on June 16. Eight were wounded. But Hedges does not mention this disturbance until after he starts describing the incident of June 17. He does report beforehand a Palestinian father’s reluctance to approve of his sons becoming suicide bombers.

According to “Gaza Diary,” the refugee camp in the late afternoon of June 17 is still and peaceful. Children play with scrap-paper kites and ragged soccer balls. Hedges sits, wearily sipping a cool drink under the awning of a hut at the edge of the dunes. Suddenly two IDF jeeps with loudspeakers pull up. They immediately taunt the boys with obscenities, luring them up to the fence.

Then “[a] percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than 10 or 11 years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16s tumble end over end through the children’s slight bodies Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”

This description is the basis, on many web sites of pro-Palestinian organizations and worldwide news sources, for asserting that IDF troops intentionally lure children to death and use silencers on their M-16s to shoot children “for sport.”

But according to an IDF spokesperson quoted in The New York Times (June 18, 2001), “soldiers had been under attack with stones and bottles when they fired low-caliber bullets at the legs of some demonstrators to stop the crowd.”

Another spokesperson, interviewed in Haaretz (November 2, 2001), asserts that Harper’s never sought comment on Hedges’ incendiary allegations, and that the IDF troops acted with restraint for hours before deciding that the crowd had to be dispersed.

PRO-ISRAELI web sites deny that riot-control forces use silencers. Some argue that Hedges mistook rubber-bullet adapters on the M-16s for silencers.

“The story about silencers on assault rifles is counterintuitive: If the purpose of the exercise was to kill Palestinians it would stand to reason that the IDF would manage to kill considerably more Palestinians than they do,” says Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of the pro- Israeli Independent Media Review and Analysis. “On the other hand, if the shooting takes place within the context of IDF efforts to push back a threat, they would want the mob to hear the sound of the shots.”

But even these counter-arguments miss a key point. Hedges is given credibility because he is a prominent veteran journalist and he was there. Even pro-Israeli sources assume he saw the rifles and mistook their attachments for silencers. But what did Hedges see?

Eyewitnessing in times of stress, danger and violence is problematic. Hedges acknowledges this in his book. But in “Gaza Diary” there is no hint that this might be a problem, especially for a reporter long exposed to war trauma. Vietnam veteran and author Tim O’Brien observes that in a true war story “it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen . You tend to miss a lot.” What did Hedges miss?

Hedges gives three accounts of what happened at Khan Yunis: “Gaza Diary” (October 2001), a “Fresh Air” interview on National Public Radio (NPR, October 30, 2001), and his book War is a Force (September 2002).

His NPR interview is excerpted on the pro-Palestinian web site Palestine Media Watch (www.fairnews.org).

Hedges begins by explaining why he wrote the Harper’s article: “I wanted to write a story that tried to explain why… Palestinian young men are so willing to go into shopping malls in Israel and blow themselves up .”

The interviewer then asks, “What did you see of this fighting while you were there? How did this shooting go down?”

Hedges explains: “And I walked out toward the dunes and they were… over the loudspeaker from an Israeli army Jeep on the other side of the electric fence they were taunting these kids. And these kids started to throw rocks. And most of these kids were 10, 11, 12 years old. And, first of all, the rocks were the size of a fist. They were being hurled toward a Jeep that was armor-plated. I doubt they could even hit the Jeep.

“And then I watched the soldiers open fire. And it was I mean, I’ve seen kids shot in Sarajevo. I mean, snipers would shoot kids in Sarajevo. I’ve seen death squads kill families in Algeria or El Salvador. But I’d never seen soldiers bait or taunt kids like this and then shoot them for sport.”

THIS DESCRIPTION is important because it differs in significant ways from his other two accounts of the day.

Most troublesome is that in “Gaza Diary” and War Is a Force the boys are behind the dunes and out of Hedges’ view. But on NPR Hedges walks out to the dunes, where he sees the troops open fire and the youngsters get shot.

Secondly, in “Gaza Diary” Hedges flatly declares that the soldiers used silencers on their rifles. Yet a year later in War Is a Force he admits, by inserting three little words, that the M-16 rifles were “unseen by me.”

Thirdly, on NPR and in War Is a Force there is only one jeep. In “Gaza Diary” two Israeli armor-clad jeeps with loudspeakers pull up.

It is impossible, then, to know what exactly Hedges saw. He did not respond to my request for clarification of these points. Yet “Gaza Diary” is cited as proof that IDF troops, without provocation, lure peaceful young Palestinian boys forward and immediately shoot them with silencer-equipped M-16s.

Listeners to NPR believe that an experienced reporter saw everything. They would not know that in his published accounts he claims he did not see the boys shot. And only very close readers of Hedges’ book would notice his three-word retraction concerning his seeing silencers. The web sites that have long posted his Harper’s account have not notified their readers of this fact.

Hedges also never tells us many things we would want to know. How many troops were there? Where were they situated in relation to the jeep or jeeps? How many shots were fired? What kinds of bullets were used? Might there be other explanations in the din of conflict for why a short burst of rubber-bullet fire was not heard by frightened, shouting boys and a weary reporter who contradicts himself on what he witnessed?

Hedges’ self-declared non-rhetorical accounts are also archly rhetorical. All is calm at Khan Yunis on the day of the incident. There is no mention of the violence-punctuated tension of the previous days.

Then things happen in ruthlessly quick succession. A jeep or jeeps pull up. It or they immediately incite innocent young boys to riot. Then they directly fire upon the boys with silencers. No hint is given that IDF soldiers were for several hours under assault by a large crowd, which they then attempted to disperse.

There is one fixed truth about June 17, 2001 at Khan Yunis. Ali Murad Abu Shawish died at age 12. Hedges reports his death in such a way as to increase misunderstanding, anger and hatred.

He received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. But his much-cited and highly questionable account of Khan Yunis works against any hopes for a peace that could guarantee human rights and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis.

The writer is Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches war and violence studies. He thanks Esther Raizen for her translation help. (tpalaima@austin.utexas.edu)

The Century of Violence

By Tom Palaima

Austin American-Statesman. December 19, 1999.

Forget millennia. How many of us can evaluate the second millennium? None of us has lived through enough of it, and few of us have the historical, philosophical, theological or scientific knowledge needed to figure out what it has meant. And who knows what the third millennium will be like? Even visionaries such as George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick could not project further than the 30-odd years between 1949 and 1984 or between 1968 and 2001, and they both overestimated where human beings would be technologically, socially, politically and humanly.

If the computer experts are correct, we are on the verge of grappling with the Hal problem, but NASA’s recent failure on Mars suggests that any struggles we are likely to have with beyond human intelligence computers in 2001 or 2010 will take place on terra firma and not anywhere near a humming monolith beyond our galaxy. The one historical figure this century with enough hubris to attempt a prognostication one millennium into the future was Riechskanzler Adolf Hitler. Fortunately the collective will and resources of the ‘greatest generation’ of Americans and their allies saw to it that his prediction of a thousand-year Reich was disproved in fewer than 20.

Predicting even a century forward in these times of ours is a dicey business. The science fiction of H.G. Wells intersected with fact in this century in his 1901 novels “The First Men in the Moon” and “The War in the Air.” But his singular imagination could produce nothing to exceed the senseless and muddy carnage of trench warfare, and so he was seduced into predicting that World War I would be “the war that will end war.” He lived too long and learned about the systematic attempt to exterminate the Jewish people and the sudden flashes over Hiroshima and Nagasaki that incinerated and mangled buildings and bodies and left many civilian survivors to die in excruciating pain from radiation poisoning.

It is hardly a profound achievement of our Western-dominated century to have coined the word genocide for the Nuremberg Trials, and then to have had to use it in connection with Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo as the century draws to its close. The mass murders of the Stalinist purges had not yet been revealed, when a deeply disillusioned Welles declared, “Reality has taken a leaf from my book and set itself to supersede me.”

Paul Simon was right 15 years ago and is still right. These are “days of miracle and wonder.” But advances in technology, medicine, communications and material comforts have done nothing to lessen the capacity of human beings to wreak violence upon one another. We can take a rather perverse pride in our state of Texas for being on the cutting edge of trends in violent behavior. The assassination of JFK in Dallas in November 1963 got our nation and our world used to the shock and the sorrow that would accompany news about MLK from Memphis and RFK from Los Angeles later in the decade. Charles Whitman in the University of Texas Tower in 1966 teamed with Richard Speck in Chicago to introduce us to the peculiarly American phenomenon of mass-murder that has taken us through Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer right into the workplace and school-house killings of the late ‘90s.

This month, teen-agers opened up with gunfire on fellow students in Fort Gibson, Okla., and Veghel, the Netherlands. These incidents were covered in news-in-brief items on pages 2 and 3 of the American-Statesman and Daily Texan. Both of these acts would have grabbed wide front-page coverage as late as the 1980’s. Now they are commonplaces grouped with “what-else-is-new?” reports of the USDA squandering funds and AT&T promising to share high-speed Internet lines. As Jesse Pasadoble, the Vietnam vet public defense lawyer in Alfredo Vea’s brilliant new novel “gods go begging” reminds us, “There are seventy-five wars going on in this world right now, and only one of them matches the homicide rate in this country.”

Among the books you are reading or giving during the holidays include any of those on violence by Dr. James Gilligan, former director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison system. He tells us how much is at stake and why the right address and the best personal intentions cannot protect any of us from one of the defining characteristics of the 20th century. Let us hope and work for peace in all our homes and in all of our lives in the new millennium.

The effects of war, on all of us

By Tom Palaima and Paul Woodruff

Austin American-Statesman. October 1, 1999.

There are as many experiences of war as there are soldiers and people back home who know and love them. The candidacies of Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination remind us that there are equally many experiences after war. We as a people think it important to know what our public figures did during wartime, and we examine their war records for clues to the kinds of individuals they were and the kinds of leaders they are likely to be.

But we should not forget that war is a stern teacher for all those who live through it and after it. War changes individual lives, and few of us have not been affected by the wars our soldiers have fought and by the lives these wars have changed. Those changes will be explored Oct. 4-8 in a symposium at the University of Texas at Austin called “How War Changes Lives.”

Sigmund Freud, in a classic essay written during World War I, explained how for society as a whole war creates “disillusionment” by altering normal value systems. Men and women who were taught by their laws and religion “thou shalt not kill” are now trained and commanded to do so. Love and respect for other human beings are transformed into hatred of identified enemies. These new enemies, who were just yesterday fellow citizens of our civilized world, suddenly become subhuman targets of destruction. But until recently little attention has been paid to how soldiers and societies are supposed to move from peacetime to wartime and back again and still hold their lives together and preserve their values intact.

War itself gets most of the glory. Films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line” capture its savagery, its difficult moral choices and its human cost and loss. Recovering from war gets much less attention. That is no surprise. Taking the war out of a soldier is a long process, some would say a lifelong process. Recovery from war is a much harder subject than war itself.

The journey from war to peace is not easy, but it is important for us as human beings to understand how to go about making it and why some of us never make it completely back. The ancient Greeks understood this. Homer left us two great national epics, one about war, the other about coming back from war. During his return from the long and brutal Trojan War, Odysseus, otherwise known as Ulysses, encounters many dangers and temptations before he arrives on the shores of his own island. It does not look like the place he left. It does not resemble the world he dreamed of when he was fighting to go home. And he himself has been so changed by the war and his journey home that his own wife does not know who he is. Most of us know what he has to do to recover his place at home. It is a story full of blood and deception, and the iron determination of a soldier, father and husband to come through and restore the family that had been separated and made vulnerable by the war.

This is a myth, not a fairy tale, and it is a myth that tells a truth that many veterans know very well. It is hard to come home from war, hard to forget a war, hard to tell the truth of war. It is hard to come back into loving relations with family and friends – equally hard for those friends and family to understand what has become of the loved one. We need to remind ourselves of the human truths behind such great myths from time to time.

“How War Changes Lives” begins with a performance from Homer’s “Odyssey” and ends with a discussion of the rupture in American life – especially our political life – that was caused by the war in Vietnam. In between, we will explore how ancient writers covered the theme of war, how war has affected the lives of American women, the experience of black Vietnam veterans and the act and art of writing about the Korean and Vietnam wars. Please join us.

Why peace is a conjuror’s trick

Why peace is a conjuror’s trick
Tom Palaima
Published: 12 December 2003

Why do wars begin? The simple answer is they never end. Peace is an illusion conjured up by a version of the old Roman magic trick: “Where they make a desolation, they call it peace.” The full implications of Tacitus’ oft-quoted observation can be translated like this: “Use your advanced military technology and overwhelming superiority in human and natural resources to create a wasteland. Call it peace. The people back home will believe you. They want to believe in their own benignity.”

Do you doubt this? Then notice that peace always comes with qualifiers. Take A. J. P. Taylor’s explanation of the widespread romantic innocence that the “war to end all wars” shattered: “(T)here had been no war between the Great Powers since 1871. No man in the prime of life knew what war was like.”

In August 1914, the nearly 22,000 British soldiers who died in South Africa between 1899 and 1902 were not around to tell stories. Those among the 425,000 Boer-war veterans who were still alive were past their prime. And South Africa was not a great power – nor were the Zulus, Ashanti, Afghanis or other peoples butchered in colonial wars throughout this period of European peace.

War is endless. As Paul Fussell remarks in The Great War and Modern Memory: “The idea of endless war as an inevitable condition of modern life would seem to have become seriously available to the imagination around 1916.”

Fussell catalogues the wars that have made the imagined real: the Spanish civil war, the second world war, the Greek civil war, the Korean war, the Arab-Israeli war and the Vietnam war. Orwell published the canonical modern myth of eternal war in 1948. Events have proved him prescient and timeless.

Ancient Greek history had already proved him right.

Among recent students of war, Philip Bobbitt, in The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, comes closest to seeing war for what it is. He thinks and writes from the perspective of modern nation-states and international diplomacy, but his title alludes to Homer’s Iliad, and he begins by considering Thucydides’ reassessment of the stops and starts in what the Athenian general-in-exile eventually identified as a continuous war that ravaged the entire known world. We now call it the Peloponnesian war and place it at 431-404BC, thereby creating the comforting illusion that the founders of our western cultural tradition unwisely let war out of its cage for a nearly disastrously long time, but eventually forced it back inside. However, endless war was an inevitable condition of ancient Greek life.

Thucydides, like other Greeks, distinguished between periods of formally declared war and periods of official peace. But he also knew the primary enculturating texts of Hesiod and Homer and enough about contemporary diplomatic and strategic affairs, and human nature, to grasp that eris, “strife, contention, political discord”, was a constant force within and among the ancient Greek poleis, or city-states, and that competing elements within most poleis or the controlling powers within individual poleis would find, with terrible regularity, true causes (aitiai) or pretexts (prophaseis) for open civil or inter-state warfare. Thucydides took for granted that they would do so single-mindedly in their own interests.

Bobbitt argues that the major armed conflicts of the 20th century make up a single epochal war, the “long war of the nation-state” and that between 1914 and 1990, “despite often lengthy periods in which there [was] no armed conflict, the various engagements of the war never decisively settle[d] the issues that manage[d] to reassert themselves through conflict”. If they were alive today, Thucydides and Herodotus would agree with Bobbitt that the periods of so-called peace were intervals when the competing nation-states were inevitably preparing for the next phase of open war, even if citizens and leaders of these nation-states believed peace had really come.

If you want the “long war” view, read Herodotus’ prose Iliad about the 5th-century war that defined his times. Herodotus wrote of the millennium-long aggressive dance between Greeks and non-Greeks that culminated in the two Persian wars between 490 and 479BC. Everything in his sprawling nine-book amalgamation of geography, ethnography, anthropology, journalism, history and field-recordings of folk tradition relates to the growth of power, the intricate thread of causation and the fundamental differences in defining cultural attitudes that brought allied Greek and Persian forces into confrontation at Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea.

Herodotus would recognise the continuation of his long war between East and West in the current conflicts and tensions involving Israelis and Palestinians, the US and terrorist organisations such as al-Qaida, the Greeks and Turks on Cyprus, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman was being Herodotean in From Beirut to Jerusalem when he observed that Arabs, Jews and Christians in Lebanon and Israel were “caught in a struggle between the new ideas, the new relationships, the new nations they were trying to build for the future, and the ancient memories, the ancient passions and ancient feuds that kept dragging them back into the past”. And the past means war.

Thucydides tracks how a new strain of war virus, Athenian imperial aggression, develops and spreads in a “long war” between superpower-dominated city-state coalitions that, like Bobbitt’s 20th-century war, lasts nearly 80 years (479-404BC). Thucydides’ “long war” begins with a 50-year cold war between an established superpower necessarily conservative in foreign policy (Sparta) and an emerging superpower addicted to its own superabundant interventionist energies (Athens). The Athenian virus eventually drives Athens and Sparta and their allies into a 27-year world war.

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War does not so much analyse why war begins as study how and why war, as an assumed near-constant, reaches new levels of violence, what forms it takes and why human beings aid war.

The best way to see what Thucydides has to say about why wars start is to read Paul Woodruff’s annotated 1993 translation with commentary, On Justice, Power and Human Nature: The Essence of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. By far the most important of these subjects is “power”.

Thucydides compresses Herodotus’ nine books into a 25-paragraph analysis of the growth of power in Greek prehistory and history. He demonstrates that human communities are organised for Darwinian competitive purposes, to acquire and then exploit and defend the limited natural resources available to them. The more successful will convert the energies they have mobilised to ensure their survival into aggressive acquisition of resources, and subjugation of rival communities, to improve the security and material wellbeing of their own citizens. Dominant states will develop high cultures and use high-minded concepts and ideals to disguise their aggressions.

Fifth-century Athenians and modern Europeans and Americans can afford to be concerned about abstract concepts such as justice. Because of our successful use of force in the past and present, we control and consume an imperial share of the world’s resources and believe in the illusion of peace. Thucydides concentrates on resources, power and state self-sufficiency (autarkeia). He juxtaposes his analyses of Pericles’ funeral oration, the plague in Athens and Pericles’ last speech to tell us all we need to know about imperial self-conceptions promulgated as self-justifying political spin, the fragile nature of codes of civilised human behaviour, and the need for unflinching use of military power to gain and secure empire.

If war is a stern teacher, the Greeks were very sternly taught. Lincoln MacVeagh, US ambassador to Greece, observed in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt on Christmas day 1940 that “the history of Greece is at least 50 per cent discord”. A. G. Woodhead, author of the standard guide to Greek historical inscriptions, quotes MacVeagh to correct him: “Ninety-five percent, on the record as we have it, would be nearer the mark.” War was reality in ancient Greece. I doubt whether many families during any of the four generations of 5th-century Athens were without the experience of a father, husband, brother, son or close male relative risking or losing his life in battle. The city itself was under virtual siege conditions for the much of the final three decades of its one truly great century. In a single six-year operation in Egypt mid-century, the Athenians lost an estimated 8,000 men, roughly 18 to 25 per cent of their adult male population. And, according to conservative estimates, the Athenians would have had their own “lost generation” during the Peloponnesian war, in which at least 30,000 adult male citizens died.

The Greeks would have had no illusions about war and peace of the sort that prompted Freud at the outset of the first world war to write his essay Thoughts for the Times on War and Death: I. The Disillusionment of the War.

Freud attributes the trauma caused by the great war to the enormous chasm between the artificial morality of modern civilised society and human behaviour in times of war. No such chasm existed in the 5th century BC.

Young men learnt about war from the Iliad. Homer’s epic showed them the true costs of war and it portrayed the many contradictions in human behaviour within an army on active campaign and within a city-state under siege.

Epic tale of facing up to Achilles heel

11 June 2004
http://www.thes.co.uk/

The Times Higher Education Supplement
Published: 11 June 2004

Epic tale of facing up to Achilles heel
Lt Col Ted Westhusing and Tom Palaima

Lady Luck can be a great ally – or foe, as US cadets found by simulating the battles of the Iliad. Lt Col Ted Westhusing and Tom Palaima report.

If you have seen Brad Pitt as Achilles in Wolfgang Petersen’s film Troy, you might wonder what Homer possibly has to say to future US Army officers. Petersen’s Achilles is a comic-book character, an action figure like Jackie Chan. New Yorker film critic David Denby accurately describes Petersen’s Achilles as a “glory freak”. When Petersen’s Achilles is asked what motivates him, he says he wants more. But movie-goers never learn what that more is for Homeric warriors. It is timé, public honour bestowed as social payment for service rendered to the community.

Petersen’s Achilles is also not the Achilles who recently visited the United States Military Academy at West Point, along with Hector and other Homeric warriors, to teach vital lessons to future officers who will lead troops in real combat against real enemies.

Last autumn, Tom Palaima, professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, Achilles and the Iliad were invited into Lieutenant-Colonel Ted Westhusing’s senior seminar on warrior conceptions and his second-year philosophy course on the morality of war. Achilles is seen first as the most successful allied Greek warrior-commander in the field. He alone steps forward and tactfully, then forcefully confronts the commander-in-chief Agamemnon after Agamemnon has made decisions that have jeopardised the safety of the troops and the success of his campaign.

The Greek coalition is ten years into a protracted campaign. To supply the troops, Achilles has successfully conducted 23 siege operations against surrounding towns. Achilles is broken by Agamemnon’s public insults and abuse of power. He withdraws himself and his contingent of soldiers from combat and sticks to his resolve, even as the Greeks suffer serious reversals. The loss of his closest friend, Patroclus, whom Achilles sent forward into battle, reduces Achilles to such abject grief that he is placed on suicide watch. He then moves out as the killing machine we see in Petersen’s film, but with a laser-focused desire for revenge that is not sated even when he has killed Hector, commander-in-chief of the Trojan forces, and mutilated his body. When Hector’s father, Priam, king of Troy, approaches Achilles as a suppliant for his son’s corpse, Achilles finally recognises the common humanity of his enemy. He suppresses his still volatile rage and returns Hector’s body.

The myths of Achilles and Hector, opposing leaders of offensive and defensive armies, are what the Greeks used to acculturate their young citizens to the grim realities of warfare. The Iliad taught the Greeks everything there was to know about war: bravery, cowardice, strategic brilliance, strategic stupidity, bad luck, good luck, fog, clarity, honour, depravity, bloodlust and killing in defence of women and children and civilised ways of life. The Trojans and Hector are presented humanly and sympathetically throughout. All these things are still good lessons for officers in the field.

In the spring, Achilles and the Iliad returned to West Point. Developing out of a Discovery Channel documentary on warfare in the Iliad, several members of the West Point Class of 2004 fought Achilles and Hector in virtual reality. During battle simulations, a team of four cadets re-fought the Trojan War on the Scamander Plain.

The cadets simulated Hector’s Great Day of Success (Iliad, Books 8-16), when the Trojans and their allies take advantage of Achilles’ absence to punch forward into the Greek encampment and set fire to Greek ships. They also simulated Achilles’ Day of Revenge (Books 19-22), when the Greeks counterattack with Achilles in a murderous rage. At one point, Achilles’ pitiless mayhem engorges the River Scamander with dead Trojans, and the Scamander joins forces with the Simoeis River to overwhelm Achilles.

Discounting purely mythological elements and using data about troop strength, freshness or fatigue, equipment, terrain and positioning, and command strategies, the simulations demonstrated that these two major engagements might have played out just as Homer vividly depicted them. Yet these West Point cadets learnt much more. They learnt about the challenges of asymmetric warfare – that is, how dissimilarities in organisation, equipment, doctrine, capabilities and values between opposing armed forces (formally organised or not) might affect the outcome of engagements.

For Cadet George Feagins, the Iliad simulation has affected the way he is approaching preparation for conditions in Afghanistan or Iraq. In Iliad, Book 10, for example, Diomedes and Odysseus execute a daring raid deep into Trojan territory to try to determine the enemy array. Feagins may soon lead similarly high-risk combat operations. Cadet Dan Delargy, in his simulation, was struck by how few casualties were caused by the sword. He had expected far more, given the determined lethality rates of the sword, javelin and arrow in Homeric hand-to-hand combat.

For their professor, Paul West, a major lesson for the cadets was a “pattern of problem-solving far outside the comfort boundaries of traditional thinking”. His cadets created from scratch a virtual city and its surrounding terrain, using archaeological data and satellite terrain imagery, much like those they may create for operations in Fallujah or Najaf. They also crafted a weapons database for “unconventional” weaponry such as the Homeric arrow, sword, spear and rock – much like creating databases for suicide bombers, car bombers, improvised explosive devices and the like. According to West: “They will take this forward thinking into the future defence of our society.”

But, as West notes, perhaps the greatest war-fighting lesson reinforced for these soon-to-be-commissioned lieutenants was that “reality may occasionally be a statistical outlier – what really happens in combat may be that one-in-a-million chance”. Hector, for example, died during one simulation of his Great Day of Success. And Patroclus did not die every time he pressed forward to the walls of Troy against Achilles’ wishes.

Luck is an all-important factor in war for individual soldiers and commanders. Napoleon understood the role of luck or chance and exploited it. War historian David Chandler saw Napoleon’s mastery of chance as one of the keys to his success: “Accident, hazard, chance, call it what you may, a mystery to ordinary minds becomes a reality to superior men.”

Achilles, in contrast, never completely grasps the import of chance.

Despite his anxieties about Patroclus, Achilles never imagines he will not return alive with Achilles’ armour intact. Nor could Achilles foresee Priam’s embassy and the effect it would have on restoring his own humanity.

The question worth asking, then, is why.

As the scholar James Redfield argues, Achilles, despite his status as the “best of the Achaeans”, has no reference points other than his heroic society and its supreme measures of value – timé, or public honour, and kleos, or fame. No hero in Homer’s Iliad transcends his preoccupation with individually achieved glory. Achilles responds almost by rote to the circumstances he confronts. He is unreflective by habit and disposition, and he shows little self-knowledge of the morally constraining social roles he occupies. He is aware only of his magnificent prowess in battle.

Achilles possessed an unmatched capacity to employ force decisively. If Achilles were in uniform today, he would know everything about the tactics, techniques and procedures of warfare. He would possess a dominating war-fighting competence. He would lead from the front in every warrior skill. He would be absolutely fearless on any terrain, in any circumstance and against any foe. He would be supremely self-conscious of his prowess as a warrior, displaying a confident air that would no doubt inspire all who might fight alongside him. And his ambition, too, would be otherworldly; only absolute pre-eminence over any and all warriors or collective enemy would satisfy him. He would require public recognition and public honour.

Several of Achilles’ traits, however, have a dark side. Perceptive cadets executing their simulations of the Trojan War might have wondered about Achilles’ pursuit of individual glory. We hope each cadet learnt that even Achilles could fall prey to chance. His unmatched strength (bie), Homer teaches us, was no match for chance or the unforeseen intervention of the gods on the battlefield. The plague devastates his Achaeans. His beloved Patroclus dies at Hector’s hands. Apollo sweeps Hector away from Achilles’ clutches in Book 20, just when Achilles has him in the sights of his spear.

Here then is the greatest question posed by the Iliad and the Trojan simulation. How should 21st-century American soldiers best manage Fortune when they meet her in combat?

An answer that goes a long way is this. Today’s war-fighters must strive to become fair masters of chance. Their mastery begins with understanding chance’s all-encompassing pervasiveness on any battlefield and it ends with their becoming authentic leaders of character.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ted Westhusing is a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Tom Palaima, professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, lectured at West Point in October 2003. Both were consultants to a Discovery Channel documentary on warfare in Homer’s Iliad. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defence or the US Government.

This is retaliation, not justice

28 September 2001
http://www.thes.co.uk/

The Times Higher Education Supplement
Published: 28 September 2001

‘This is retaliation, not justice’
Tom Palaima

America needs to understand how the rest of the world sees it, says Tom Palaima.

At times of international crisis, we Americans really need to know who we are, and how what we say and do translates into foreign languages. It is not enough to look in the mirror. We must see ourselves as others see us, across the traditional boundary between East and West.

Jose Melena, director of the Cervantes Cultural Institute in Istanbul and recipient of the Euskadi prize, one of Spain’s highest honours, is a scholar who is familiar with terrorism.

He grew up in Spain under the Franco dictatorship and lived for many years under the daily threat of Basque-separatist terrorism. He has had terrorist bombs explode in his apartment building and his colleagues have been blown up in their cars. He is a courageous and moral humanist.

In a recent internet discussion, Professor Melena said: “I have been following your discussions about the bloody events of the 11th of September, and I now see clearly how important it is to use the right words in the right places. I watch people on American television declaring that things like the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon ‘can occur in other countries, but not in the United States’.

“Television channels over here broadcast commentary with the running header ‘Attacks upon the US’ and tell us that the US plans to carry out a military retaliation called Operation Infinite Justice.

“Seven thousand innocent people have been killed. We all deeply mourn them. The pride and sense of security of the US nation have been injured. But the main victims of the terrorist attacks will be international rights and justice itself. State terrorism is a thousand times worse than plain terrorism. We must be cautious in supporting state terrorist actions. This is not a fight for freedom and democracy, without adjectives. It is a fight for US Freedom and US Democracy.

“I have lived with my closest loved ones through terrorism in the Basque region of Spain. My long experience is that, when we were suffering terrorist attacks, the US did nothing. US officials told us: ‘The terrorist attacks are internal affairs of Spain.’ When we experienced an attempted coup d’etat against our young democracy, the US ambassador in Madrid spoke at once: ‘This is an internal affair of Spain. The US cannot be involved in the struggle.’ “After world war two, the US supported our fascist dictator Franco in power. Freedom and democracy in my country were exchanged for permission to instal US military bases.

“There are other countries in the world whose citizens have shared the Spanish experience. American ideals seem to us remote and unreal. Infinite justice, according to the Latin roots, is unlimited justice or justice without borders. But justice must have limits and must have its own tools. Machines of war cannot bring about the kind of justice we really need now.

“A human life is a human life. But 7,000 human victims of terrorism on American soil seem to weigh more right now than the 32,000 who have been killed in recent years by terrorist actions in Turkey.

“Americans, then, should not be surprised that in a recent poll, 86 per cent of Spaniards are against any US military action. I agree. This is not justice. It is retaliation. But there is nothing new under the sun. The basic question was already treated by the Greek historian Thucydides. Powerful countries will always be tempted to use their power for pragmatic reasons.”

In 1952 at the outset of the cold war, US state department official Louis Halle discussed what the United States of America could learn from Thucydides, who commanded troops as a general in the great conflict between Athens and Sparta.

Halle argued that we should not be seduced by our power and should remain “devoted to freedom and as dedicated to the rights of others as to (our) own”.

We can no longer control our past foreign policy. We can still control the future. We need to make sure that our ideals control our powerful actions.

Tom Palaima
MacArthur fellow and Dickson Centennial professor of classics
University of Texas at Austin

This article first appeared in the Austin American-Statesman

“Pausing to remember others’ sacrifice”

Thomas G. Palaima, Regular Contributor

SPECIAL TO THE AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN>

Thursday, May 29, 2003, p. A15

The week of Memorial Day is a good time to reflect on all those, war veterans and not, whose past courage and sacrifice have made it possible for us to be who we are. This year, I had the added incentive to memory of spending a week before Memorial Day with my brother helping my dad prepare his home outside Cleveland for sale. He is now one of Austin’s newest residents, but he has brought with him 86 years of memories of life in Cleveland and selected personal memorabilia of family and friends from the late 19th century onward.

Sorting through family photos, letters and documents, I came across a cache of letters that my father’s youngest brother, Joey, had sent to my mother, the only woman my dad ever dated and his wife then of three years and eventually of 57. The letters came from undesignated places in the Pacific between 1944 and 1946. Joey was a corporal in the 14th regiment of the Marine Corps 4th Division and was living through fierce fighting on Marshall Islands, Roi-Namur, Saipan and Iwo Jima. The Fourth Division alone suffered more than 17,000 casualties in these battles.

His letters are simple, occasionally ungrammatical, but heartfelt. He asks about my dad, Mike, who was off with the First Cavalry in the Philippines, his two other brothers Pete and Adam and their young families in Cleveland, and most especially his dear mother and father, my grandparents, Sophie and Michael. Sophie was born in 1887 in eastern Poland and she worked as a household servant before coming alone to the United States in 1913. Michael was born in 1875 and came here at the close of the 19th century and worked “in harness” as a steel worker until retiring in 1945.

Joey’s letters are full of dreams of home. He asks repeatedly for a full family photo. He asks my mom to pet the family dog. He vows, when he returns, never to leave the family house. He proclaims Pete’s children the prettiest girls in the world. He declares that he is going to get married and start a family within three months of returning home, despite the fact he has no girl in mind. He expresses a desperate need for letters from my mother — she apparently wrote almost daily.

In one of the few topographical references that escaped the military censors, he asks for Mike’s address, which he “lost in combat on Iwo.” But he also asks at one point why Pete has not written in nine months or Adam in two and angrily adds, “What have I done to deserve such treatment?”

Read James Bradley’s “Flags of Our Fathers” for a good reminder of the hell these young men went through, and you’ll understand the roots of Joey’s anger. He had been in ghastly fighting of the Pacific campaign, risking his life again and again, and his brothers in civilian comfort seemed too distracted with the busy details of their lives to write him a short letter of affection.

But that is what happens with us as we get totally absorbed in our own affairs, and distracted by life’s real and imagined problems. Reading these letters prompted me, for the first time I am ashamed to say, to visit Joey’s grave site in Calvary Cemetery in East Cleveland. The day was sunny and cool, and the simple stone markers in the veterans section had been carefully tended in preparation for Memorial Day.

They formed an American melting pot of names, dates of birth and death and military service. William E. Kelly June 20 1924-April 11 1945; Angelo J. Centorbi March 30 1919-March 10 1945; Stanley J. Zupancic June 13 1924-June 20 1944; John J. Yovanno December 31 1923-January 7 1944; and Louis J. Cinadr July 18 1921-June 10 1944.

Joey was lucky. He made it back. He was restless. He did leave home. VA letters are addressed to him at a coffee house. He never married and died of tuberculosis on January 12, 1948.

Joey reminds me of courage and loss, and not just his. In a letter dated April 10, 1945, Joey writes about what “coming home” will mean to him and adds, “I remember once Mother told me about how she felt when she came to the United States and left her parents in Europe, and then she started to cry i (sic) never realized what she was crying for because i (sic) was to (sic) young but now i (sic) do.”

Palaima teaches classics in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. tpalaima@mail.utexas.edu.

The relationship between God and war

Thomas G. Palaima, REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR
November 12, 2003
Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Editorial

There are many messages about God and war.

Religion and warfare have long gone together. Homer’s “Iliad” begins with the destruction Apollo wreaks upon the Greek troops for the impiety of their commander Agamemnon. In its climactic scene, Hector, the virtuous and reverent defender of Troy, is lured to his death by Athena, the very goddess the Trojans piously worship. The lesson for Greek warriors was clear. Be pious towards all divine powers, but never expect that your piety guarantees your success.

What then do we make of the beliefs that Lt. Gen. William Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, expressed in sermons in churches in Oklahoma, Oregon and Florida? Conservative and Christian commentators have traced a clear tradition of appeals by our foremost leaders to our soldiers to uphold Christian values and trust in God’s will.

David Gelernter in “The Weekly Standard” (Nov. 3) quotes Abraham Lincoln, himself quoting George Washington’s hopes that “every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.” Gelernter finds uncontroversial Boykin’s comments that his God is a real God, but Islamic Allah is an idol. Gelernter reasons that since our founding fathers held Christian beliefs, saying that we are a Christian nation is no different than saying that we are a baseball-loving nation. For Gelernter, Christian nation stands for Judeo-Christian nation. Christianity after all is “a variant of Judaism . . . the work of Jews, propagated by Jews and focused on Jews.” The proof is in Luke 10:25, where Jesus defines the fundamental mission of Christianity by quoting two verses from the Hebrew Bible.

Tony Blankley “thank(s) God for General Boykin” and reminds us that on Aug. 14, 1941, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” with sailors aboard the heavy cruiser Augusta. In Blankley’s view, fundamentalist Islamists are waging a jihad against the United States, so Boykin is justified in declaring a Christian counter-jihad.

Paul Strand of the Christian Broadcasting Network alone takes us to the very words of Boykin’s sermon. Radical Islamists hate us because we are Christian believers and we back Israel. “Every man who signed the Constitution of the United States was of Christian faith.” Boykin asks: “But why is George Bush in the White House?” His answer is that God willed it: “You must recognize that we as Americans saw a miracle unfold with the election of George W. Bush.”

Boykin’s views made me recall Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous Rainbow Division Reunion speech of July 14, 1935. MacArthur saw his military service in religious terms as a high vocation. From his combat experience, MacArthur reasoned: “The soldier, above all other men, is required to perform the highest act of religious teaching: sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death he discloses those divine attributes which his maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instincts can take the place of the divine annunciation and spiritual uplift which will alone sustain him.” The architectural program of West Point supports MacArthur, Roosevelt, Churchill, Lincoln and Washington. The Christian chapel dominates the grounds. But does it support Boykin?

It is not unpatriotic to be uneasy about Boykin’s vision that God put President Bush in the White House, that Muslims worship an untrue god and that we must combat religious extremism with religious extremism of our own. These are not the values all Americans might want our soldiers dying for. We might do better to recognize that citizens vote and the Supreme Court put Bush in office, that Allah is no mere idol, and that giving up tolerance, moderation and humanity in favor of martial zealotry is a dangerous course.

We might consider the views of another religious soldier, World War I poet Wilfred Owen. Owen writes from the trenches in World War I (May 2, 1917): “Already I have comprehended a light which will never filter into the dogma of any national church: namely that one of Christ’s essential commands was, Passivity at any price! . . . Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill. . . .”

Owen fought and died in combat on Nov. 4, 1918.

Palaima is Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics at UT-Austin.