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The battle flags of religion

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — vexilla regis prodeunt, comparative version ]
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Two recent examples of religious iconography on the battle field.. from the Badr Brigade, outside Amerli, Iraq:

badr brigade

and from Pro-Russia fighters near the eastern Ukrainian city of Starobeshevo:

Christ flag

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The Vexilla regis is a hymn written by Venantius Fortunatus to welcome the procession bringing a fragment of the True Cross to St Radegunda‘s convent in Poitiers: the first line translates to “The banners of the king go forth”.

Here it is, illustrated with battle flags flown by Catholic and Royalist troops during the War in the Vendée:

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Sources:

  • Iraq
  • Ukraine
  • The man who could help prevent a holy war

    Sunday, March 15th, 2015

    [ Charles Cameron — Garry Wills sees “holy war” lurking just around the corner ]
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    Christ-flag and tank
    Pro-Russia fighters near the eastern Ukrainian city of Starobeshevo in Donetsk region, on 25 February. Photograph: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images

    **

    Let’s be clear. the image above is from the confrontation in Ukraine, whereas the holy war that Garry Wills sees is quite another business. Under the headline that also heads this post, he writes:

    Discussions ricochet around Pope Francis’s ability to reconcile the Catholic Church’s bureaucracy, theology and practitioners. But for a man of Francis’s scope and skill, this is too narrow an assignment. His real task, for which he is ideally situated, is to prevent the world’s descent into religious war.

    Many people want to make our “war on terror” a war on at least a segment of the Muslim religion. Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS. C.) makes this very clear: “We are in a religious war.” Some think of this war as being waged in revenge for the attacks of 9/11 — to prove, as former deputy undersecretary of defense Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin once put it, that their God is greater than Islam’s. But there are 1.3 billion followers of Islam scattered around the world, and an ambitious Gallup poll of Muslims in 35 heavily Muslim countries found that the vast majority of them did not approve of the 9/11 attacks. Significantly, those who condemned the attacks based their opposition to violence mainly on religion, while the 7 percent who considered them “completely justified” relied heavily on political arguments. How can we blame the Muslim religion for this horror?

    I don’t agree with everything that Wills says, but his view of Francis’ “scope and skill” is worth pondering.

    **

    I posted the image above because it gives a vivid and immediate sense of what “Onward, Christian Soldiers” might look and feel like, if it left the churches and turned up on the evening news.

    Image source:

  • The Guardian, Frontline Ukraine:’How Europe failed to slay the demons of war’
  • Mad Dog Mattis – Blogger

    Friday, March 6th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    General James N. “Mad Dog ” Mattis, USMC (ret.), the semi-legendary, no-nonsense, fighting general of our recent wars, beloved by his Marines, has accepted a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship at the highly regarded Hoover Institution, where he has been writing an online column. A fancy way of saying that General Mattis has become a blogger.

    In fact, he’s quite good at it.

    His most recent post can be found here:

    Using Military Force Against ISIS

    ….Following more than a decade of fighting for poorly articulated political goals, the Congress needs to restore clarity to our policy if we are to gain the American people’s confidence and enlist the assistance of potential allies, while sending a chilling note that we mean business to our enemies. With enemy influence expanding rapidly, patience or half-measures cannot replace a coherent strategy for taking measured steps, aligned with allies, to counter the mutating Islamist threat in the Middle East. The AUMF that Congress passes should be constructed as one building block in a coherent, integrated strategy for dealing with a region erupting in crises. Thus the AUMF needs to serve an enabling role for defeating this enemy, and not a restrictive function. Congress’ voice in the AUMF must not reassure our adversary in advance about what we will not do:

    1. We do not enter wars to withdraw; when we must fight, we fight to win. We should not set arbitrary deadlines which would only reveal that our hearts are not really in the game and would unintentionally embolden our enemies with the recognizable goal of outlasting us.
    2. We should not establish geographic limits in a fight against a franchising, trans-national terrorist group and its associates.  Our AUMF must be fit for the purpose of defeating this specific enemy (a non-state entity) and whoever stands with them, but not be hidebound by the rules for how we fought previous wars against nation states.  We must adapt to our time and the threat and not try to fight as we did in the past using rules no longer effective or applicable.
    3. The AUMF should put the enemy on notice that we will deploy all our military capabilities, as well as our diplomatic and economic tools.  If employing our ground forces will help build the international coalition against ISIS, will hasten the enemy’s defeat, will help to suffocate ISIS’ recruiting through humiliating them on the battlefield, or negatively impact their fundraising cachet, then our Commander-in-Chief should have that option immediately available to achieve our war aims.  When fighting a barbaric enemy who strikes fear into the hearts of many, especially those living in close proximity to this foe, we must not reassure that enemy in advance that it will not face the fiercest, most skillful and ethical combat force in the world. 

    While I am not enthused about the idea of a large ground deployment back to Iraq – mainly because our national leadership has no idea on how to assemble a constructive political end that a decisive military victory would buy them, nor a willingness to entertain realistic, stabilizing outcomes (like Kurdish statehood) that would mean changing longstanding US policies – I’m very much in tune with Mattis that any warfare should be waged without a set of needless, self-hobbling, anti-strategic restraints. Note what he writes here:

    The AUMF must also make clear that prisoners taken from forces declared hostile will be held until hostilities cease. There is no earthly reason for the Congress to acquiesce to funding a war in which we do not hold prisoners until the fight is over, as is our legitimate right under international law. The AUMF should make clear that the same standards that applied to prisoners in Lincoln’s or FDR’s day will be imposed today. This will ensure that we have a sustainable detainee policy instead of the self-inflicted legal quandary we face today, with released detainees returning to the battlefield to fight us.

    “Catch and release” by the Bush and Obama administrations – and the latter tightening ROE in Afghanistan into the gray, blurry zone between military force and law enforcement, was self-defeating and probably is responsible for a sizable number of American casualties.

    Mattis writes with admirable clarity and focus. More importantly, his military reputation lends invaluable credence toward educating the public and civilian officials about the nature of strategy and the uses and (more importantly) limitations of military force. Hopefully he will gain an even larger platform in time, but for readers at ZP, here are previous posts by the “Mad Dog” :

    A New American Grand Strategy

    “The Enemy Is Not Waiting”  

    The Worsening Situation in the Middle East–and America’s Role   

    Pruning the U.S. Military: We Will Do Less But Must Not Do It Less Well

    Guest Post: U.S. Marines, the Forever Tribe by Stan Coerr

    Friday, January 30th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    We at ZP would like to thank Colonel Stan Coerr for his permission to reprint this essay, written on the eve of  his retirement last July, after a quarter century of of military service in the Marine Corps Reserve and on active duty.

    Stan Coerr is the author of Rubicon: the Poetry of War and is a retired Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and works in the federal civil service.   He holds degrees from Duke, Harvard and the Naval War College, has been a fellow at MIT and Stanford, and was recently accepted to begin work on a doctorate at Oxford.  He is finishing a book on his time in Iraq, and his next book will be on the life and work of Dr. Bernard Fall.

    The U.S. Marines, America’s Forever Tribe

    by Stan Coerr

    Today is my last day in the uniform of the United States Marines.

    I write this not as a farewell. Rather, this is a reflection on this tribe of which I am a part, and which is inside me forever.

    What I remember of twenty- five years inside this brotherhood are vignettes: stories that indicate who we are and why we devote our lives to an organization such as this.

    Some happened to me; others I read or saw. All describe who we are as Marines.

    ——————

    What everyone looking in from the outside must realize is that Marines are instant brothers, no matter the situation, no matter whether they have met before that moment.

    The Marines are a tribe.

    We have our own language, culture, mores and idiomatic shorthand communication.

    We have our own distinctive clothing. We cut our hair in a distinctive way.

    We paint our bodies with unique tribal markings.

    We undergo rites of passage to turn boys into men, the men we need to further the greater good of us all.

    We hand down legends of those who went before, who fell in battle, who did great and heroic things.

    We sing songs to celebrate them; we memorize what they did.

    ——————-
    We listen to the wisdom of the tribal elders, and we turn to them for decisions and guidance.

    Ken Schwenke and Mike Dossett are 180 degrees out from one another in style, but those of us fortunate enough to be Marine Options at NROTC Duke, a team forty strong in the mid to late 1980s, to this day benefit from the nurturing and guidance and demanding perfection of those two men.

    Bob Dobson was an exceptional battalion commander, a very deep thinker and a man who knew how to train Marines.

    I was fortunate to work beneath the finest general officers the Marine Corps can produce. I worked for George Trautman when he was both a Lieutenant Colonel and a Lieutenant General, and his relentless, driving intellect and fearsome demand for detail, analysis and good decisions sharpened me in ways I am still discovering.

    I was lucky enough to serve beneath Generals Mattis, Conway and Dunford, in both peace and war, and from when they were Colonels to their positions as four-star generals.

    The nation is fortunate that men such as these have set us on the course we follow today.

    ————————
    The Marine Corps is people, and it is stories.

    ——————-

    I am marching a platoon down the streets of New Orleans during the Mardi Gras parades in 1989, as leader of the drill team.

    I was to the side of the team as they marched, so I was right next to the screaming crowds. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets, screaming and shrieking and cheering.

    Marine options in college wear navy uniforms but Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor insignia.

    As we marched through the throngs, one man in the crowd, right next to me, saw my EGA and said simply, in a conversational voice and just to me:

    “Get it, Marines.”

    Never saw him, never spoke to him.

    A brother.

    ——————–

    I check in to Bob Dobson’s rifle battalion in Twentynine Palms, California in 1994.

    Then-Colonel Jim Mattis, the Seventh Marines regimental commander, called for me to come see him. I was not only just a brand-new Captain, but I was an aviator in an infantry regiment: I was not a key player.

    Colonel Mattis took his phone off the hook, closed his office door and spent over an hour, just with me, telling me his warfighting philosophy, vision, goals and expectations. He told me how he saw us fighting – and where – and how he was getting us ready to do just that.

    America knows him as the caricature: Mad Dog Mattis. Those of us who served with him know that he is a gifted, caring, warfighting general, and the finest of tribal elders.

    ——————
    I am watching a film clip from Vietnam.

    Jack Laurence of CBS News, a very talented TV reporter and author of the magnificent memoir The Cat From Hue, was out in the jungle with a Marine rifle company.

    Somehow a Marine from another unit was separated from his brothers, and this company had found him.

    Laurence rolls tape, and approaches the company commander. This man is wearing filthy utilities. He is exhausted and thirty pounds underweight, with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. A man with things to do and the weight of hundreds of lives on his shoulders. A hard, intense man.

    Laurence talks about the lost Marine, and asks: “Will you take care of this man?”

    The Captain stares at Laurence as if he is insane, and says, as if it should be obvious: “He’s a Marine.”

    Laurence: “What?”

    Captain: “He’s a Marine. I’ll take care of him.”

    —————–

    I am with Paddy Gough in a Cobra over 29 Palms in December 1992.

    We are at one hundred feet, flying back from a mission. It is bitter cold on the desert floor, below freezing, and a dark, ugly cloud layer sits low on the sand.

    A line of exhausted Marines below us is marching back to their camp after a week of training. They string out like ants, hundreds of them in the cold. They are bent under their equipment: heavy weapons, mortar tubes, ammunition, packs, helmets, flak jackets.

    We fly in silence, watching them, until Paddy comes up on the intercom with me, and says quietly:

    “This country does not know how lucky we are to have such men.”

    —————–

    I am a seven-year-old boy, and my father is putting me to sleep.

    I am sleeping in a Marine Corps-issue jungle hammock, which of course to a boy is the coolest thing ever.

    I need something to read, so he disappears into the study and returns.

    He hands me a book I read cover to cover and which I am holding right now: the 1962 Guidebook for Marines.

    —————-

    I am giving a speech in El Cajon, California in July 2003.

    I was one of the first people back from the invasion of Iraq, and I was therefore much in demand from local groups who wanted to hear about this campaign in Mesopotamia.

    I was outdoors at a Fourth of July street festival, speaking to a crowd of several hundred people and telling them how magnificent our fighting force was, and what I had seen.

    I told these people that their Marines were in the fight in the desert, winning, doing it right for the people back home, representing the best of who we are as a nation.

    Standing far to the back of the crowd was a motorcycle gang. Huge, hairy guys, dozens of them, in beards and bandannas and wraparound sunglasses and leather and boots, leaning on their Harleys.

    As I came off the stage, they came to me as a group. The first of them grabbed me and I now saw the EGA sewn onto his vest, right next to his Vietnam campaign patch.

    He embraced me, tight, and said:

    “Right on, brother. Right on.”

    ——————————–

    Karl Marlantes was in the best position imaginable in 1967.

    He was on a Rhodes Scholarship, comfortable in Oxford, immune from the Vietnam War and the vagaries of the draft. He was immersed in the world’s premier academic institution on a full ride, the goal of every serious college student.

    But Marlantes had been to Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in 1964. He had been inducted into the tribe. And his brothers were at war. He says:

    “I couldn’t go to a party without thinking of my Marine friends, terrified in the jungle while I was hanging onto my girlfriend’s warm body with one arm and holding a pint of bitter in the other. The one choice my conscience would not allow was to sit it out in college.

    I pulled all my scholarship money from the bank…and Second Lieutenant Karl Marlantes USMCR reported for active duty. “

    —————————–

    Or from Phillip Caputo in 1961:

    “I wanted to find in a commonplace world a chance to live heroically.

    Having known nothing but security, comfort and peace, I hungered for danger, challenges and violence.

    The Marine Corps was more than a branch of the armed services. It was a society unto itself, demanding total commitment to its doctrines and values. We were novitiates, and the rigorous training , administered by the high priests called drill instructors, was to be our ordeal of initiation.

    At the end of the course, the DIs honored our survival by informing us that we had earned the right to be called Marines.”

    —————-

    I earned that right, as did many of you. As did millions before us, and the millions to follow.

    I feel no sadness about taking off the uniform for the last time. The Marine Corps does not care about me….nor should it. The organization will always be there, and it will always hone and harden the finest our country has to offer.

    I was only one of many…but at the same time, I was one of the few.

    The Marine Corps serves the nation, and those of us who are called serve the Marine Corps.

    We serve the unit.

    We serve the tribe.

    Most of all, we serve our brothers.

    Semper Fidelis.

    Theory and Practice, Ideal and Real, War and Peace

    Monday, January 26th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — hoping to introduce my many friends in the peace and light camp to my many friends in the carry a big stick camp, with a view to furthering mutual understanding ]
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    A confluence in my infostream this morning:
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    cantilever
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    Let’s start with this brilliant example of theory (the diagram of the cantilever principle, above) and practice (the human demonstration, below). In the above instance, at least, the theory works out in practice. BTW, I think this image qualifies as a DoubleQuote in the Wild.

    **

    There’s a problem when things just don’t work out that way, however, and Cardinal Richelieu nails it:
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    Richelieu quote
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    I’m afraid the recently past century amply bears out Richelieu’s point.

    Theory is often too simple to match practice, and attempts to fit the real world into a crippling procrustean box of its own devising.

    **

    I might not have taken an interest in these two tweets, if I hadn’t also read Ahmed Humayun‘s post, The Politics of Barbarism, on 3 Quarks Daily today, and blog-friend Omar Ali‘s comments in particular.

    Humayun’s piece is essentially a precis and analysis of Abu Bakr Naji‘s The Management of Savagery, a book, incidentally, which has as much to do with management as it does with savagery.

    But to get to the point which interests me, one Raza Husain commented that in place of recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:

    A trillion dollars on development work, schools, hospitals, roads, power plants, would have been money better spent and possibly just as helpful to the American economy if not to the arms industry in particular.

    to which Omar responded:

    A trillion dollars spent through what state apparatus? protected by what army? under which laws? (not saying it cannot be done, but those questions need answers first, otherwise how will the money actually get spent where you want it spent?)

    And that’s it, right there.

    **

    Richard Grenier paraphrased George Orwell nicely when he wrote:

    people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf

    If I was to DoubleQuote that, my pairing quote would be from John Adams:

    I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculature, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

    **

    The Ideal and Real are, respectively, Theory and Practice, and we need, we are constituted to need both — and yet our discourse all too often promotes one (shorthand: peace) or the other (shorthand: war), without looking at how each can serve and illuminate the other.

    For my purposes, it is essentially peace that is the objective, and war that should (where and when needed) serve it: but it is justice, as in peace with justice, that is the necessary third term bringing peace and war (to include revolution?) into their constantly shifting alignment.

    **

    If one group of people chants peace, peace, while another prepares for, and makes, war — without justice rather than profit being its central motivation and the arbiter of its outcomes — there’s little chance of mutual understanding. The peaceables will think the warlikes lack “moral” sense, the warlikes will think the peaceables lack “common” sense, each side will seem senseless to the other — and the wheel will continue to turn.

    What I would like to see — to foster — is deliberation, debate, discourse between these two camps, the idealists and the realists (and I use those terms without their technical senses as terms of art), those who would seek peace and those who would protect them from violence.

    Because humanity is half-angelic, half-bestial, and the question is how the angelic can best deploy against the bestial. Or as Naji has it, against Savagery.

    **

    There are two distinct scenarions that I try to bear in mind, in one of which an archipelago of islands is seen in a seascape, while the other shows a number of lakes in a lanscape of mountains, hills and valleys.

    The only difference between them, as I envision them, is the water level.

    Raise the water level, and the lakes join to become a sea in which the isolated remaining hill and mountain tops have become islands — lower the water level, and the islands become the hills and mountain tops of a landscape, with the sea now diminished to a congeries of lakes and pools in its valleys.

    The quest, here, by analogy, is for optimal levels of protective violence to obtain and sustain a widespread and liveable landscape of peace.

    Your thoughts?

    **

    Image sources:

  • Cantilever, via BoingBoing
  • Richelieu, via the Economist

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