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March 21, 2003

Rhetoric of war. Compare and contrast. Excerpts from the address of Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish, March 19, 2003:
“We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them.

“If you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.

“Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there.

“You will see things that no man could pay to see and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis.

“You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing.

“Don’t treat them as refugees for they are in their own country. Their children will be poor, in years to come they will know that the light of liberation in their lives was brought by you.

“If there are casualties of war then remember that when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day.

“Allow them dignity in death. Bury them properly and mark their graves.

“It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly.

“I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts, I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them.

“If someone surrenders to you then remember they have that right in international law and ensure that one day they go home to their family.

“If you harm the regiment or its history by overenthusiasm in killing or in cowardice, know it is your family who will suffer.

“You will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest for your deeds will follow you down through history. We will bring shame on neither our uniform or our nation.”

Excerpt from the address of President George W. Bush to the United States Congress, January 20, 2003:
“All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries, and many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.”
It’s quite a sight when an officer about to lead men into combat sounds like a statesman, while the President of the United States sounds like a gangster. [11:56 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Rhetoric of war. Compare and contrast.:

Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 12:18 PM:

Here's to Lt. Tim Collins, the embodiment of the phrase, "an Officer and a Gentleman".

Could we get him to run for president?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 01:06 PM:

You get what you reward.

This is not unconnected to why the President of the United States sounds that way.

Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 01:20 PM:

It seems like an essential part of the job of an army officer is to remind soldiers that they're professionals and that, regardless of old sayings, there are some rules to war. So, impressive though it is, it's sort of what you'd expect.

On the other hand, I can't help you with the fact that your president sounds like a gangster.

Andy ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 01:27 PM:

One mild quibble is that the BBC story says Collins is a Lieutenant Colonel and not just an Lt.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 01:34 PM:

Thanks, Andy. Fixed.

Jay C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 02:05 PM:

Wow, what an incredible address! Is it not incredible that it is still possible in this day and age that a professional soldier can summon up the rhetorical skills to remind his troops of their duty and the moral context of their mission in language that is not only clear and plain, but would not be thought out of place in any historical context - from Pericles' time to the present.
But then, this IS coming from the British military tradition. I contrast this to the stale cliche-ridden blather emanating from American sources (Donald Rumsfeld is bloviating on TV as I type).
Maybe there is some good to studying the Classics after all: you may not be able to change the rules of war, but least the rhetoric can be raised above the level of a CNN soundbite.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 02:23 PM:

First off Jay, don't comfuse Rumsfeld with a military professional -- he is one of the finest examples of REMF I have seen in a while, with the typical cliches and swagger.

While there may be some officers who will end up sounding like a NASCAR commercial or Major "King" Kong in the flesh, I know that many American commanders have or will be sending similar messages or addresses to their troops (I happen to have known a few, and I am the son of a Air Force short colonel). During the first Gulf War, many commanders who had been through Vietnam and were concerned for their inexperienced troops, made some wonderful statements, some of which have been published (see Atkinson's Crusade, I think, for an example).

Jay C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 02:58 PM:

Sorry, didn't mean to short-change the rhetorical skills of any US officers, past or present (and I know there have been many - even if Sherman's three-word dictum is the most remembered!).I was just struck by the contrast of Lt Col Collins's fine words as compared to the dreary eye-glazing TV commentary we have had re the war so far.
PS: thanks also for the chuckle I got when I remembered what "REMF" stands for.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 02:58 PM:

I think it's more correct to talk of the Royal Irish Regiment, but I still get confused by the most recent batch of post-Cold-War reorganisations. The unit was formed in 1992 by an amalgamation of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment, and thus continues a very old lineage, longer than that of the Irish Guards.

A side-thought: in terms of numbers of men, and the general social position, this guy is not so very far from Agamemnon or Beowulf. An infantry battalion is about the largest unit that a soldier can personally lead in battle.

Unlike a politician, he's talking to people he _knows_.

And he knows some of them will die...

Iain J Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 03:24 PM:

Lately, I haven't been able to get out of my mind H. G. Wells's account of Neville Chamberlain and the rest of the Hitler-appeasers: they were decent men who did not understand the nature of gangsterism. I can't help thinking that Blair made the same mistake with the Bush administration.

Chris O'Shea ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 04:25 PM:

It was a great speech that I found very moving, but I hope everyone clicked on the the "address" link at the top and read the whole speech as it has been exerpted to remove the "gung-ho" and "stiffen the sinews" aspects, such as

""There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send.

As for the others I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.

... which, in its own way, and given the context and the intended audience, is very impressive also, perhaps not as moving as his stressing the purpose for the war and the care of the indigenous people, but still you can nearly hear the banging of sword on shield and the true greatness of proper gentlemanly warriors going into battle to die for a noble cause.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 04:47 PM:

It’s quite a sight when an officer about to lead men into combat sounds like a statesman, while the President of the United States sounds like a gangster.

"The President of the United States is named Shickelgruber."

Roz ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 06:06 PM:

You are right, this is moving, and I am glad that I can still be moved by it even though I disapprove of the war so strongly. It is a matter of such sadness that such men as Tom Calhoun find their essential dignity in the bloody business of war and yet, without them, it would be so much worse.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 10:35 PM:

It's a terrific speech, even in its fuller blood-and-guts added form.

charlie b. ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2003, 09:47 AM:

Geesh, talk about clutching at straws. One is a military officer, the other is an office-holding politician. One is a paid professional, the other depends entirely on votes. But if it's that melodious to your moral ears, make Tim Collins into George W's speech-writer. Better still, have a chat with Tim C. in private. You'll soon learn a thing or two about British army officers. And I agree, American officers will be saying things just as admirable in language just as measured. Why not just write "I hate President Bush and I will find any way, real or imaginary, to malign him" over and over again, in every comment.

Josh ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2003, 01:03 PM:

Tim: "Even"? I think it's a better speech than it would have been without the blood-and-guts. The man's a soldier speaking to other soldiers, and he's acknowledging the reality of their job.

I wouldn't be comfortable with an officer addressing his troops on the eve of battle who *didn't* talk about the fact that soon they will be in a kill-or-be-killed situation.

Fred Boness ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2003, 01:45 PM:

This speech will be remembered and respected long after it is forgotten that it was trivially edited to be used as yet another pointless Bush bash.

David Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2003, 04:43 PM:

Here in Britain, we have a system of government which forces out politicians to stand up in front of a fairly small audience and make speeches. If you can't handle that, you're never going to be Prime Minister, even in this age of television electioneering.

I've not heard anything to suggest that the current US President has had to do anything like that in his political career, and I don't think he would be capable of it.

That's nothing at all to do with his policies, but his lack of capacity in this field does no good to the impression he makes.

Leah A. ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2003, 07:20 AM:

Wonderful find, Patrick. Thank-you.

To charlie b:

Words matter, surely, at least as much in judging the heart and the efficacy of a "politician," even one who is our first unelected President, as in judging those qualities in a Lt. Col.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2003, 07:47 AM:

I have heard addresses similar to that LTC. In the main with less fourish and style, but with no less passion. The general tenor of the Army's attitude seems to be, "He's a thug, and kicking him out is a thing we can support.

For any who care, this is a summation of some of my past week, or so.

Kuwait is vast.

I thought I knew what, "Big Sky Country," was, I was wrong. This seems larger than the ocean. All one can see is manmade things, and sand.

The scene in "Lawrence of Arabia," where David Lean lingers on the dot in the distance which is Faisal, In so few as 100 yards of distance a retreating person seems to be but a speck against the horizon.

Where the sand runs out it fades, in a murky gray haze, up to a blue sky. So pale and vast is the sky that the moon, now almost full, seems to float. It does not seem so separate from the earth as it does back home.

The trip was pleasant enough (as pleasant as anything so sudden can be). We got on a plane, and we took off. From when we boarded, until we arrived, we did not leave the plane. Mostly we slept. I had a window. My seatmate, SPC Watson, woke me to ask if we were descending into New York. It was, and I woke to a very rough landing at JFK. My next real awareness of the world was to look down on Canada. Lots of snow. Then, later, the Atlantic, Spindrift ice, frozen like glint-ripples on the surface, then the beginnings of the pack-ice, visible currents of white, melding into one sheet. Later still the ice breaking into cubes, giant cubes (I could see them from more than 30,000 feet, they must have been huge) and open water again.

I woke somewhere a bit east of France, and we landed in Italy, at Ostia. I saw Rome, and the eastern coast of Italy. Most of the plane was zonked, so I went to the cockpit and watched the Egyptian shore pass beneath us, and then Saudi, and finally Kuwait. We were allowed to stay in the cockpit for the landing, and that was worth the trip. I would rather have had it on some other trip, but I probably won't get another chance to do that.

Conditions here are all right for us. We don't have power in my tent, but I do have a cot (the first night was spent on the floor) and the weather is not too bad. I have been in my first sandstorm, just after dark and the world was milky white, there was no sky, and three meters was as far as one could see. People were lost getting back from the latrines, a distance of maybe 150 meters, and a dead straight line.

We are overcrowded, as a camp, so there are lines for everything. I had to sign up in advance for the chance to send this, and my choices were 0400, or 0600. Being the sort of person I am, 0600 was the hour of choice. Never miss a chance to eat or sleep. 0600 is our wake up anyway, so I am not losing too much.

A phone call means a two-hour wait, meals mean a 20 minute wait (we get bacon with breakfast, that seems to be less offensive than beer. Perhaps it is because we have Indians providing the contracting for the mess hall). The PX varies, both in supplies, and in the line.

Traveling is work. I have about 25 lbs. of gear I have to wear anytime I leave the tent (helmet, rifle, chem-suit, protective mask, ammo {this is the first time in my ten years I have ever been issued more than 60 rounds of ammo, and the only time it has been issued to me off a range, much less taken with me everywhere) and water. I carry a minimum of two-quarts, and more often five. Our water is bottled. We all drink more than we need. The amount of salt we ingest insures we are not likely to be able to drink more than is safe (a recruit died from an excess of water at Basic about four years ago. When I was in Basic I had some troubles from that, but I just started to disobey my Drill Sergeants and it didn't recur).

Everywhere is a sense of waiting. The expectation is that, should it kick off, it will be short. People here want it to kick off, not so much because they are warmongers (Some individuals are, [one is in my section, and we are annoyed by his attitude, he wants to get into a firefight, carries four fighting knives (I swapped my regular Ka-Bar for a mini Ka-Bar, as I have no need (at least I hope not) for something that large) and seems to not understand that he does more good in the rear than he ever could at the front, even were he Sgt. York, Audie Murphy and Achilleus rolled into one), but rather that no-one wants to be in the desert a day longer than needed, and the fastest way to end the waiting is to go North.

So we wait. We drink water, and orange drink, and eat ice cream (Peppermint is a favorite (it is called [Aladdin], but I am looking for the rose flavored one), and dream of home.

For armies I suppose it has been ever thus.

Gap of three days.

We have power. I would not go so far as to say all knowledge is contained in Military Intelligence, but we are almost as vast as SF Fandom when it comes to such things. In the absence of support, it was inevitable that one of us should find a power supply we could tap into. I can also do what I did at Ft. Bragg and use my computer to log onto the Net, and so circumvent time limits. So, mission depending, I should now be able to stay in touch with some regularity.

I live in a village. Sixty people (more or less), with a common interest and nowhere else to go. We know who snores, who gets up in the night to hit the latrine, which MREs everyone cares for, who can't get up in the morning, etc.. Give us the amount of time we are expected to be here and I will know as much as anyone cares to reveal about themselves and more besides. We do have somewhat more than the 14" the Royal Navy gave each man to swing his cot, and we have something like ten hours a night to sleep, which most of us take. I think I am caught up all the way back to Ft. Lewis. I just wish I could bank it against the future, but right now it is merely armor against the Kuwaiti Krud, which we are warned we will all experience to some degree.

I have found the rose flavored ice-cream (Princess, with a picture of some Sleeping Beauty-like blonde on the wrapper). It is a flavored ice, around a vanilla center. I had one last night, and this morning I had two more. One was for a fiend, but he disappeared before I got out of the mess hall, my gain.

Last night (16 Mar) we battened down against a sandstorm (which never came). Here, in the birthplace of armies, I filled sandbags, the stereotypical act of soldiers. The result of making the rigging tight was to move my cot, since the poles of the tent centerline (where I am bunking) had slouched to an angle, and when pulled to their rightful place, had not the room for a cot to rest between.

Another day.

Good army training. People wonder how I can be so patient, how I can face a line with equanimity. Today was part of the reason. We had to get the next in our series of anthrax shots. At 0730 we get in line. At 0830 the line is reversed so it runs the other way. By 0930 the line stretches almost 200 meters and is generally four people wide. At 1030 the medics arrive and at somewhere around 1130 I (who was reasonably close to the head of the line) got my shot.

But I got to talk with people, get to know some of the 519th troops a little better. Best of all, I saw a desert eagle. Smallish, about the size of a red-tail hawk, with a black body, a white head and pale wings with gray-black stripes along the elbows.

Side-note, we have already, by virtue of our tropical latitude, enjoyed the equinox.
20 Mar O3

They started the war.

So far, for us, it has been mostly false alarms, many ecstasies of fumbling as someone (usually in foolish panic) yes, "GAS! GAS! GAS!" Given that Chemical attack is the bugbear of modern warfare (and the most insidiously frightening aspect of it), no one takes such cries; even the ones we know are false, for granted. We just stand around afterwards wondering who will/can give the all clear. The most dramatic was the one who stuck his head into the mess hall and caused several hundred people to toss knives, forks, spoons and cups aside in favor of ripping into mask carriers, while the Bangladeshi help looked on in amused (and perhaps bemused) wonder. We have had rumors of the siren being on the fritz (that from a pair of reporters, to an imminent attack by SCUD, in 30-60 minutes. I blew that one off, because flight time for a scud is 12-18 minutes.

But we have heard impacts. No idea if they were SCUDS the Patriot batteries knocked down, or if they were misses they let fall to earth, but much sweat and many pounding hearts have been caused by each one.

And we hear choppers. Marine Cobras, whopping overhead. A deep, heavy whop. The feel of the displaced air is heavy. One can tell they are heavily loaded.

The sandstorm never came. Instead we got a small pelting of rain. We have, however, enjoyed a dust cloud. For the past two days there has been no horizon, just a white haze from the ground to the sky. It swallows the sun, which shows forth white and translucent; globular and pale, and causes the eyes to itch. At night, before moonrise, there are fewer stars to be seen than there are in Los Angeles. Eaten by the dust. They eyes itch, hairs seems dusted in talcum and no matter how recent the shower (which is not very at the moment, the water valves being in some way screwed up) a film of grime seems to cling to the flesh.

We do our laundry by hand, because we can't be sure of being here to retrieve it from the quartermaster (who takes no less than four-days, and will not guarantee less than a week). I am teaching people to button their uniforms to button them to the line, just in case the wind should kick up. A few sets of underwear and socks I can replace, my trousers and blouse are too valuable to risk.

So we have strings of clothes on the backstays of the tents, and a slight air of a gypsy camp is seen inside. Where a certain modesty still applies to some, there are boxers, panties and bras to be seen hanging at the heads of bunks.

21 Mar 03.

A night in which exhausted collapsed early, to rise in the middle of the night, the calm slept and all were awake when "Gas" was heard at midnight. Wearing the mask I think I could sleep, if I knew it was prophylactic, but when waiting for the decision to put on more gear, when what used to be fear has turned rather to resigned worry, then the effort of sucking air through the filter, of hearing the valves flap in a vaderish wheeze, at those times all I can do is relax. Either into the earth of the bunker, or against a pole, or, as last night, against my pillow. Sleep threatens, but the body resists.

Today, however, we got more than just empty fear. The siren rang, a long and single tone.


Organised chaos, not panic. We were half ready, we had heard the Patriot battery coughing, felt the whooump of the rockets' leaving and half expected it. But only half.

I blew it. The drill is grab your gear, run to the bunker and mask. I masked. Then I donned my blouse, and gear, and ran, pell-mell, for the slit trench, which is out bunker. I was not the last one there.

Calling for people, making sure we were all-up, and then the waiting. All the while the shrill tone of the siren.

I didn't really feel afraid. The siren is supposed to go off if an impact is expected in a radius of 10 kilometers, given that, and the inaccuracy of SCUDs, the odds of hearing an impact are slim, much less getting hit.

Then the whee-whoo, whee-whoo of the all-clear. I deflated. Sank into the dirt, and drew a full breath, probably for the first time since the alarm.

Since then things have been quiet.

Here's hoping they stay that way.

Fernando ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2003, 04:25 PM:

Thank you for the juxtaposition. I heard Colonel Collins' speech on American Public Radio this Sunday morning -- give them credit for that! -- and nothing I've heard so far from any U.S. authority shows as much nobility while going into war as this brigade commander's words.

May his words stand long after Mr Bush is forgotten.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2003, 02:17 PM:

The point, charlie b., is that we're embarrassed to be represented by such an ungracious belligerent lout. If our leaders spoke in terms like those LTC Collins used, we'd be proud of them, but they don't.

Terry: whoo-hoo, a guy who knows his Owen (my favorite poet). Be careful out there. We may oppose the war, but we support you doing your duty. Nec dulce nec decorum est pro patria mori. (someone correct my Latin, please) So stay alive, eh? We can honor your commitment to defending our country -- even if we think your C-in-C is a jerk, and think you shouldn't even be there.

charlie b. ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2003, 08:36 AM:

I guess the point is that the so-called lout speaks to or reads things out to different audiences. He could have read out a speech on the same lines as the British officer - but there is a pretty small audience for that stuff. Anyone can be trained to talk like Tim C. They are fine words, but having been educated with these people, I wouldn't bet that he is, in person, the sort of individual who you expect him to be from those words. The denigration of Mr Bush is so much like what they always said about Pres Reagan. But most ordinary people found him reassuringly like them.

scott b ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2003, 11:25 PM:

charlie b.,

The problem with Mr Bush is that no one honestly believes he could be "trained" to speak so eloquently. Mr Bush appears to be a bit dim, particularly in establishing an appropriate rhetorical tone.

Contrasting the LTC and the alleged leader of the free world remains a valid commentary on their respective native abilities. One worked his way up a meritocracy, the other's name is George Bush.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 09:54 AM:

Thank you, Terry. Sorry it took a while for your comment to show up properly. That was all very interesting, and I'm still wrapping my brain around it.

Are you still online? Can you read replies here?

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 11:54 AM:

Yes, I can, though time is spare, and if I have correspondence, they get precedence.

As for the comment on Owen, yes, I know him, and borrowed the image from the best. Luckily life has been lacking in minor terrors, for the present. With any luck, I will not have any more.

Luck, all told, has been in great supplu for our side (and maybe for most of theirs, but I live in a different set of narrow news than you all do).

Lest I get melodramatic (which, given the real drama playing out around me is a very easy thing to slip into) I will call this enough.


Kris Hasson-Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2003, 01:42 PM:

I suspect these last three comments are spam.