Back to previous post: Shilling for big tech companies =/= being pro-technology

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: We Knew in 1999

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

November 3, 2006

Smart blog post of the day
Posted by Patrick at 11:56 AM * 38 comments

Ezra Klein, on Tapped:

I loathe the tendency—by politicians and pundits, liberals and conservatives—to dreamily speak of the great sacrifice, magnificent courage, inspiring intellect, and extraordinary characters of our troops. It’s bullshit. And it’s bullshit designed to make us feel better, so we don’t have to face what we’ve done to these young people, and don’t have to imagine the toll a warzone takes on real humans, rather than imagined supermen.

They’re not doing a magnificent job. They’re not approaching each day with stoic courage and endless optimism. They’re doing their best. These are kids. I knew them in high school. They entered the military because they sought discipline, or loans, or redemption, or very occasionally, honor. They were not a wiser breed, or a braver strain—they were just kids, they made a decision that seemed right at the time, and now they’re doing their damnedest to survive. It comforts us to speak of them all as Rhodes Scholars, automatons who run on courage and faith and perform with grace and cheer. It comforts us to speak of them like that because it allows us to deny the image of twentysomethings lying terrified in the desert, straining to make it through that day, and the next, and the one after it. By so lavishly honoring them, we transform our mental picture of who fights in this war, and we allow their imagined stoicism to ease our onrushing guilt.

Comments on Smart blog post of the day:
#2 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:05 PM:

Of course, Erza is no more correct in his view. The truth lies between the picture he paints, and picture he tears up... Of course the troops are afraid, and of course they want to make it through another day, and of course many didn't bargain for what they got when they joined the military, but the vast majority believe in what they're doing, and a much smaller majority of their families support that.

Just because I think the whole war is bogus, that it was and remains a huge festering mistake that will take us decades to recover from, doesn't mean we shouldn't acknowledge that that many of the individuals are indeed brave and honorable, and that when they die it IS a sacrifice.

It's just that the gain (to the growing majority of Americans) isn't worth that level of sacrifice.

I think Erza's word apply more correctly to the older troops who have been drawn away from their families and jobs from the Reserves. While the regular recruit of today (most of whom are politically allied with the conservatives) join with a clear understanding that Iraq is in their future, these older troops joined in peacetime, and never dreamed we would get into such a half-assed fight. They are doing the bulk of the work, and a too-great share of the dying. They are the average Joes, who joined for the reasons Erza listed, and they are the ones being used for the Administrations propaganda purposes.

I just thought the distinction should be made clear...

#3 ::: Shawn Struck ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:30 PM:

By so lavishly honoring them, we transform our mental picture of who fights in this war, and we allow their imagined stoicism to ease our onrushing guilt.

Why is it that every time I read something by Ezra Klien, even when I agree with him, he comes off as comeone I want to LART?

#4 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:52 PM:

the wingnutosphere is going to absolutely ape-sh!t on him for this single line: "They�re not doing a magnificent job. "

they'll take that one line, post it on their blogs as a "perfect example of how the Dhimmocraps hate America". they'll link to the full post, of course. but it won't matter: they've already given their readers an angle from which to approach the rest of the piece.

sloppy.

in context, it's fine. but he;s not going to get the benefit of full context from his critics.

#5 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 02:13 PM:

Cleek, everything a liberal says will be taken out of context. You could be reciting the Lord's Prayer and they will take it out of context. So you might as well say what you're thinking and let the consequences fall where they may.

#6 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 02:26 PM:

Cleek, everything a liberal says will be taken out of context.

oh, i know. it just seems unfortunate to give them something that's so easy to pull out.

#7 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 02:31 PM:

Ezra Klein is pointing out that, for example, it doesn't make very sense to deny an exit strategy simply because "if we leave, then those soldiers will have died in vain." (Incidentally, I find this an odd argument for those who support the war to make since it implies that the troops in Iraq have been good for nothing so far. If they've been good for something already, then their deaths are already not in vain.)

Along the same lines, most of the writing about war written by war veterans I've read have focused on the devastation and pointlessness rather than romanticizing the soldier. This may be selection bias though. I'm not that well read in the area. What little I've read is either Vietnam era or WWI era. In any case, it's left me with the impression that the only people who glorify war or romanticize the soldier are people who have never been in a war.

#8 ::: Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 04:44 PM:

For what it's worth, the image of the average US soldier "lying terrified in the desert" is as much of a misnomer as any other blanket statement about the troops and who they are and how they go about their lives in Iraq.

And having been a Reservist deployed to Iraq, I don't think Ezra's words particularly apply as a blanket to that group, either. Few in the Reserves have illusions that their term of service is going to be uninterrupted with deployments or other calls of service. In fact, the bulk of Reservists today have joined since 9/11. Unless they've been wearing some really awesome blinders, anyone who has signed up for a Reserve or Guard unit since then has known that deployment should be treated as an inevitability.

And it's not like active duty troops, who do a heavy share of the fighting, have not left their families or are not regular Joes, as much as the Reservists are.

Personally, I defy any attempt to characterize any group of servicemembers in any one way. The troops are scared, and not scared. They're honorable, and other than honorable. They're the sort you wouldn't mind your son or daughter bringing home... and they're the exact opposite. They are human, as human as anyone who frequents this blog and their views and dreams and desires and character run the spectrum. Sure, maybe there are some trends, especially when you consider the military is all volunteer--there's some self-selection there. But there's no way to characterize them all in one fell swoop, in one neat and concise talking point.

I find any attempt to do so ignorant and lazy. Which, of course, goes for those promoting the talking points from either side of the aisle.

#9 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 04:50 PM:

Why is it that every time I read something by Ezra Klien, even when I agree with him, he comes off as comeone I want to LART?

Um, what does "LART" mean? Googling came up with several meanings, but none fit the context...

#10 ::: Audrey ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 05:03 PM:

LART: Luser Attitude Retraining Technique. The usual example is hitting someone with a 2x4 so they'll quit saying stupid things.

#11 ::: Richard Parker ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 05:08 PM:

The Urban Dictionary suggests:

Luser Attitude Readjustment Tool

1. n. In the collective mythos of scary devil monastery, this is an essential item in the toolkit of every BOFH. The LART classic is a 2x4 or other large billet of wood usable as a club, to be applied upside the head of spammers and other people who cause sysadmins more grief than just naturally goes with the job. Perennial debates rage on alt.sysadmin.recovery over what constitutes the truly effective LART; knobkerries, semiautomatic weapons, flamethrowers, and tactical nukes all have their partisans. Compare clue-by-four.
2. v. To use a LART. Some would add "in malice", but some sysadmins do prefer to gently lart their users as a first (and sometimes final) warning.

#12 ::: Shawn Struck ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 05:49 PM:

Yeah, sorry, techie-nerd-goober in me there coming out. I almost said clue-by-four.

Dave Klecha puts his finger on why I think Ezra deserves a LARTing. PLus, his past behavior of being on my "side" but saying really stupid stuff.

#13 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 08:39 PM:

I, too, have to say I find Klein's words, though they're grasping at some sort of vague truth, to be asinine. Are the troops scared? Of course they are. Anyone who isn't scared when people are shooting at him or her, or planting bombs all around that may go off anytime, is either crazy or an idiot. But "courage" is exactly what the troops possess--feeling that fear and doing their job anyway.

As for intelligent, anyone who graduates from West Point, as many of the officers in Iraq have, has to have a fair amount of intelligence. I'm sure the troops as a whole vary from brilliant to very dumb, like any large group of people.

I do agree that the war in Iraq is a quagmire, but as with Vietnam, it isn't the troops, who are mostly doing their best, who are to blame; it's the politicians and higher-ups, assisted, far more than in Vietnam, by corrupt private corporations.

Just because we've put the troops in an untenable position is not reason to dis them.

#14 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 08:49 PM:

I'm not particularly interested in projecting psychological profiles on the soldiers in the military, whether it's the "stoic superman" that Ezra claims other people use, or the "kids" label that Ezra himself repeatedly uses to characterize the young adults who join.

Rather, I find it more useful to just look at what they did. Namely, they decided to put their lives on the line to serve their country. And this I have to assume was a conscious, knowing decision (especially for those "kids" who joined up after 9/11, which everyone under 23 in the army did). Yes, an 18 or 19 year old who joins up is young, but if they're not an idiot (and the Army still tries to screen idiots out) they know what they may be called on to do.

They didn't choose to start a war, or to end it-- in a country like ours, with civilian control over the military, that a decision our elected officials make, though all too often lately it's seen as the prerogative of only one elected official. But they were willing to go, far away from their family and friends, at the risk of their lives and their health, if that's what the people we've put in charge say is needed.

And that, even just by itself, is reason enough for me to admire and thank them. And, at the same time, to be deeply angry that we as a country have chosen leaders that have used that commitment to service and sacrifice so irresponsibly.

Please, everyone, vote this month, and make sure your friends vote, as if your lives depended on it. Because lots of lives do.

#15 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:54 PM:

As someone who was one of those American Soldiers fighting overseas -- 8 months On The Line in Korea, c. 1951 -- I'd say that Klein has it about right. Close enough for a not-too-expensive cigar or a minor kudos, anyhow.

Every once in a while one of the guys would get a home-town newspaper containing a speech by some local politician, praising the Noble Heroism of The Troops. We usually didn't -- surprisingly -- laugh. We just shook our heads -- those Politicians obviously just didn't have the faintest idea of what was going on, or what we were like.

We had, for one reason or another, accepted a dangerous and unpleasant job (reluctantly, in the case of most of us who'd been Drafted, but we hadn't said no) and for the most part we had the integrity to perform it as well as we could. (Awareness of the fact that if we did it well we might survive, and if we didn't we were sure to be killed by those guys who were only a half-hour's walk away may have had more than a little to do with this attitude.)

Sure, Klein's comments can be taken out of context and used to batter him (& liberals in general) but I doubt that this will be done by many people who have Been There. Klein, too, is Doing His Job, and exhibiting (in lesser degree, because the consequences aren't as likely to be so serious) the same kind of admirable courage our troops in Iraq are.

#16 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 10:20 PM:

"Just because we've put the troops in an untenable position is not reason to dis them." (Robert L #13)

But one of the main points, I thought, was that it wasn't 'dissing' them to not just only "speak of [their] great sacrifice, magnificent courage, inspiring intellect, and extraordinary characters". Saying they're fairly normal, if trained, humans put into difficult & dangerous situations is not a 'dis'.

Also see the kinds of rhetoric & images used in WWI about the 'brave boys' & so forth, then the song 'Remember My Forgotten Man', sung in Gold Diggers of 1933, or the verse in 'Brother Can You Spare a Dime' about how some veterans fared in the years after.

In a connected, joyous, notation; celebration is due to the fact that at long, long, last, a DVD of Oh! What a Lovely War, the 1969 film of the play, is now available! Very highly recommended. Among other things, you can see it connecting similar types of behaviour & experience, also described above, in the Great War and Vietnam War, then contemporary. (NTBCW the soldier's memoir of WWII by the same name, which is also relevant to how 'ordinary soldiers' experience war.)

#17 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 10:50 PM:

Ezra's post, I disagree with the language, but the gist is good. And I apologize for some of my rougher comments below.

That guy/gal you just put in the ground, those were some damn fine words about sacrifice and full measure of devotion and service, but I bet if you could ask them, they would rather be here than there. Just because a soldier gets their dick wet in a fire-fight doesn't make them a hero. Show me a bronze/silver star, Navy Cross, etc. and I'll salute and buy you whatever you want to drink.

Most soldiers are just trying to make it through (the crap, the day, the hitch, the deployment, everybody has their own yardstick). When they're in the fire there aren't Captain America battlin' it out with the baddies, they just want to put lead (or whatever they've got) downrange and on target and make their objective while dodging the incoming as best they can and keeping tabs on the guys/gals around them. They face the music, and that's enough for me. They're good, they're bad, they're just like your neighbor and the person on the 6:00 News going to jail. Because they are your neighbors, and since I live in "rural Ohio" they are my neighbors (buried one friend's kid, two others friend's kids are in Afghanistan, and we just sent 8 more of our kids off to the military from our Class of 2006). At 18 their still invulnerable in their own minds, so yeah, they're kids.

Ducle et decorum est pro patria mori is still the old lie. Nobody plays the lottery to get second prize.

#18 ::: Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 11:13 PM:

Steve Buchheit demonstrates another common misapprehension.

A Bronze Star is the measure of a soldier's worth? I knew one Marine who received a Bronze Star for service in Iraq. He earned it. But I can tick off another two dozen Marines you should buy drinks for who have nothing to decorate their chests other than the Combat Action Ribbon that every Marine in my company received. I can point out heroes who never got into a firefight, who never fired a shot, but who are heroes just the same for their restraint.

And that kind of restraint doesn't get medals, either.

Unless you have served with those individuals, seen them under fire, known what they sacrificed and what they overcame, I daresay it's impossible to determine who is worthy of a salute, or a drink.

#19 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 05:15 AM:

There is also the flip side. When some of them don't behave well, they have a whole ton of bricks fall upon them, when in fact, they may have just been the ones that did not have the extraordinary courage, the moral maturity that it takes to refuse orders, or to blow the whistle on dubious directives, AND to be the ones who catch the spotlight.

So am I the only one who remembers that there are service people doing time for behaviour that the President and the Congress have just made legal? Those guys and gals in Abu Ghraib weren't brave or untainted, they were just normal human beings too young and too clueless to know better. At a time when "knowing better" might result, well, in suicide, for example.

#20 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 08:12 AM:

Dave, I've edited this down from two pages, so if I gloss over a point or don't state something well, I hope you can understand. My point was just because someone wears the combat ribbon on their board doesn't make them a hero. Right now, at least according the political propaganda, everybody who wears a uniform is a hero and goes to work each day wearing a cape. And yes, I agree, just because a person didn't receive a star or Congressional Medal doesn't mean they aren't a hero either. I also know that you can be a hero without being under fire or in a combat situation.

I work with a SEAL from Vietnam. He had his patrol boat shot out from under him. He can be a great guy or a pain in the ass, but he gets my respect from being a double volunteer, having the purple heart. I know as his boat was going down he was still firing. So, yeah, first one is on me.

Those other guys in your unit are for things you know they did, makes it tough on the rest of us to recognize them though. I also know guys who don't even have a combat ribbon but also showed valor in their service both overall and in particular instances and other guys that I would buy drinks for, but I know them and know their records personally. But I do know the difference between someone doing their tough job, making sacrifices, giving 110 percent, and somebody who is a real hero.

#21 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 08:29 AM:

Sorry, one point that got lost in the edit and I think is important was that just because someone isn't a "recognized" hero, or comes up to the "level of hero," or is even on a scale that has "hero" as a possibility doesn't mean they don't deserve respect.

#22 ::: Wilfred Owen ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 11:47 AM:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

#23 ::: JESR quotes Peter Lafarge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 12:11 PM:

Because we forget when it's convenient:

The Ballad Of Ira Hayes

Lyrics: Peter LaFarge
Music: Peter LaFarge

Chorus:

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer any more
Not the whiskey drinking Indian
Or the Marine that went to war

Gather around me, people
There's a story I would tell
About a brave young Indian
You should remember well

From the land of the Pima Indians
A proud and noble band
Who farmed the Phoenix Valley
In Arizona land

Down the ditches for a thousand years
The waters grew Ira's people's crops
Till the white man stole their water rights
And the sparkling water stopped

Now, Ira's folks were hungry
And their land grew crops of weeds
When war came, Ira volunteered
And forgot the white man's greed

[Chorus]

There they battled up Iwo Jima hill
Two hundred and fifty men
But only twenty-seven lived
To walk back down again

And when the fight was over
And Old Glory raised
Among the men who held it high
Was the Indian, Ira Hayes

[Chorus]

Ira Hayes returned a hero
Celebrated through the land
He was wined and speeched and honored
Everybody shook his hand

But he was just a Pima Indian
No water, no home, no chance
At home, nobody cared what Ira'd done
And when did the Indians dance?

[Chorus]

Then Ira started drinking hard
Jail was often his home
They let him raise the flag and lower it
Like you'd throw a dog a bone

He died drunk, early one morning
Alone in the land he'd fought to save
Two inches of water in a lonely ditch
Was a grave for Ira Hayes

[Chorus]

#24 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 05:33 PM:

In language, especially the language of politics, one can easily dehumanize others with words.

Even words of praise.

This practice becomes especially toxic during any election year, when people are casually turned into lofty, sentimental abstractions -- "Our Troops", "The Children", etc.

Ezra Klein's point is not that U.S. soldiers are a better or worse class of human beings. The point is that they are human beings -- no more, no less.

#25 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 01:15 AM:

Hrmnf. I had a post, and it didn't work.

Dave Klecha: I don't think Ezra is saying all soldier are all terrified, all the time. Lord knows I wasn't. There were times of terror. Of trying to meld into the dirt and praying some bit of flying metal wasn't addressed to me.

But that passed. I don't think (little though I noticed it at the time) that I spent a waking moment (and probably some sleeping one's without a vague sense of dread.

But that's all bye the bye. Ezra is speaking to the mythologising of the troops. The sense that merely being in uniforms somehow sanctifies them. No, because when we are home we are held to odd standards, the comabt vet who gets arrested will get short shrift; in part, I think, because he has ruined the sense of nobility which he was supposed to carry with him.

So it's being a war-zone which makes them Knights Errant, and that's crap. Ezra is speaking to the humanity of them. Reminding people that soldiers are people, with loves, hates, fears, hopes, dreams, bigotries, and all the other natural shocks that flesh is heir too.

He is pleading, I think, that the rest of us remember that, because it makes us more valuable, we are not going to be, one and all, the "Lucky Man" of the EL&P song. Most of us, should we buy the farm, are just going to be another unlucky stiff.

#26 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 01:21 AM:

November 11th is coming, and someone has quoted Wilfred Owen (a poem I thought of often, wearing my pro-mask in Kuwait).

But this one is my favorite, if one can have a favorite poem of melancholy rage. As I said a few years ago, when quoting it in part, I used to appreciate it, now I understand it.

Apologia pro Poemate Meo

I, too, saw God through mud -
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

Merry it was to laugh there -
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

I, too, have dropped off fear -
Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
And sailed my spirit surging, light and clear
Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

And witnessed exultation -
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

I have made fellowships -
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

By Joy, whose ribbon slips, -
But wound with war's hard wire whose stakes are strong;
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the welding of the rifle-thong.

I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears: You are not worth their merriment.

November 1917

#27 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 03:21 AM:

I think that Ezra Klein's main point is being eclipsed by various arguments over what soldiers do and what soldiers are, and how they feel and all that.

Why do we send boys to war? How do we manage to countenance teen-agers coming home in body-bags, or as cripples? Fundamentally, how do we cope with the fact that armies, which are designed to kill people and break things, are comprised of, you know, real people? How do we live with ourselves when the body-bags come home?

Answer: We don't look.

What we see, instead, is a myth, an image, an archetype. We don't see the guy we went to high school with who was always kind of a jerk, or the kid in the next grade who was always nice to your little sister, or the girl a year older than you that you had a terrible crush on in 10th grade. We see an Ideal.

In the end, he's a dead soldier, even if he was, when alive, patriotic as hell. Dead 20-year-old patriots are still dead. They were a lot more than just a soldier when they were alive, and they are more than just a casualty of war when they become dead.

Frankly, it doesn't matter if he thought that his getting killed was worth the sacrifice. What really matters is, do _we_ think he was worth being sacrificed. Get past the grand story of War, and look at the facts on the ground. People that we think of in abstract terms -- hero, warrior, soldier, patriotic, brave, sacrifical --
are real people who are being badly traumatized, blown up, or shot down. It's all much easier to live with if they're cardboard cut-outs, not living, breathing, or bleeding and dying people.

We live in what is (or perhaps was) a democracy. The ultimate responsibility for what's going on in Iraq rests with us. Which is why it's so much easier to not look.

#28 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 04:42 AM:

A Counterfactual

Two decades on, and stalking from the Lords,
His peerage (services to Art) renounced,
A newsboy cries The Times. He pounced
On that. "The Times, indeed! We race towards
The pit of Hell for nothing, as before."
He's old, and Laureate - a great one, too -
And no-one doubts his right to say or do
However wrong it proves, nor wants a war.

Or maybe he'd have kept his riband, or
Stood tamely mute, or savagely denounced
Them all, recalled the good times (and he knew
There were some). No-one knows what just rewards
or pains, the creeping peace, the years, would do.
We cannot tell what Fate would have pronounced.
He lies beside the still canal at Ors.

#29 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 10:07 AM:

Remembrance Sunday in the UK is next Sunday, the 12th. I expect there'll also be the customary silence at 11am the day before.

There are still a very few British veterans of the First World War left alive.

#30 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 12:04 PM:

A tangent-- wrt #22 post of "Dulce et Decorum", does anyone know why there are two slightly different edits of this poem in general circulation? This one matches the initial version I saw in a high-school textbook; when I re-encountered it again in college, one of the lines had been expanded to "Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud".

I've been assuming that the latter was the original, truncated to the former because of the social taboo described by Susan Sontag (in opposition to the romantic mortality of tuberculosis), but does anyone have more solid info?

#31 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 01:49 PM:

Julie L,

My books are in storage, but I can tell you a little about it (assuming my memory is reasonably intact). The version quoted above was edited after Owen's death. The version you've seen elsewhere is the original.

For instance, I believe the line which above is "Of gas-shells dropping softly behind" substitutes, in the original, the model (704's? 714's? I'm ashamed to have forgotten) of the shells for "gas-shells", which may be a slight weakness in the original.

Possibly Owen would've seen fit to change that himself. It's a pity he didn't get the chance.

#32 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 10:33 PM:

adamsj: so it was a matter of editorial overreach like "correcting" Emily Dickinson's punctuation and caps? There's an image of Owen's original manuscript for "Dulce et Decorum" near the bottom of this page; the "obscene as cancer" phrase is there, but also several lines which I've never seen otherwise.

Meanwhile, not having had much previous knowledge about Jessie Pope, to whom Owen seems to've originally dedicated the poem, I am somewhat appalled by her own work, both in itself and in its proleptic echo of modern analogues.

#33 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 03:48 PM:

If I remember what Stallworthy says in the biography correctly, it's "dedicated" to Jessie Pope in a less-than-friendly manner, as Owen was also appalled by her work.

As to whether it was editorial overreach, that's a matter of opinion in which I agree with you, but let's remember that editor got Owen's work in front of the public, compromises and all.

#34 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 05:02 PM:

I have, somewhere, a complete Owens, with explantions of the texts, drafts and comments.

Sadly, I can't lay my hands on it right now, it's in a box somewhere.

I seem to recall that, "obscene as cancer," is in the original.

One of the interesting things about the book is seeing the craft he put into it, and just active was the community of poets in the trenches.

#35 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 05:22 PM:

adamsj, Five-Nines. I can't remember if he spells it out, but I think so. I'll check when I get home.

#36 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 09:05 AM:

While I've no objections to the original text, I do believe Kipling said it best, and earlier.

"I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer
The publican 'e up an sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I
Oh it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play
Oh, it's "Thank you Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play.

[...]

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an "Tommy, fall be'ind,"
But it's "Please to walk in front sir," when there's trouble in the wind
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind
O it's "Please to walk in front sir," when there's trouble in the wind.

[...]

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is Country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

#37 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 04:54 PM:

And Saturday, we call the roll, and drink in their honor--once for those that went, and once for those that never came back; I haven't the right, but a lot of men will be drinking the third toast--"now it's our turn." I'm in rural Virginia, come from rural Tennessee. They are both long lists.

#38 ::: Spam Deleted ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 11:31 AM:

Spam from 91.78.189.243

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.