“The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it, the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces."
- Erich Maria Remarque (All Quiet On The Western Front, Trans. from the German by A. W. Wheen)
One of the first things a child learns is that there are mysteries and elders who illuminate those are guides whose wisdom is unchallenged until the budding adult realizes that humans are moony phlegmatics who often make stuff up.
The Ancient races were terrified whenever the sky turned black until they could calculate when eclipses would occur, accompanied by rites and sacrifices. Thanks to the Priests, no one ever died from an eclipse.
Astronomy eventually became common knowledge and a source of wonder rather than fear. That didn't end the power of priests, who just found new mysteries.
...proof is in the pudding...
That's why astronomy can be common knowledge, yet people will still send money to Nigerian Princes or believe that the earth is flat.
Professor Ivy's controversial 1987 book, "Food Bowls Are Righteous," asserts that if the world was round then dog bowls would constantly slide downhill.
This writer is unable to formulate an intelligent rebuttal to that penetrating observation.
...it isn't enough to know...
It isn't enough to know. If the data doesn't solve the problem, allay a fear, or confirm what the person believes, then it has little power or validity. The notion that somebody wants to give out free gold can be more compelling than knowing that Black Holes are dying stars.
It's more complex than that, of course, as most people know that there's lots of reasons and dynamics in play, and not everyone can be as smart as they are.
We grant the point and move on...
Now that I've established that truth and knowledge aren't absolutes, there's a historical event I'd like to discuss.
...armchair generals and similar types of priests...
The first armchair general was documented in 456,7892 B.C. when a Thessalonian Chieftain decided it was safer to have a high-ranking Satrap lead the Army into battle instead of him.
The new General was subject to micromanaging by the inviolate monarch, which included postgame analysis by warrior commentators who couldn't make it to the battle or were on the injured list.
It was known as "ˌbaksēt ˈdrīvər" which has no English equivalent but roughly translates to "Telling the chariot driver how to steer the horses."
The modern archetype was first described in pictures on a clay pickle jar in 567,8910 B.C. when fierce warriors in the region now known as Chicago staged a mock battle to celebrate the glorious victory of the Bears over the Red Sox in the Peloponnesian War.
The ASCII illustrations on the jar show several men standing off to one side, critiquing the tactics used by the two tribal generals and expressing dismay that the armor used by the warriors wasn't period correct.
Noted War Expert and dog food blogger Professor Ivy of Shitzu U translated the passage in 1967, which reads:
"Notede camp gamæ critic atticuſ mcdougal gavæ th' mock c'mbaÞ onlī 2 stars, nōn-ọ̄ther sin th' armor ophe th' warriorſ waſ from th' sinnen perioede a'd th' explosionſ weræ obviouslī fakæ."
Other Armchair Generals added more clarity on the Rotten Rutabaga site:
"Marcis Ohreally is miscast as the gentle, sensitive commander who was forced to execute 800 of his men for dress code violations and flinching when the arrows showered down upon their heads."
Professor Ivy also noted in her translation, "Sometimes it's necessary for those who haven't seen combat to define martial values like courage and sacrifice as most soldiers are too preoccupied with their survival to delve into ethereal concepts of war."
That original Tribal Chief found that when a general was killed, there were plenty of others eager to take his place. This allowed him to concentrate on essential duties of state and a harem of 1,234 wives.
The brave Chief suffered a heart attack at around the 500th wife but luckily, there were 23 male heirs. After 22 died suddenly, the 23rd, a spry young man named Hoosier Acropolis assumed the throne.
His first task was to start a war, of course, so he summoned the latest general to give him the order.
The problem was Hoosier had no idea who to invade or how. Luckily, the General who was named Trojan Horace said it would be taken care of and all the Chieftain had to do was equip the Army, and he'd take of the rest.
Hoosier looked at the bill and wondered why the toilet seats cost 50 gold pieces each. Also, the new chariots that fired machine gun arrows weren't operational due to problems with the high-tech wheels that used innovative square geometry that would prevent cowards from retreating.
He decided that war must be like predicting eclipses and appointed a priest to handle the mysterious art, and went back to the vital task of creating a male heir with his harem of 646 wives.
...the original Pentagon...
The War Priest's first task was to commission a series of bronze tablets inscribed with stirring tales of the young Chieftain's courage in battle and prowess in bed, having reached wife number 323 before his untimely death from a hernia and dehydration.
This work, known as "The Bayou Tapestry" is considered the first published novel because nothing in it was true, though it's become a valued reference work on many Internet history web sites.
...now about modern warfare literature...
War literature is generally one of two types; Tales of great warriors and leaders that tend to be pro-management in sentiment or anti-war tracts written mainly by war veterans (or those who empathize with them).
That and movies. There are ultra-bloody and gory "war is hell" films that portray leaders as egotistical cretins who waste people's lives and live in luxury. Such celluloid tales won't be discussed in this blog because it isn't clear if Hollywood is talking about the Pentagon or studio heads and producers.
Please note that I've oversimplified for brevity and to meet the exacting standards of accuracy required for Internet commentary, which has a plus-minus rate of error of 50%.
...sides of the same coin...
Two classic works provide compelling views of both sides; Sun Tzu's "Art Of War" and "All Quiet On The Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque.
Sun Tzu's manual was written sometime before 500 B.C., and like Homer, it's not clear if he was an actual person. The first English translation was in 1910 and was probably a cult item amongst Military types until it became a popular primer on leadership in business and other fields that purport to have leaders.
It isn't a pro-war book in the classic sense but some of it's popularity can be attributed to what could be called the "Cult Of Leadership," or the idea that a leader is responsible for the success of an army or organization.
An old war movie with this sensibility (like from the 40s or 50s) would depict an army or group of soldiers transformed into an enthusiastic bunch by a charismatic leader (generally a handsome alpha male) who also comes up with a clever trick that baffles the enemy and sends them running for home or to meet their maker.
More recent movies (with some exceptions) take it a step further and make it seem like battles are won by rock star warriors who break the rules, have guns that never run out of ammo, and please some of the males in the audience by bringing female officers down a peg or two.
That might be true for elite units that perform special missions, but after all the brilliant strategy and planning in World War 2, for example, Omaha Beach was stormed by regular guys just doing their duty and doing most of the dying.
Most amateur historians and war buffs will discuss strategy and tactics and critique the leadership.
Which is important; leadership is an indispensable element but like with analytics in Pro Sports, it's easy to talk theory and probabilities because that's what the ordinary person can see. Books like The Art Of War give readers a picture that's easier to grasp.
Which is good. Even though the Military History genre has its share of jingo's, tech geeks, and war porn addicts, it's also produced valuable anti-war literature and a sub-genre of what could be called realistic war studies.
There's one book in the latter category that comes to mind, "The Face Of Battle" by John Keegan.
Keegan's book studied three battles that occurred in the same area of Flanders in France; Agincourt, Waterloo and Somme Offensive.
The book was a then groundbreaking study that examined what really happens during a battle. That is to say, what men actually did as opposed to the more poetic descriptions like "the men charged forward in an irresistible wave that carried all before them."
Keegan's book describes accounts by soldiers about men being issued gin or rum before battle, so they fought drunk, cavalry that avoided mixing it up and riding in opposite directions, Military Police behind the lines to catch deserters and shirkers, sergeants carrying spears in the gunpowder to push the line of soldiers forward if they faltered and many other fascinating facts.
The question that Keegan examined the closest was what made men fight when the battlefield was so terrifying.
...the common factor...
The most common reason highlighted in modern war movies was that men fought for each other. Which is undoubtedly true.
However, it's more complicated than that. The Face Of Battle delineates a list of factors from patriotism (professed by people at home as well as the commanders), peer pressure, threat of punishment, training to bypass the fear reflex, and tactics that place soldiers in situations that trigger the survival instinct or rescue comrades.
Those aren't factors that John Keegan made up. The book "All Quiet On The Western Front," written in 1929 by a war veteran, pretty much says the same thing (more on that later).
...how to make war...
James Dunnigan's 1983 "How To Make War" was a similar book for the World War 3 High Tech era. Unlike commentary that assumes weapons work as advertised, he took a hard look at the actual stats. He created a survey of modern armies and their hardware that differentiated between what people think a weapon will do and what it actually does.
It may seem vulgar or less important than a football betting line to have a working knowledge of military hardware. You might not be fooled into buying the Brooklyn Bridge for not knowing, but someone will sell you (the taxpayer) a destroyer that cost billions and couldn't use the main gun because the shells cost 800,000 each.
Such books are about the less sexy subject of logistics. It's more appealing to discuss strategy on the intellectual level or talk about warriors who lust for battle and kick butt a la Braveheart.
It's not a coincidence that veterans often write anti-war novels. They see a different picture than the general public does.
In a key passage in Remarque's remarkable work, the main character Paul ruminates on how he ended up on the Western Front, and all of the factors that Keegan later wrote about are present. The sense of duty remains, but all of the glamor is gone.
...back to the movies...
Movies often focus on gore as it's an entertainment medium and serious anti-war films rarely sell tickets. The ones that do well focus on soldiers doing a dirty job that has to be done, complaints about management, and the glory of sacrifice.
The elephant in the room is the morality of war, and the usual plot device is to talk about the horror and futility but ignore the most obvious solution of refusing to do it (which happened a lot throughout history).
There have been instances of large-scale mutiny. In World War One, a large part of the French Army went on strike after yet another battle that became a bloodbath. They didn't quit or desert but made it clear that there'd be no more offensives until changes were made.
The leaders were arrested (and some executed) but the French Leadership did appoint a new commander who promised that there would be no more wasteful attacks. This incident was, of course, kept secret from the Germans who would certainly would gone all out demanded terms had they known.
The French civilians didn't know either, having been fed a steady diet of victory news and takes of courageous feats. If they'd known, it would have probably created as big an outcry as the American public did during the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War.
Although war buffs describe that situation as the American public (particularly Walter Cronkite) not seeing that it was a tactical victory for the American Army, it shows what happens when the Pentagon (and Intelligence agencies) gets called on B.S.
There are practical reasons for wartime leaders to keep secrets, of course, and a good example of what happens when the people and Army publicly lose faith in their leaders is the Russian Revolution. People generally think a bunch of Socialists just took over the country, but it was preceded by the complete collapse of the Army and surrender to the Germans.
...but it is complicated...
And to be fair, one does have to acknowledge that war is a complicated issue, and once the soldiers are committed, it's generally too late to start pondering the necessity or morality.
...in the trenches...
As Paul in the book All Quiet On The Western Front realized, in the trenches, there was little he could do about it except try to survive.
The Sun Tzu book doesn't help one understand war because any book of axioms gives the impression that there's a formula for victory. That effect is more pronounced in modern times because leaders no longer lead their men into battle (as opposed to Civil War Generals who died at twice the rate of the infantry). The further from the front, the more theoretical people get.
That's simplifying things a bit too much, but it's true. Wellington may have told his brigade commanders at the Battle Of Waterloo that they had to hold even if the cannon fire was devastating, but he did understand what the order meant because they were all under fire.
Most battle plans are conceived by rare geniuses or the more numerous average, mediocre or incompetent leaders. However, after all that, men still have to slug it out, and most attacks succeed due to better training and equipment, attrition, hard fighting, and luck.
And, of course, the remarkable and admirable courage of the average soldier. Which is why one will find more truth in a book like All Quiet On The Western Front than The Art Of War.
Paul found himself in a terrifying situation, with no easy answers to the questions he asked himself but he did his duty.
The author Remarque served as a soldier in W.W. 1 and was severely wounded, so his book told the truth and asked the hard questions. His story didn't answer the question of why there's war, but it helped create the anti-war genre.
If veterans from each war keep writing books that ask, perhaps one day someone will be able to give an answer that everyone will agree upon. Until then, I hope they keep asking.
ANNOUNCEMENT: On The Road With Al & Ivy, The Anthology Vol 1 (2016-2018) now live!
I've put out an ebook called "On The Road With Al & Ivy - The Anthology Vol. 1." It contains the 30 blog entries from 2016 to 2018, which cover the start and end of my homeless journey. All have been re-edited with minimal revisions and notes to ensure clarity but preserves the mood and atmosphere of that period.
The Anthology has been placed as a free ebook on Kobo (epub) and as a .99 Kindle book on Amazon (which is as low as I can set it). The Kobo version is the same as the Kindle, except it doesn't have the introduction (which is reprinted later in this blog entry).
Both versions are available now.
I'll keep the free Kobo epub live until late July which will give anybody who wants a free copy plenty of time to download it.
After that, I'm going to pull Volume 1 off Kobo and enroll it in the Kindle Unlimited program and run it as a free book there for five days when it's eligible.
I had considered "going wide" with it but didn't want a multitude of free versions in different formats floating around in cyberspace.
Note: Feel free to share the book with friends, etc. Please do not upload it to any book site or distributor. It would force me to issue takedown requests to clear the deck for the transition to Kindle.
The print version of the Delta Snake Review in the 80s was free (paid subscription if you wanted to get it by mail), yet at least one record store packaged it in sealed plastic and charged for it. I'm still a little salty about that.
I doubt that'll happen with this ebook but I do want a reasonable certainty as to where it's being distributed and want it in a nice format that keeps it a respectable work of art.
I consider it an archival project, and once it's set as a K.U. Ebook, will let it ride with just basic promotional effort after the free giveaway. It makes these 30 entries available to those who want it, and it's been a valuable first experience in the ebook environment.
I'm compiling the 2019-2022 blogs as volume 2. The entries after 2018 evolved into a literary magazine-style format that encompassed essays, satire, photos, and illustrations.
I'm not adding the 80s-era jazz-blues poetry referenced in the blogs is because its going to become an illustrated collection along the lines of of William Blake's "Illuminated books," a series of hand drawn works starting in 1788. Esoteric for sure, but almost all poetry these days is a labor of love.
I'll be doing an essay on Blake's Illuminated books at some point, so the reference will make more sense, but those are available in Kindle format if you're curious (and the samples aren't tied up with long introductions that keep you from the main body of the work).
Since those blog entries won't be unpublished, I'll be free to format the volume in discrete re-edited and revised sections though the drawings will probably be kept with the associated essays.
The idea will be to give readers a convenient, low-cost (probably .99) anthology of "back issues" and not to replace the blog, which remains free to read in chronological order. It's not a priority project but should be out around the summer of 2023.
...I, Ivy and Vella books update...
The "I, Ivy" book on Kindle Vella will be unpublished on August 28 and there have been no new chapters loaded since the initial debut.
The reason is that I'd like it to be available to overseas readers. The "Quitters" book is mainly targeted at an American audience but my hope is that the Ivy book will appeal to a wider audience.
I'm shooting for a late September release date for a series of novella length ebooks. Each "I, Ivy" volume will be around 25,000 words and priced accordingly.
I'm going to revise the first three chapters that are online as those are currently written for the episodic Vella environment and seem a bit too sparse for an ebook.
The Quitters book should wrap up in early August and a book two will begin in October as a Vella series. Like with the Ivy book, that volume will be novella length (though more in the 45,000 word range) and after revision, be released as a low cost Kindle ebook.
That schedule may seem tight but the Ivy book is intended to be a light work that's fun to write (and hopefully to read), and the Quitters will mainly have material added that was left out of the Vella version.
Here's the intro to the Anthology Vol.1
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 1 (2016-2018)
This anthology begins from the point I became homeless, or more specifically when I admitted it. "On The Road With Al & Ivy" was supposed to be a part of my Delta Snake Review blog, which focused on music and instrument reviews.
The idea was to make it one of many features on the site. The first few entries drew a lot of readers. The visits went from 3,000 to 75,000 in two months, most of it from Twitter users. It was never clear why but Twitter labeled the Delta Snake Review on Google's Blogspot as an unsafe site which had a chilling effect on readership. Google and Twitter were in some dispute, which might have been the reason. A Twitter friend suggested that I might have been caught in a "reply trap" in which a group of users tagged me as a spammer, which can trigger a ban.
I posted the link from another blog site as a workaround rather than give up the Delta Snake. It was intended as a temporary measure as Twitter was the only site that flagged it. I eventually decided to spin it off as a separate entity which Twitter allowed. It took time for readers to return since most had been told it was a dangerous site.
That means many of the early entries will seem new. I kept posting entries even though a lot of the audience had gone away, which is what any true writer will do. My original plan was to revisit the early "On The Road With Al And Ivy" entries and correct any misspelled words and that sort of thing.
One of the first things I noticed was that the entries were no longer in chronological order. Another oddity was that passages taken out in 2017 (after deciding to write a book about that time) were all back in. The mess was bad enough that it was easier to pull those entries from the site and reissue the re-edited material as an ebook, including the previously deleted material.
One thing I knew would happen is that the essays feel different in tone and style (than those written in the last few years). The 2016 blogs were written by a person averaging two to four hours of sleep for a couple of months and had lost access to high blood pressure and anxiety meds. I was stressed and often snarky or angry even when trying to be humorous. My emotions ranged from forced optimism to grudging acceptance of the situation.
My writing style used conventions that one could say were influenced by Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller and Tom Wolfe.
In retrospect, that seems to be the case. Writing a collection of thoughts, fragments, and observations is well suited to a writer whose emotional state is wildly fluctuating. It's a sketchpad with every immediate impression written down.
As a result, the subjects can range from deeply thought-out ideas to obsessions over trivialities.
There's a complete picture there when taken as a whole.
I was often embarrassed by my writing but resisted the temptation to correct grammar or split the long Beat-style paragraphs into "proper English" sentences. These early chapters are more topical and reflect the emotions of a person trying to understand what was going on and why.
There are several essays in this volume that are too strident and even a bit wrong or unfair but valuable as a snapshot of a homeless person's mindset and worth keeping unchanged. It was reassuring that the material now seems remote and shows that I've been recovering from the PTSD experienced later on. It makes me grateful for the small comforts of ordinary life.
It's not a continuous narrative. I allude to events that were documented elsewhere on social media sites but decided to keep notes and references to a minimum. It's a collection of snapshots and updates that capture a mood, and Filling the book with explanations and notes would mute the impact.
That abruptness isn't an affectation or stylistic decision. My time sense changed out there, and life went from moment to moment rather than the passing of minutes and hours.
For reasons explained in the book, life felt like a blur that merged events from the past and present. Each blog entry described what was on my mind at the time. I left in passages that now seem overly dramatic or even scatterbrained. It's because there's a mood that editing would mute or destroy, so I'll just trust that readers will see the intent.
For example, there are some comments about capitalism that might anger those who view it as a faith or natural law, but the point wasn't to preach Socialism or revolution. The underlying sensibility is that there is inequity in the system and it's natural to be angry or disappointed about it.
A lot of what I wrote came from conversations with other homeless. They all aren't in a drug stupor and why they're out there is a compelling question that's talked about a lot.
There were some features about Ivy that were deleted but mainly because those were part of the pictorials that were left out. The essays were kept in, including her obituary.
I still wish that I'd have been able to bring her out alive, but I didn't leave her there and made sure her remains arrived at the new home before me. That fulfilled a promise that made in 2016 and will be explained in the upcoming novel.
These chapters are source material but contain no spoilers and are deliberately vague at times to avoid outing people. For example, I didn't identify benefactors because there were homeless at the time who'd search out names to solicit cash.
In the forward for the novel, there'll be full thanks for my rescue. That said, I'll get out of your way and let you read this ebook but will add one final thing.
A woman who was a homeless advocate and activist wrote me in 2016 and said that the blog made it feel like she was in the car experiencing all these things.
I hope you feel the same way and pray that none of you will ever have to live the life this book describes.
- Al Handa 6/23/2022
END OF BOOK EXCERPT
Don't for get to check out The Quitters on Kindle Vella!