WRITTEN IN THIS YEAR OF WAR

 

WRITTEN IN THIS YEAR OF WAR.

 

Written in this Year of War,

Dedicated now this poem,

To all the weapons never used,

sitting silent in silo’s.

O silent sitting in silo’s.

 

The swords still sheathed,

The rifles stacked,

the Cold Warriors still unthawed.

The Power Corridors still unstalked,

the Lies unspoken, poison-forked,

The mile the dead man never walked,

the hard road and the hard rain.

Yeah, the hard road and the hard rain.

 

The orphans never burned in flame,

The Hate that dared not speak its name,

Great generals and their little games,

now retired to the Far Pavilions.

Yes, retired to the Far Pavilions.

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Book of the Week: “HEROES- History’s Greatest Men & Women” by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Quercus Pub., 2007)

When I was a bit of a lad at primary school, the Dickensian Queensland Education Department was still teaching us using texts books from the pre-war years. (Which war I am still uncertain. Quite possible the Boer war.)

One such primer that fell into my hands at the time was a little book of potted biographies of the “Great Men” of history (and Joan of Arc), who could provide a heroic example for the British Empire’s growing young sons to emulate in the next war. Hannibal, as I recall, was listed, as was Henry V and quite possible Richard “the Lion Hearted.” Forty years later, this book, despite its more impressive typesetting and format, is not a million miles removed, conceptually speaking.

Cynic that I am, it’s long been my contention that anyone in history who acquires the superlative of being known as “The Great” (as in Constantine the Great, Frederic the Great, Pompey the Great, Charlemagne, etc) did so largely through the agency of being a murderous psychopath who waded through fields of blood to achieve their “Greatness.” This book does little to change my view. Still, unlike my old primary school primer, this coffee table edition does at least include artistic “greats” in its pantheon as well as the usual suspects: politicians and generals.

Well, it’s a parlour game isn’t it? Pick the hundred greatest people of all time. Everyone’s list is going to be a bit different. Some selections are ‘no brainers’ and would turn up in most people’s list, reluctantly placed there or otherwise. Hence, Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha rate a mention of course, but I was disappointed to see that Zoroaster (he was the first “Great Teacher” after all), Mahavira and Mani didn’t get equal time.

Yes, you could quibble endlessly. Jefferson gets a look in but Washington doesn’t.

Constantine “the Great” gets mentioned but not Julian the Apostate. It’s just religious prejudice I tells ye!

Marshal Zhukov rates a mention for having more tanks than Hitler. Balancing out the Marshal Russianwise perhaps, I was pleased to see the inclusion of Mikhail Bugakov, author of the darkly splendid “The Master and Margarita”, quite possibly my favourite novel of all time.

Poets are sprinkled a bit thinly: Sappho gets a rating as does Byron but not Shelley, Ginsberg or Bukowski. I’d include Saw Wai, a Burmese poet currently imprisoned for publishing a love poem on Valentines day. It was also an anagram, whose first letter of each line spelled out the message: “The Ultimate General is a Power Crazed Lunatic.” Burmese military authorities were not amused.

Odd selection of writers and artists here. Samuel Pepys but not Swift?! What gives? Toulouse Lautrec but not Van Gogh? Margaret Thatcher and Anne Frank? Strange mix.    Philandering, amphetamine-fueled steroid monster John F Kennedy is also included, presumably for not turning the world into a radioactive ash-heap with his power brinkmanship. Would he have made the top hundred if he hadn’t been assassinated I wonder? Using the same logic John Lennon should have been included in the list, being yet another out of control drunkard with delusions of grandeur and a message of hope who ended up being pop-ed by a nutjob. After all Elvis made the list and he choked on a hamburger. Or was that Mama Cass choked on the hamburger. No, wait.. that was a sandwich, and I now I think about it didn’t Jimi Hendrix choke on vomit? He should have made the list too. Michael Hutchence, who choked himself with a belt, is not included.

Just Kidding. All heroes have their dark sides, after all. Ask Beowulf. Besides, this is the Age of the “Anti-Hero”, we expect our heroes to have flaws. Squarey is a good example. Heroes in fact have always been flawed characters, personalities out of balance as it were, like idiot savants. Achilles had his many flaws and yet he would have served as a heroic archtype to King Leonidas of Sparta, who does make the top hundred list here.

In this regard, I find it interesting that none of the “heroes” listed here are fictional characters, with the possible exception of Jesus they are all historically “real” personalities. Yet I would argue that in today’s modern society, most people would find their heroes, their archetypes for role models, from the worlds of fiction. Early example of this phenomena is found with the Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes situation. The fictional detective ended up more famous and popular than his creator. (After all, its not Conan Doyle’s room they’ve recreated at Baker Street is it?). Just as Leonidas of Sparta and his compatriots once drew inspiration from the fictional character of Achilles from the old Epics, so men of my father’s generation might draw inspiration from Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of hard bitten characters in films of the time.

In a sense (and Herman Hesse picked up on this in ‘Journey to the East’) the public imbues these fictitious characters with a kind of Life-Force when they pour their attention and admiration towards the fictional Personalities they relate to in movies, TV, books, etc.

By way of analogy: the writer/creator is Dr Frankenstein, the actor/character is the Monster, and the public’s ‘suspension of disbelief’ and focused attention is the lightning bolt that brings the Monster to Life. Ah yes, many is the author who has complained about their Creations having a mind of their own and going off on their own tangents.

One could argue that all “heroic” characters are essentially media creations, whether based on an actual personage or not. Once a personality enters the Public Domain of the Archtype, it becomes more of a consensual construct. Many’s the actor or politician who has found their public persona out of their control.

The final, 101st Hero I have no argument with whatsoever with his inclusion on this list. In fact I’d probably make him 1st as he has been a personal hero of mine these last twenty years.

The hero in question is the unknown man who on June 5th 1989 stood alone, unarmed, in front of a column of tanks at Tiananmen Square and attempted to reason with them and talk them out of killing unarmed civilians. Shamed, the tank operators didn’t kill him. When he wouldn’t move they tried to drive around him. He stood in front of the tanks again and blocked their way. Eventually onlookers , concerned for his wellbeing, dragged ‘Tank Man’ back into the relative safety of Anonymity of the Crowd from whence he sprang. But not before a photographer (whose own heroic struggle to ensure these photos reached the world makes him also worthy of inclusion here), had recorded this inspiring scene for posterity.

Ah, Tank Man. These photos still bring tears to my eyes when I see them. What guts! The whole of the Twentieth Century produced no finer example of decency and courage.

Tank Man! In my Heart I stand with you.

O Brothers & Sisters!

When your turn comes to take a Stand,

will you stand by the side of the Tank Man?

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tHE rEVEREND HELLFIRE IS A PRACTISING pERFORMANCE pOET & ORDAINED MINISTER OF THE cHURCH OF SpIRITUAL hUMANISTS

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~ by reverendhellfire on July 18, 2010.

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