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War Has One Timeless Quality


Q. Who invented the term "bite the dust"?
A. Not Geronimo, not John Wayne. Give up? It was Homer.

For nearly three millennia since he put stylus to parchment, recorded history has preserved the stirring tradition of war literature.

In Homer's day, warriors knew each other, summoned foes to hand-to-hand combat, even took pride in the privilege of facing a renowned swordsman or top-ranking spearthrower.

When Achilles felled Hector, that single death crushed the Trojan war machine and sewed up the winning score-Trojans nothing, Greeks everything, including women, children, and anything that would fit into a knapsack.
The scene changed little in the next centuries. Wars came and went, some so small that no poet of Homer's stature bothered to say who earned the most medals, who raped the most damsels.

By Alexander's era, valiance shrank in importance to organization. There were no razzle-dazzle shenanigans like wooden horses full of men to burn the city and decimate sleepy-eyed citizens.

Armies marched on discipline and grit. But, by the time Alexander reached the Indus River, his men had lost touch with home. They had forgotten what and whom they were fighting for.

Julius Caesar revived the noble art of killing. His legions grew so adept at blitzkrieg that he began to fill his notes with the unsubtle boast," As soon as they heard we were coming, they surrendered."

And in his steps marched more gallant warriors-Napoleon, George Washington, Kaiser Wilhelm, Patton, de Gaulle, Rommel, Chiang Kai-shek, Eisenhower.

By the end of World War II, mayhem outstripped the imagination of even the scientists who invented kill power.

Evolving from a scholarly consortium called the Manhattan Project, a single hellish war machine named Fat Boy exterminated an entire city with one soundless flash.

Not only did people die, but some became sick with a new disease which hadn't acquired a name-radiation poisoning.

Nations debated the outcome. The rules changed. Still, sewers cut out more uniforms; cobblers continued to get rich off boots.

As technology improved, wars shifted to global proportions. The invention of air power separated enemies form nose-to-nose confrontation. It became easier to fire long distances, to let out a burst of machine gun fire, to have a smart bomb do the work of punier projectiles.

And mighty factories refined the techniques of delivering the maximum amount of carnage per payload.

The interjection of racial differences, religious variations, and peculiarities of lifestyle made grenades, missiles, flame throwers, and napalm seem more necessary, almost as though one group had to obliterate the other in order for earth to survive.

The people who ate rice fought the people who grilled hot dogs. The people who genuflected to a cross overthrew the ones who prayed on fringed rugs or bowed before incense.

Today, the faces, the uniforms continue to change. The scenery varies. The weapons grow more efficient, more detached, less personal.

Only the dying remains the same.
Charlotte Observer
"Catawba Valley Neighbors,"
March 21, 1993

 

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Mary Ellen Snodgrass Tel/Fax: (828) 324-0155