Scarce heard amid the guns below

As readers of this blog would know, I’ve been trying over the last couple of years to gain a better understanding of the two world wars. While I often marvel at the spectacle of war, the notion of it makes me sick…old men sending young men to die for ridiculous ends, equating war-making with jingoistic patriotism, etc.  My attempt to understand it has already given me a better sense of how and why these wars unfolded, but what I’ve read has been a historical look back. I had little appreciation for what it must have felt like to a soldier. I count myself very fortunate that I’ve never been in or in any way near a war zone.

Our recent trip to France helped me get some of that perspective. The ground at Vimy still torn up from shelling. The long, exposed run at Juno Beach with nothing between you and a German bunker but luck and prayer. The trenches at Beaumont-Hamel, with enemies almost impossibly close together. In each of these places I stopped, tried to put myself in the place of a soldier, and each time felt nervous, even frightened. I actually got physically tense. I tried to imagine myself running up that beach or climbing the firing steps, and I’d get a lump in my throat. I kept thinking to myself, how could anyone do this? How could someone charge with shells exploding around and tracers whizzing past? Just typing this now the memory is still vivid, and the lump has come back.

Whatever atrocities are committed by front-line soldiers — and those atrocities are many — it’s not their choice to be there. The tragic, unfair, unholy situation in which they find themselves spurs some to evil, some to heroism, but most simply — incredibly — to bravery. Those are who we saw buried by the thousands in the valley of the Somme this summer, and whose names were etched on the side of the Vimy memorial. Those are who we remember today.

An allied cemetery just south of Arras, on the way to Beaumont-Hamel, one of many we saw driving through the Somme valley. Mainly British and Australian, but we found Canadians there as well. Most markers had no name or nationality, and simply read A Soldier of the Great War, Known Unto God.
Serre Road Cemetery No. 2. An allied cemetery just south of Arras, on the way to Beaumont-Hamel, one of many we saw driving through the Somme valley. Mainly British and Australian, but we found Canadians there as well. Most markers had no name or nationality, and simply read 'A Soldier of the Great War, Known Unto God'.

"Most people I've meet hardly seem like human beings to me anymore."

A Remembrance Day parade just down Church street this afternoon.


It was a busy days, internets. We were up early, at Home Depot by 8:15 this morning, and back home painting by 9:00. Well…I wasn’t painting, but Nellie and GB were. I provided logistical support (fetching breakfast, moving furniture, etc.) as I am teh suck when it comes to painting. However, those two were very fast; they did two coats on the living room walls and one and a half coats (don’t ask) in the bedroom. The living room is now a very awesome gray. It looks great, and it feels great to have some color on the walls. Tomorrow we plan to actually put some art on the walls! Like we actually live here!

Tonight we relaxed (Nellie’s actually ready to pass out any minute now), ordered some Thai from the new place across the street (which was very good) and watched one of the movies we PVR’d during TMN‘s free preview weekend: Down In The Valley (imdb | rotten tomatoes). It was…weird. The first half is a standard fish out of water, girl falls for the weird loner, pseudo love story. The second half is a western/chase movie set in the San Fernando valley. Like I said…weird. I wouldn’t recommend it.

We started to watch two other movies from the free preview: Strangers With Candy (which we stopped watching after half an hour…maybe I missed something by never seeing the show but I just didn’t find it that funny) and Aeon Flux (I didn’t even want to record it, but Nellie likes dumb action movies sometimes. I couldn’t even watch it.). We also recorded Volver and Hollywoodland.


This book review in The New Republic makes my brain swim. It’s about Jack Goldsmith’s book detailing his time as assistant attorney general in the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel. The review covers the book itself, but also gives the reader a synopsis of what it must have been like for Goldsmith and others like him, given the unilateral way in which the Bush administration has operated.

Within a matter of days, Goldsmith learned that he was expected to kowtow to the White House’s legal demands…Battle after battle took place, with Goldsmith saying that the president was not at liberty to do this or that and the White House disagreeing. At one point Addington warned Goldsmith that “if you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” All of this made Goldsmith, an honest and learned man who did not like to see the Constitution traduced by ideology or power, more than despondent, and eventually he left the Department of Justice.

Frightening, since this office is set up to provide counsel to an executive branch struggling with some immense legal issues. It wasn’t long-lived though:

But alas, much of Goldsmith’s handiwork would soon be undone. After his departure, his more pliant successor, Steven Bradbury, gave the administration what it wanted. According to a recent New York Times story that could easily serve as an epilogue to Goldsmith’s book, the administration put Bradbury on a probationary period as acting head of OLC, refusing formally to nominate him until they had seen how he would rule in his acting capacity on a variety of issues.

The full review isn’t that long, and is well worth reading. I assume the book is too, if you want to understand what it feels like for a principled, rational man (who is no left wing lawyer, by the way) to find himself surrounded by ideologues.

[tags]remembrance day, home depot, painting, down in the valley, strangers with candy, aeon flux, jack goldsmith, new republic[/tags]