a superhuman decision?

I had one of those moments on the bus earlier on reading these words from Aleksandr Solzhenistyn which are taken from one of his books ‘The Oak and the Calf’.
(I wasn’t reading them in that though. I was reading them in a study book by Os Guinness which I had grabbed quickly of a shelf in one of those moments when you feel that you you should buy something to show support for the small shop that you had wandered into)

‘From dawn to dusk the correction and copying of Gulag went forward; I could scarcely keep the pages moving fast enough. Then the typewriter started breaking down every day, and I had either to solder it myself or take it to be repaired. This was the most frightening moment of all: we had the only original manuscript and all the typed copies of Gulag there with us. If the KGB suddenly descended, the many throated groan, the dying whisper of millions, the unspoken testament of those who had perished, would all be in their hands, and I would never be able to reconstruct it all, my brain would never be capable of it again.
     I could have enjoyed myself so much, breathing the fresh air, resting, stretching my cramped limbs, but my duty to the dead permitted no such self indulgence,They are dead. You are alive. Do your duty. The world must know all about it.
    They could take my children hostage – posing as “gangsters,” of course. (They did not know that we had thought of this and made a superhuman decision: our children were no dearer to us than the memory of the millions done to death, and nothing could make us stop that book.)’

It was those last lines about making a ‘superhuman decision’. One of the questions Os Guinness asks is:-

‘ What was Solzhenitsyn’s decision about his children? How does this compare with the common modern maxim that “work” never comes above “family”? Which of the two is closer to the teachings of Jesus?’

 

that droning noise

I notice that apart from the widespread complaint that the German pilotless planes ‘seem so unnatural’ (a bomb dropped by a live airman is quite natural, apparently), some journalists are denouncing them as barbarous, inhumane, and ‘an indiscriminate attack on civilians’.

After what we have been doing to the Germans over the past two years, this seems a bit thick, but it is the normal human response to every new weapon. Poison gas, the machine-gun, the submarine, gunpowder, and even the crossbow were similarly denounced in their day. Every weapon seems unfair until you have adopted it yourself. But I would not deny that the pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be, is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles, it gives you time to think. What is your first reaction when you hear that droning, zooming noise? Inevitably, it is a hope that the noise won’t stop. You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead and die away into the distance before the engine cuts out. In other words, you are hoping that it will fall on somebody else. So also when you dodge a shell or an ordinary bomb—but in that case you have only about five seconds to take cover and no time to speculate on the bottomless selfishness of the human being.’

George Orwell, 30 June 1944

 

“Said a day laborer, “I can’t sleep at night because when the drones are there … I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can’t sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just makes me so scared.” Added a politician, people “often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming because they are hallucinating about drones.”

 

Would you have nightmares if they flew over your house?

 

“When children hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they’re always fearful that the drone is going to attack them,” an unidentified man reported. “Because of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed, women, men, and children. … Twenty-four hours, a person is in stress and there is pain in his head.”

‘Every Person Is Afraid of the Drones’: The Strikes’ Effect on Life in Pakistan

Dirty Wars


Some of the camera work and hushed voiced commentary in this Oscar nominate documentary nearly drove me demented. Also the fact that what most seemed to shock Jeremy Scahill was that the US would assassinate US citizens. He was shocked that the US would kill Yemeni and Afghan women and children but once it was a US citizen it seemed to really shocked him. Why is this particularly beyond the pale?
It tells the story of how the US fights covert wars using JSoc (Joint Special Operations Command ) which seems to be an unaccountable hit squad who have to answer no one except the President himself. They are assassins, covert secretive Special Forces who can take out targets in the middle of the night. If they get things wrong they don’t have to face the music because they are doing it in secret They have struck in over 70 countries. 70 countries! In a way they are like Obama’s paramilitary or death squad. What happens if the guy after Obama is even worse than Obama? What happens when they couple this with the intelligence gathering from the NSA? Someone who voices dissent about the US and stirs up trouble (trouble as defined by some secretive people we know nothing about) could find themselves in deep trouble.

I have no time for Obama or the US Government and pontificating about Ukraine and the Crimea or international law. Putin is creepy, Obama is creepy as well.To blow up women in children with cruise missiles in countries or drone strikes or to tell foreign presidents to keep journalists locked up for telling the truth is wrong. The Navy SEAL’s etc aren’t modern day folk heroes, they’re men who kill their enemies and killing isn’t something to be proud of.
So I recommend the film if you can stick with the camera work.

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Although as a child I was aware of The Troubles on my doorstep I was too young to worry about the state of the wider world.  Things such as the Cold War didn’t effect me. But it must have played on the minds of people like my parents.
I remember dad mentioning in passing that some people thought a meteorite that fell in the late 1960’s over Ulster  was a nuclear bomb. What else would have caused the night sky to light up like that?
Ever since reading Hiroshima last week I have been reflecting on the nuclear arms race and wondering why men raced to produce bombs so powerful and destructive.
It seemed like as good a time as any to watch Dr Strangelove. My feeling about the film is that it is overrated. Yet I am watching now in a world that hasn’t just experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis. So maybe it is like Bob Dylan. I think he is over-rated as well, but if I had been living through the 60’s how would that change my perspective?


There is one line in the film that stands out, a line about one B-52 carrying bombs with the same amount of explosive power as all the bombs exploded by all the sides during World War II. And as for things going wrong by mistake, this is the sort of incident that happened in the 60’s. Part of me is grateful for not being aware of this stuff growing up.

Hiroshima, a terrible book

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I liked the retro look of this Penguin book yesterday, it seemed vintage and cool. Never judge a book by it’s cover though as it is easily the most horrific book I have ever read.

First published in 1946 it  recounts the experience of six  eyewitnesses on the day that the first first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima . What follows is hell on earth as far as I can see, human beings suffering or in pain and literally not knowing what has hit them.

In general John Hersey shows little emotion and just tries to tell the story of these survivors without adding too much of his interpretation on events. At one point though when describing the effect of radiation on survivors he writes:-

‘And, as if nature were protecting man against his own ingenuity, the reproductive processes were affected for a time; men became sterile, women had miscarriages, menstruation stopped.’

One thing that caught me of guard was the two of these eyewitnesses (and survivors) where Christian  voices, one a German Jesuit and the other a Japanese Methodist minister.

At one stage in the unfolding carnage this Methodist minister, Mr Tanimoto is called to the house of a dying wealthy man in the city, a man who had been anti-Christian and accused Mr Tanimoto of being a spy for the Americans. He goes to help this Mr Tanaka and finds him in a tomb like shelter, his face and arms puffed up, eyes swollen shut, covered in pus and blood, As John Hersey recounts:-

‘Standing at the shelter stairway to get light Mr Tanimoto read loudly from a Japanese-language pocket Bible: ” For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told…”
   Mr Tanaka died as Mr Tanimtoto read the psalm’


Dresden – 14th February, 1945

Dresden - 14th February, 1945

I’d read Eagle and Victor comics in bed.
Sometimes I’d curl under the blanket and pretend that I was snug in the gun turret of a Lancaster bomber somewhere over the German countryside.
I was ace on that gun. I took out Messerschmitt’s.

I wonder if any boys fought or died in Iraq, Afghanistan after being stirred into action from reading comics and dreaming in blanket gun turrets?

the war came down on us here

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The end of Nimmo’s Pier is a nice spot in Galway, you can look up the river towards the town and imagine Christopher Columbus  sailing in and going to St Nicholas’ church all those centuries ago.
Apparently it is all a good place for birdwatching, particularly gulls. Though I’m a bird watcher and admired the oystercatchers and  curlew , I don’t pay particular attention to gulls. But perhaps  now is the time to start. I’m by the sea!
The little lectern at the end of the pier reminds me of pulpit a  minister might use to preach at the city, but instead of holding  sermon notes it holds a bronze plaque dedicated to the poet Louis MacNeice with a poem he wrote on the pier at the start of World War II.

Galway

O the crossbones of Galway
The hollow grey houses,
The rubbish and sewage,
The grass-grown pier,
And the dredger grumbling
All night in the harbour:
The war came down on us here.

Salmon in the Corrib
Gently swaying
And the water combed out
Over the weir
And a hundred swans
Dreaming on the harbour:
The war came down on us here.

The night was gay
with the moon’s music
But Mars was angry
On the hills of Clare
And September dawned
Upon Willows and ruins
The war came down upon us here