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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Shot from the Shadows: A World Record

A British soldier has just set a world record for going to a country that is not his own and while there killing two of the inhabitants from afar by sniper fire.   If there can be any thankfulness here, this entry in the Guiness book will not be for total number of victims.   Instead the record pertains to the distance of his attack. From a mile and a half away, this man's special rifle propelled two bullets aimed well enough to hit and kill two people who could not have heard the shots, much less seen someone firing at them.

The deceased men were called members of the Taliban in one place and Al-Qaeda in another, though I don't think the two groups are considered to be one and the same.   They could've been just regular Afghan Pashtun farm boys, doing what they have been doing for centuries, fighting to expel invaders, especially the British.  But the British, having already been knifed out of there several times through the years, never seem to learn, and now they are helping lead the U.S. down the same bloody and seemingly hypnotic but easily futile track.

So it goes in what passes for today's warfare.

I'll always remember a moment when I was in the ROTC at predominantly Rainbow (.i.e. "black") Howard University, while we were standing around one day waiting to be given an order of some kind.  Someone in the formation remarked wryly that the wars of the future -- this was in the early 1950's -- would be pushbutton wars -- "The white boys will push 'em, and the niggers will polish em."  Those of us standing there would, of course, be the niggers.

Missiles, sniper fire, drones -- the main idea these days is to use technology to inflict sudden death on the enemy from afar and by stealth, and the farther off the better.  This is thought to be good, because it leaves the enemy wondering, as he cannot immediately find a target to fire upon in return -- though he will in time.

Why is there no recognition of the essential cowardice involved here, and instead the killing of a human being is treated merely in terms of setting records, as if someone had swum across the English Channel in ten minutes flat, or if someone had wolfed down a truckload of hotdogs in just one short session of frantic gorging?  Where are the days of using warfare's legal sanction to murder not by stealth but by the use of one-to-one combat, in which the fighters had a chance to size up their opponents, look into each other's eyes, assess their weaponry, and engage in a lot of pre-battle invective, before finally going to it?

It seems to me that I have read that that is what warriors used to do in various places in the golden ages of organized mayhem.  The two armies would line up in opposing formations, and then presumably the best fighter in each force would advance to meet each other in single combat while everyone else looked on.   Then, after they had had a suitable duel to the death, the armies would then turn and troop back to their camps and the serious drinking, with an enjoyable day having been had by all, and with the bonus of one or hopefully both the main troublemakers on the two sides having properly disposed of themselves.

Not too many centuries ago, the Japanese had a large and well-developed firearms industry, before the samurai warriors finally realized that it was drastically wrong and disgraceful to allow the firing of bullets through metal tubes in waging war.   Where was the grace and the ethos in that?   It meant that with a bare minimum of instruction and no knowledge of the achievements of their ancestors, peasants of no social standing at all could stand back and pick off charging noblemen before the samurai, with centuries of tradition and years of practice behind them, including on peasants who so much as looked cross-eyed at them, could get within sword range and dispatch the farm boys with one short swing of a gorgeously appointed blade. 

Thereupon the samurai induced the shogun to order the confiscation of all the guns in Japan, with no more ever to be manufactured, and all the firearms were melted down and used to cast gigantic statues of Buddha.

Thus the power of the farm boys was short-lived, and "honor" was restored, though admittedly it also meant that the same old S.O.B.'s could then return to doing the same injustices and the other S.O.B.

The only small saving grace was that it did make for better samurai movies later.

Every once in a great while you will see a samurai film in which guns are being wielded, and it creates a very jarring note that would be best left out completely.   There is nothing more beautiful in the whole field of armed combat than the sword affrays in Japanese movies, especially the prolonged posturing with the blades before the actual damage starts -- though we are told that in real life these duels never lasted more than a few seconds before someone was down and out of it for good.  All samurai were supposedly that lethal.  But at least all the participants had been clearly visible to each other beforehand, for various amounts of time.


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