Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Recommended: The Warrior's Tale by Daniel Greenfield

This is simply the best piece of  commentary I read last Memorial Day.   MH

American Warriors, 1918


 Daniel Greenfield  31 May 2021

The warrior's tale is a simple enough thing. Strong as steel, but fragile as chance. It is the wind in his soul and the wall we build around ourselves to tell us who we are.

Before there were cities or nations, and railways and airports, computers and telephones-- the tale was told around campfires. Acted out in pantomime, dressed up in animal furs and cave paintings. But the tale was the same. The people were confronted with a threat and they called upon the best and strongest of their men to go out and fight it. These were their warriors. What they did in the face of that threat is the tale.

The tale has many variations. Sometimes there are many warriors, sometimes only a handful. They march into the village of the enemy in triumph, or they make a last stand on a rocky outcropping, spending the last of their heart's blood to buy time they will never know. There is the weak man who becomes strong, the strong man who becomes weak, the woman who mourns the man who will never return, and the man who goes off to battle with nothing to lose. These tales have been told countless times in the ages of men, and they will be told again for as long as men endure.

It is not only the warriors who need the tale, or those left behind. Future generation learn who they are from this tale. "We are the people who died for this land," is the unseen moral of each tale. "We bled for it. We died for it. Now it is yours to bleed and die for."

The warrior's tale tells each generation that they stand on the wall against a hostile world. And that the wall is made not of stones, but of their virtues. Their courage, their integrity and their craft.  Theirs is the wall and they are the wall—and if they should fail, then it will fail. And the land and the people will be swept away.

What happens to a people who forget the warrior's tale and stop telling it around their campfires? Worse, what of a people who are taught to despise the figure of the warrior and what he represents? They will not lose their courage, not all of it. But they will lose the direction of that courage. It will become a sudden unexplained virtue that rises to them out of the depths of danger. And their wall will fail.

It is the warrior's tale that makes walls. That says this is the land that we have fought for, and we will go on fighting for it. It is sacrifice that makes mere possession sacrosanct. It is blood that turns right to duty. It is the seal that is above law, deeper still to heritage. Anyone can hold a thing, but it is sacrifice that elevates it beyond possessiveness. And it is that tale which elevates a people from possessors of a land, to the people of the land.

Universalism discards the warrior's tale as abomination. A division in the family of man. Their tale is of an unselfish world where there are no more divisions or distinctions. Where everyone is the same in their own way. But this tale is a myth, a religious idea perverted into totalitarian politics. It is a promise that cannot be kept and a poison disguised with dollops of sugar. It lures the people into tearing down their wall and driving out their warriors.  And what follows is what always does when there is no wall. The invaders come, the women scream, the children are taken captive and the men sit with folded hands and drugged smiles dreaming of a better world.

The warrior's tale explains why we fight in terms of our own history. The Great Swamp Fight. The Shot Heard Round the World. The Battle of New Orleans. Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, Belleau Wood, Pearl Harbor, Heartbreak Ridge, the Tet Offensive, Kandahar, and Fallujah. Generations of sacrifices must be defended. And those who wage war on us must be made to pay.

Universalism demands that war must answer to universal aims and objectives. That there is a universal law higher than war. But this is a children's story. The laws of men derive from their own interests. Those who can rule by force or coalition make their laws to serve their own ends. This is the way of the world.

Those who pretend to live by universalism will still fall to the law of steel. Rhetoric is no defense against fire and lead, and international codes have no defense against those who will break them. The talk may go on, but it is the warriors who will end it. It is still the warrior's tale to tell, even if all others have forgotten it.

The warrior's tale is no happy thing. It is bitter as bile and dark as death. But it is also a grand and glorious thing. For even in its full naked truth, it is the story of perseverance in the face of every agony and betrayal. It is the tale of how we live and why we die.

Even when all others forget their tale, the warriors remember. Even when they are called peacekeepers and turned into an army of clowns for the satisfaction of their political masters. The armies may decay, but warriors still remain in their cracks, on their edges-- men who are not wanted, but are needed because they are the only ones who can do the grim work and do it well. They may only be a hundredth of an army, or a thousandth. A fraction of a fraction. But without them there is no army, only empty uniforms.

When the warrior's tale is forgotten, then they become shadows. Dangerous men despised and feared. Thought of as killers, dismissed as monsters and stared at like beasts in a cage. But the society cannot deny them. It cannot deny that part of them. When the warrior diminishes, the energy is directed elsewhere. Sport becomes an obsession and matches end in bloody violence. Crime increases. Prisons fill up. So do police forces.

As the external war fades, the internal one begins. Barbarians come from without. Buildings burn, mobs rage and there is a savagery in the air.

No law can protect a society that has forgotten the warrior's tale. It will turn outward, and adopt the warriors tales of outsiders. The samurai will replace the cowboy. The sports star will be an outsider. Its heroes will become foreigners. Men who will do understand the virtue of violence and will do what their own have been forbidden. Who have the vital energy that a society without a warrior's tale lacks.

When a people give up their own warrior's tale for that of others, they lose the ability to resist them. For each people's warrior's tale says that we are people, and they are enemies. We are warriors and they are murderers. When a people have no other warrior's tale but that of their enemies, they will come to believe that they are monsters. And that their enemies are brave warriors.

The day will come when they are asked who they are, and they will not know. They will point to their possessions and the names of their streets and cities. They will speak of higher ideals and cringe for not living up to them. They will be asked why they fight, and they will say that they do not want to fight. That all they want is peace at any price.

Even the most powerful of civilizations with the mightiest of cities becomes prey when it forgets the warrior's tale. It takes more than weapons to defend a city, it demands the knowledge of the rightness of their use. It is no use dressing men in uniforms and arming them, if they are not taught the warrior's tale. And it is nearly as little use, sending them off to watch and keep, if the men above them discard the warrior's tale as violent and primitive gibberish.

An army of millions is worth little, without the warrior's tale. Strategy is technique, firepower is capacity, both begin and end with the human mind. "Why do we fight," is the question that the warrior's tale answers far better than any politician could. "We fight because this is ours. It is our honor, our duty and our war. We have been fighting for hundreds and thousands of years. This is what makes us who we are."

We are the people, says the warrior's tale. But we are every people, says the universalist's tale. All is one. There is no difference between us and them. And we will prove it by bringing them here. Then the walls fall and it falls to the warriors to make their last stand. To tell another warrior's tale with their lives.

This is the quiet war between the philosopher merchants who want trade and empire, and the warriors who know that they will be called upon to secure the empire, and then die fighting the enemy at home. It is how the long tale that begins with campfires and ends with burning cities goes. The story that begins with cave paintings and ends with YouTube videos. Whose pen is iron, lead and steel. And whose ink is always blood.

We have been here before. Told and retold the old stories. The forest, the swamp, the hill and the valley. And behind them the lie, the maneuver and the betrayal. The war that becomes unreasoning and the people who forget why they fight. And one by one the warriors slip away. Some to the long sleep in the desert. Others to secluded green places. And still others into the forgetfulness of a people's memory. The hole in the heart of a people who forget themselves and become nothing.


  1. Terrific, thanks! Reminds me of James Bowman’s “Honor: A History.”

  2. Dulce et Decorum Est
    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

    Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
    Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

    In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

  3. Left unspoken, the noblest deeds of men will be forgotten.


  4. The Hero
    'Jack fell as he'd have wished,' the mother said,
    And folded up the letter that she'd read.
    'The Colonel writes so nicely.' Something broke
    In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
    She half looked up. 'We mothers are so proud
    Of our dead soldiers.' Then her face was bowed.

    Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
    He'd told the poor old dear some gallant lies
    That she would nourish all her days, no doubt
    For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
    Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
    Because he'd been so brave, her glorious boy.

    He thought how 'Jack', cold-footed, useless swine,
    Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
    Went up at Wicked Corner; how he'd tried
    To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
    Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
    Except that lonely woman with white hair.
    Siegfried Sassoon


  5. “OK”

    He's down in the corner of the room now.
    There's blood and vomit running down the front of his T-shirt.
    His boxer shorts are pulled down around his knees.
    A urine puddle circles the area around his butt.

    He's mumbling something about "This god damned war!"
    and "That fucking bitch!" and "I'll kill that fucking bastard!"

    He starts crying and slobber pours out of his mouth.
    It oozes down on to his cock, which is dipping it's head
    in and out of a puddle of urine, as he shakes and shudders.

    The room stinks of blood, vomit, booze, and cigarettes.
    Clothes, cans, bottles, and blood stains cover the bed and floor.

    On the nightstand, next to the bed, are opened letters.
    One is from a woman. It starts out, " Dear Jimmy"
    "I've tried to begin this letter so many times."
    "I prayed to God to help me write it in a way that you would understand."

    The other letter is from the DOD. It's another "Dear John" letter.

    He's alone now.
    Alone with his booze, vomit, blood, piss, tears
    confusion, fear, guilt, frustration, shame, anger
    and loneliness.

    Not a mark on him.
    Nothing you can see.
    No scars, no limp, not even a twitch or two.

    He can see it though.
    He can see the blood and brain,
    splattered and sticking all over one side of his cammies.

    Some of it was all over one side of his face.
    A small piece of brain had lodged itself between his lips.
    He remembers thinking that it tasted like cooked animal fat.

    Suddenly, there's a hard knock at the door.
    "This is the police!" "Open the door!"
    "Sir, open the door!"

    It all starts to become clear to him now.
    Everything has been leading up to this.

    This is the moment he's been waiting for -
    from that moment when he first picked up a weapon at boot camp, to this moment when he starts to reach for the 9 mil at his side.

    It all seems to be part of a trajectory of inevitability now.

    Then, another voice filters through the door...

    "Jimmy?" "Hey Jimmy!"
    "What's up buddy?"
    "What's goin' on man?"
    "This is Brad!"
    "Talk to me buddy!"

    "Brad?" "Is that really you?"

    "Yeah,'s me"
    "Open the door, will ya?"

    "Let's talk, buddy"

    "Let's talk, ok?"

    He looks at the door, and then the gun in his hand.
    He studies the mess in the room.

    He looks down at his cock.
    Suddenly embarrassed, he tries to pull up his shorts.

    A deep sob begins to well up from somewhere far deeper
    than any place he's ever been.

    He has to force the sound out past the choke-hold in his throat. But, finally, the sound, a whimper, comes out...



  6. The End And The Beginning
    After every war
    someone has to clean up.
    Things won't
    straighten themselves up, after all.

    Someone has to push the rubble
    to the side of the road,
    so the corpse-filled wagons
    can pass.

    Someone has to get mired
    in scum and ashes,
    sofa springs,
    splintered glass,
    and bloody rags.

    Someone has to drag in a girder
    to prop up a wall,
    Someone has to glaze a window,
    rehang a door.

    Photogenic it's not,
    and takes years.
    All the cameras have left
    for another war.

    We'll need the bridges back,
    and new railway stations.
    Sleeves will go ragged
    from rolling them up.

    Someone, broom in hand,
    still recalls the way it was.
    Someone else listens
    and nods with unsevered head.
    But already there are those nearby
    starting to mill about
    who will find it dull.

    From out of the bushes
    sometimes someone still unearths
    rusted-out arguments
    and carries them to the garbage pile.

    Those who knew
    what was going on here
    must make way for
    those who know little.
    And less than little.
    And finally as little as nothing.

    In the grass that has overgrown
    causes and effects,
    someone must be stretched out
    blade of grass in his mouth
    gazing at the clouds.
    —Wisława Szymborska

  7. "The Parable of the
    Old Man
    and the Young"

    So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
    And took the fire with him, and a knife.
    And as they sojourned both of them together,
    Isaac the first-born spoke and said, My Father,
    Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
    But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
    Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
    And builded parapets and trenches there,
    And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
    When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
    Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
    Neither do anything to him.
    Behold, A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
    Offer the ram of Pride instead of him.

    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

    Wilfred Owen

  8. The Hurt Locker

    Nothing but hurt left here.
    Nothing but bullets and pain...
    Believe it when you see it.
    Believe it when a twelve-year-old
    rolls a grenade into the room.

    Brian Turner

  9. Murder--So Foul

    I shot a man yesterday
    And much to my surprise,
    The strangest thing happened to me
    I began to cry.

    He was so young, so very young
    And Fear was in his eyes,
    He had left his home in Germany
    And came to Holland to die.

    And what about his Family
    were they not praying for him?
    Thank God they couldn't see their son
    And the man that had murdered him.

    I knelt beside him
    And held his hand--
    I begged his forgiveness
    Did he understand?

    It was the War
    And he was the enemy
    If I hadn't shot him
    He would have shot me.

    I saw he was dying
    And I called him "Brother"
    But he gasped out one word
    And that word was "Mother."

    I shot a man yesterday
    And much to surprise
    A part of me died with Him
    When Death came to close
    His eyes.

    James Lenihan

  10. Grass

    Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
    Shovel them under and let me work—
    I am the grass; I cover all.

    And pile them high at Gettysburg
    And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
    Shovel them under and let me work.
    Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
    What place is this?
    Where are we now?

    I am the grass.
    Let me work.

  11. Love the amount of replies. The whole time I was reading this email I was thinking in the back of my mind that this country is slowly forgetting The Warriors Tale. I hope and pray we do remember.