"A Copse. Evening"

"A Copse. Evening"
A. Y. Jackson, 1918
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Rich man's war Poor man's fight" - Old School


Visby, on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic sea, July, 1361.
Early on, Visby joined one of the merchant trade networks that were springing up around Europe at the time. In 1280 they joined "The Wendish City-alliance" but all were later absorbed into the more all-encompassing Hanseatic League.
The presence of so many affluent merchants caused more than a little friction between the nouveau riche merchant class and the folks who worked the land. But, in 1288 the Gotland peasants were finally defeated by the citizens of Visby who went on to cement the relationship by building a city wall to protect themselves from those horrible low-lifes. The wall stands to this day.
Enter King Valdemar of Denmark. Following some early, Viking version of "manifest destiny" he arrived on Gotland in the summer of 1361. He slaughtered some farmers, 1800 or so, near his landing. Then his soldiers arrived at the wealthy city of Visby.
The good burghers, legitimately panicked, armed the peasantry - poorly - then crept back behind the walls.
The Danes came. Mistakes were made. Peasants were massacred. The price one pays for living on the wrong side of the wall.
Fast forward 600 years. In the first half of the 20th century three different mass-graves were excavated - out of four total - the fourth is still the way it's been for six centuries. The remains of about 2000 bodies were recovered, 90% of which represented the peasantry of Visby.
In his books "The Face of Battle" and "The History of Warfare" the eminent Sandhurst historian, John Keegan describes the Visby discoveries as the most sobering evidence of the ferocity of medieval warfare. Especially notable was the mutilation of bodies, in particular - as Keegan describes - "sword cuts up the length of the shin bones" (photo to the left).
It was customary at the time to kill enemy wounded and, realistically this was probably the only way to deal with them given the virtual inevitability of their later demise.
Understood. But, this next photo might call into question when "enough is - indeed - enough".
"Submitted for your consideration": (Do I sound like Rod Serling?) Another skull from one of the Visby grave-pits.
The person who wrote the copy for the site where I found this described the grouping of the arrowheads as "spectacular" and speculated as to whether they were a chance occurrence during a "hail of arrows". Such a thing was indeed possible. At Angincourt fifty years or so later, Henry V (played by Kenneth Branagh) had 5000 archers deployed on a line 750 yards long. That's a guy with a bow for every foot of frontage. Loosing their arrows simultaneously - as an indirect fire, volley weapon - would have put 5000 (duh) arrows in the air at one time.
Now, I'm no statistician. I wouldn't have a clue as to the calculating of the odds of three (maybe four - see the hole lower left) arrows occupying the same cubic foot of space simultaneously with the back of this poor SOB's head. It could be. Anything's possible.
However, call me cynical (you won't be the first), in my less-than-humble opinion, anyone not living in Carebear Land knows exactly what happened here. This guy was lying on his face, probably wounded, and someone came along and shot three (or four) arrows into his melon.
Sucked to be him, no? Especially since the arrow-overkill probably didn't work. Later someone happened along and gave him two swifts strokes with a war-hammer. Hence the two roughly rectangular fractures on the top of the skull.
Poor bastard.
So, here's the punch line:
First of all, the line "Rich man's war, poor man's fight" dates initially from the "War for Southern Independence". Used most vociferously at the horrific draft riots in New York in 1863.
Point of interest: Every war in the history of the US, with the exception of WW2, was protested vehemently and violently on the homefront. WW1 alone puts the Vietnam debacle to shame as regards demonstrations. The Everett Massacre in Washington, the lynchings of Joe Hill in Utah and Frank Little in Momtana, done in by goons of the Anaconda Co. AKA Standard Oil. These all constitute examples of the "polite discourse" between the powers and the representatives of the folks regarding the use of the working man and war profits.
Yes, all these examples are pre-1917. Well, we were fighting WW1 economically way before any of our red-blooded boys showed up in France, and in the process, lots of good Americans made tons of money (Read "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" a semi-autobiographical novel by Wallace Stegner, for some insights into the wartime practice of "bonanza farming").
I'm wandering afield now; The promised punch line is this:
The good burghers of Visby (remember them?), having witnessed the fate of their faithful peasants - the battle having been fought less than 300 yards from the city walls - decided that discretion was the better part of valor and so, bought the Danes off.
But, the Danes didn't come up smelling like roses either. The ship carrying all the goodies from Visby sunk on the way home.
So, it was a bad deal all the way around...but probably worst for those 1800 poor assholes who had nothing at stake in this fight.
In closing, check out the "Bush Twins Watch" on the blog of "One Pissed-off Vet".

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