Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Walking on History

I am a shameless romantic, a slightly better than average student of history, and there is a current of idealism under my skin that has not yet been dulled by reality. Sometimes, these qualities come together and leave me thinking to myself of times long gone and stories all but forgotten. Lately, I've been thinking of the paradoxical enormity and insignificance of my presence here.

Here I stand, in modern-day Iraq. I have come further to fight here than any soldier of any nation before me, and I fight with weapons and equipment that lay pale the panoply of earlier armies. I represent the pinnacle of force projection and decisive battle, and yet I fight here, where unnumbered young warriors have fought and died through time stretching out of memory. It was on this land that the Babylonian empire first arose out of those first Sumerian agrarians, only to be conquered by the Assyrians, and still later throw off the foreign chains. It was here that Alexander's phalanxes swept by, trailing Hellenism in their wake. Rome, and later the Byzantines, drew their border with Persia at the Euphrates River. At that river was where the Sassanids made their stand against the spread of Arabian Islam. The Khans of the Mongols laid this land waste, sometimes killing only to build their towers of bones higher.

This region is steeped in history. We walk on it; we breath it in. Eons of history surround us, infiltrate us, and turn to dust beneath our feet. The ashes of countless cultures, civilizations, and rulers dreams lie under the earth. With each breath, I inhale a few molecules of the dying gasp of Cyrus II, the Persian "Constantine of the East". In the howling wind I can almost hear the cries of a countless multitude dying on killing grounds that bridge across the ages. The same wind carries the red dust that might yet hold a few drops of blood from the battle at Carrhae- the first, crushing defeat for Rome's red blooded legions. Under my heel, a speck grinds into dust: the last grain of sand that remains of the Hanging Gardens at Babylon that are now known only in legend. Some of the world's oldest religions tell us that somewhere in this ancient Cradle of life, God himself breathed on this dust, and it became man, the father of us all. Whatever path we take here, we walk on history.

I walk softly, for I tread on the ghosts of years.

50 comments:

  1. Careful: respired history is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

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  2. When we view ourselves and what we do through the looking glass of history, we realize how small we are in comparison to the One who created it all.

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  3. Anonymous12/1/07 06:14

    You know a lot about history. Please keep on teaching us.

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  4. John Kerry was SOOO wrong! You obviously could teach him a thing or two. I also think we need to keep in mind that a land that has seen war since the dawning of time, will not be "fixed" in a matter of years. Here is an intereshttp://www.mapsofwar.com/images/EMPIRE17.swfting site you might enjoy:

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  5. Awesome graps of the true history and complexity of that region. Those often overlooked aspects are impacting our presence and efforts there today. PErhaps in another 50 yrs another soldier will be posting similar views for I believe this is far from the last time foriegn armies march in that area.

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  6. "Some of the world's oldest religions tell us that somewhere in this ancient Cradle of life, God himself breathed on this dust, and it became man, the father of us all. Whatever path we take here, we walk on history."

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

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  7. i appreciate your perspective, it's humbling to think of oneself as a domino in a long and wary series of rows. but most of all, i'm glad to hear your idealism is in-tact, and that being a part of something bigger than yourself inspires you. take care.

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  8. Kris, in New England12/1/07 10:11

    Wow - erudite doesn't even cover it. Came here from Neptunus Lex (www.neptunuslex.com) and I'm glad I did. I have a small and relatively new blog myself and will be happy to add you to the "Notables".

    I'm humbled by your service to your country and your innate respect for where you are and what you are doing. And while it may be the Cradle of Life, don't forget that yours is equally precious.

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  9. My post above didn't register my blog address; it's www.reflectionsbykris.squarespace.com
    I must have typed something in wrong the first time.

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  10. wow, i love reading your writing. brings it all to life.

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  11. Its seems that the offspring of ancient Mesopotamia have come back to our birthplace to return civilization to the Baathist prison.

    I mean this with humility and reverence for the great people of Iraq. They deserve better than Saddam Hussein, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Muqtada al-Sadr...

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  12. http://www.mapsofwar.com/images/EMPIRE17.swf

    My link above was messed up sorry.

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  13. Wow. Just wow.
    Stunning imagery.

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  14. Q: How well-equipped are you right now? I know you can't speak for the whole nation, but at least the platoons you know.

    I appreciate the history. I hate hearing from people that Iraqis have never done anything. Baghdad was once the cultural center of the world! If the insurgents and dissidents weren't in the way, I'm sure the new generation of students are equally intelligent and creative and entrepreneurial as American students.

    -wendy

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  15. Ah, I think it’s your hopeless romanticism that has always appealed to me. And do we all know the origination of the word “romantic?” That’s right, from the Romans who were adventurous, fearless invaders and indomitable conquerors and rulers. Funny how it’s come to represent roses and Hallmark cards, isn’t it?

    You’re the bomb! Keep it up!

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  16. Awesome writing. Bet you flunked out and got stuk in Iraq, huh? Thank you for your service, and for sharing your thoughts. I excerpted and linked at Old War Dogs and Bill's Bites.

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  17. God blees you, Soldier.
    I appreciate your honest writing and your appreciation for history. I appreciate your commitment to dignity and freedom and the job that you do.
    My dad was a combat engineer. One brother was in the 101st Airborne; the other is in the Air Force.
    Keep safe, but know that I understand and appreciate your commitment to "Duty first."

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  18. GReat post and Jungle Mom's map link is a great complement

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  19. Awesome writing, Don, and know that you are also making history while you do us proud.

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  20. Pushed that to Pajamas Media in a nanosecond. Brilliant.

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  21. Anonymous14/1/07 19:35

    Outstanding writing and perspective! I did some planning and coordinating in Afghanistan last year and was struck by how the faces of the men I saw had such different looks to them. Having traveled a lot of the world, I could not look at two or more Afghan men and see many similarities and it hit me: Afghanistan has been a way station and highway for marauding armies for centuries and that DNA from so many from Alexander the Great, to the British and Russians to name a few, had been left there.

    Your historical perspective is extremely valuable and missed by virtually everyone, both our military leaders (and spokespersons) and more importantly, the media who utterly lack perspective and are unable or unwilling to analyse.

    Stay safe and thank you for your service! Please keep your thoughts and writings coming!

    An AF Reserve Officer

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  22. Anonymous14/1/07 20:28

    well written.......very well written. Come home safely.

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  23. Anonymous14/1/07 20:57

    First Assyria (2Kings 15-19) then Babylon (2Kings 20-25).

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  24. Wonderful thoughts and wonderful writing. God keep you safe!

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  25. Wendy wrote:

    "I hate hearing from people that Iraqis have never done anything. Baghdad was once the cultural center of the world! If the insurgents and dissidents weren't in the way, I'm sure the new generation of students are equally intelligent and creative and entrepreneurial as American students."

    Um, not really. Just because some people in a certain geographical area once did something, doesn't men people in the same area are their inheritors, either biologically or culturally.

    Regardless, of THAT point, you're probably wrong again on your second point. Insurgents and terrorists are only a small factor in the way the culture here limits the individual. Students here are almost surely not as creative as students in the US: they haven't developed that way. (unless you mean in figuring out ways to cheat the system: many people I talk to consider anybody who goes to school and doesn't pay someone off to get a degree, to be a chump). It doesn't happen overnight. It takes a culture that empowers individuals rather than subjecting them to repression in favour of the collective.

    Some people manage (as individuals) to be creative and productive. It's not easy for them, which makes me respect them even more. But in general, I find little to recommend the culture I have seen here.

    No matter how hard you work here, there just isn't the multiple, significant leveraging factors empowering you that one would find in the United States. And there won't be until they change.

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  26. Very well written. I have placed a link to you on my permament blogroll here. Stay safe, and strike well.

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  27. mamaworecombatboots15/1/07 13:53

    ...God Himself breathed on this dust..." Whew. That was beautiful. Powerful. Lovely.

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  28. Good writing Soldier, I know your as good a shot as you are a writer.

    Continue the Mission.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas
    USA

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  29. TD-

    Your sense of history is terrific but remember that the IED's and AK's are live. You and your fellows are a part of history. Take care.

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  30. Fearless Freep15/1/07 19:00

    T-Don: Wonderful musings; I love to iimerse myself in history (books, novels, etc) and I really envy you. I have been helping my son in his Old Testament homework recently, and I have imagined the same dusty roads you are walking on. Inspired writing - continued good health and open mind.

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  31. Steve in ATL17/1/07 11:44

    "Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?"

    "A man may do both, for not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!"

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  32. Larry Livemore17/1/07 19:46

    Overwrought bullshit, my friend. Leave the writing to people who know how to do it.

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  33. Keep writing!
    History is filled with warrior poets and you have found your place within their ranks...along with a very captive audience!
    Be Safe,
    Angel

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  34. Powerful stuff. Thank you for sharing your talent. Keep your shoe laces tight and come home safe. Thank you for your service.

    Kevin Dayhoff
    Maryland
    http://kevindayhoff.blogspot.com/

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  35. I got to tell you son, you put tears in this old soldiers eyes, your writing is outstanding, your character is beyond reproach, you make me proud. Thanks for your service.

    I have a shout out about this post on my site, my hope is to allow many to experience what I feel for you, and your writing.

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  36. Thank you for your service, young man. Be safe.

    As to your words, I stand in awe of your grasp of the world around you. Keep thinking, and keep sharing.

    I'll be back to read more of your special insight.

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  37. "...Whatever path we take here, we walk on history..."
    A bit of Poetry and a bit of History is a powerful combination when mixed with the courage of those who are making History.

    As Van Der Leun at American Digest paraphrased Shakespeare:"And gentlemen in America now a-bed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, / And hold their manhoods cheap"


    My deepest respects,

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  38. Anonymous2/2/07 08:10

    Thank you for your writing. A warrior-poet indeed.

    And thank you, and your brothers & sisters in the US military, for your service.

    Blessed be!

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  39. The depth of the history surrounding you can get overwhelming I would imagine. Thank you for sharing it so beautifully.

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  40. I can see why Miss Bee said that this is her favorite post of all time.

    Very well said.

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  46. Wow. Incredibly moving and well-written. Came over from Sarge Charlie's blog and linked to this on my facebook...amazing. Thank you for your service. My son is in the Army, currently in Ft. Leonard Wood, next headed to Ft. Lewis, the overseas (we think).

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