What doth the Lord require of thee...


The photo shows a World War II American Marine on the island of Tarawa. He is kneeling before a tank that has been blown off its track, and in his right hand is a canteen from which he has poured water for a kitten.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

Eugene Sledge was an Alabama boy who, decades after the war, wrote about his experiences as a Marine on Tarawa and other islands. He told of being penned down for days in shadeless lava in 115-temperatures with decaying corpses all around and nothing to drink but water that had been tainted with diesel; of Marines who had been captured, tortured, and finally killed with their dicks in their mouths; of a Marine using his Ka-Bar to slit the cheeks of a wounded Japanese so he could more easily remove the man's gold teeth. Sledge wrote that, even amid such horrors, there were instances of kindness and justice, such as when the tooth-stealing Marine was stopped at gunpoint and his mortally-wounded victim mercifully shot.

“… what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
 

The Marine in the photo is surely dead, but his nobility lives on to give me life.

18 comments:

Winifred said...

Sadly war does seem to bring out the worst in people but thankfully the best too like that soldier bless him.

Emma Springfield said...

My brother was a tank driver in Viet Nam. He sent pictures of him standing in the huge hole caused by his tank hitting a land mine. The track of his tank was blown off. The pit was close to six feet deep. Thankfully he survived that experience. Unfortunately he was not so lucky during one of the next experiences. He was only 20 years old when he died.

Elephant's Child said...

Winifred is right. War does seem to bring out the best (which is pretty good), and the worst (which is downright awful). I wonder which way the scales tip...

kylie said...

When I was about 15, a mentor gave me this verse on a card. I still have it in a bible somewhere.
Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God sounds simple but probably takes a lifetime to achieve.

I want to believe that the scales EC speaks of tip towards good in times of war but I'm not sure. We seem able to sink to depths of depravity I could never dream of, depths that could not be balanced by the most noble of acts

Stephen Hayes said...

I imagine war brings out the true nature of a soldier.

Snowbrush said...

When I found this photo yesterday, I was looking for one of a Civil War era “Old Soldiers’ Home” that I saw years ago when I lived in Minneapolis. I didn’t find the latter, but I’m more inspired by the former. As for Sledge book, I read it 15-20 years ago, and it actually got worse than the instances I cited, but for some reason they stayed with me better, and they were from Tarawa. As for the Bible verse, if the Bible stopped there, I would think better of it, but the greater part of it portrays God’s expectations of his creation as being, like God himself, mean-spirited and fanatical.

“He was only 20 years old when he died.”

I always remember this about you because, since I was born in ’49, I assume your brother would be close to my age if he had lived. Also, I really can’t think of another friend who lost a close relative in Vietnam, although 60,000 Americans died. Like our current wars, Vietnam brings up questions for me as to how I am to regard soldiers who die in wars of which I do not approve. I’m sure that some of the troops believed in what they doing while others simply couldn’t get out of it without going to prison or Canada. If I had been drafted, I guess I would have gone to Vietnam, but then again, maybe I would have tried to join the Coast Guard because I never did see the point of that war, just as I don’t see the point of our present wars. When I ask myself which of America’s wars I would have supported, the most likely one was World War II, and I would need to know a lot more about it because although America was attacked, we certainly took actions that inspired that attack, in the same way that if we’re attacked by North Korea, we won’t be able to claim complete innocence.

“Winifred is right. War does seem to bring out the best (which is pretty good), and the worst (which is downright awful). I wonder which way the scales tip...”

I think that the very existence of war comes from our worst impulses, and that war has a hardening effect that is more likely to inspire tribalistic cruelty than mercy. What I find so very strange about war is that veterans—or veterans’ groups anyway—so often favor sending a whole new generation to war.

“Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God sounds simple but probably takes a lifetime to achieve.”

I’ll never come close to the first two, and as for the last, what is God? Because I don't believe in a caring—or even sentient—deity, the verse can only point to our best impulses.

I’m wondering how you, Elephant’s Child and Kylie feel about the situation with North Korea, especially now that they’re threatening Australia.

Elephant's Child said...

North Korea? Watching and waiting. With a strong level of discomfort. As I am doing with your political situation more generally.
Sadly for too long I think our foreign policy agenda has been too tightly tied to that of your country. Which is not to say I approve of North Korea's leader or actions.

angela said...

War brings out the worst in humanity
But also some of the best
Hate wars
But remember and honour those that fought in them

kylie said...

In all honesty I don't know enough to have an opinion on North Korea except to say that Kim Jong Un and Trump both seem like madmen and nothing would surprise me.
My son who is better informed thinks that we are pretty safe but I'm not sure he is old enough to really understand how reality can be more bizarre than horror fiction

Charles Gramlich said...

The awful silence of the aftermath of war

Snowbrush said...

“Sadly for too long I think our foreign policy agenda has been too tightly tied to that of your country.”

No doubt, and American regularly does stupid and evil things. However, it’s also true that, because America spends so much on its military that the rest of the Western world can spend less on defense. Finally, there are no good answers for how to deal with North Korea. Much is said here about how America simply can’t allow them to develop a missile to hit us, yet we stood by while they developed missiles that could hit your country and others. Having done that, now what?

“Hate wars…But remember and honour those that fought in them”

I wrestle with this, and can come to no happy resolution. For example, America has spent nearly 17-years and $1-trillion fighting a war of aggression in Afghanistan, yet no end is in sight, and I can see no reason for us to have gone there in the first place, so how am I to honour those who volunteered for that fight? I regard them as typically young, naive, poor, badly educated, and lacking in opportunity, and I very much doubt that many of them had the capacity to deeply examine what they would be called upon to do when they joined the military. Sadly, none of this absolves them of responsibility for what they did, and it certainly doesn’t mitigate their own suffering. If American presidents had to get a declaration of war for us to get into these engagements, or if the government started drafting people for these fights, these wars wouldn’t happen. They’re a tragic waste, and I mostly pity those who return home maimed, emotionally disturbed, and often suicidal. To me, it won’t do to blame the politicians but honour the troops. I feel compassion for the troops, but to carry on the pretense that they were fighting to protect their country? No. They were fighting for the stupidity and vainglory of Bush, Obama, and now Trump, people who never themselves had to fight and whose children never seem to get around to joining the military that their fathers pretend to praise.

“I don't know enough to have an opinion on North Korea except to say that Kim Jong Un and Trump both seem like madmen and nothing would surprise me.”

Kim Jong Un is a vicious murderer who is content for his people to live an abject poverty so that his small country can spend all its wealth on building a military almost as big as that of America. I don’t know what should be done about him now that he has come this far, but my best GUESS is that there’s going to be a lot of posturing on both sides without any weapons being fired. As for whether, he would really nuke Australia, I doubt it, but you’re certainly within range, and he does have a lot of nuclear missiles by now.

“The awful silence of the aftermath of war”

Not that we ever see any aftermaths in America anymore. For instance, we never made peace with North Korea all those 64-years ago; we simply declared a truce, which is why we still have 35,000 Americans standing guard on the border, a force that would be as nothing if North Korea should ever decide to send its 9-million troops (this would mean its active military and its reserves) into South Korea.

Emma Springfield said...

My brother definitely did not want to go to war. He knew he would come home in a body bag. He instructed us to what he wanted done when that happened. He was drafted into the Army as was another of my brothers. Neither chose to go but escaping to Canada was not a choice for them. I too disagree with war in principle. We have lost far too many young men for the senseless violence of war.

All Consuming said...

What a moving image in so many ways. Interesting post sweetie, I have the flu so can't say much more but thank you for the writing x

Snowbrush said...

“My brother definitely did not want to go to war.”

I got every deferment I could (first, just going to college was enough, but later, only certain majors were exempt, so I became an education major), and the day I went from 1A to 4F (based upon my doctor writing the draft board a letter saying that I had passed some kidney stones—which I had no idea that I had done) was a happy day indeed because it got me a year long deferment, and by the time the year was up, they were drafting below my lottery number. As I look back, I see no reason why college kids should have gotten deferments while others did not, nor do I understand why ministers should be deferred, nor (aside from religious bigotry) why conscientious objectors should be required to believe in God.

“What a moving image in so many ways.”

It also reminds me of how little we can often do to be of help no matter how bad we want to. I wonder what happened next—for example, what did the kitten find to eat, and did the soldier survive the war…

“I have the flu…”

I only had the sure enough influenza only once, but it was so bad that it was memorable.

Snowbrush said...

"My brother definitely did not want to go to war.”

It would make sense to me that you could look at this situation and feel incensed that I am still alive while your brother is dead, simply because I manipulated the system and, to cap it all off, got a fanciful deferment for kidney stones (although I really can’t say if it was fanciful or not since I did spend a few hours in the ER one night with a bad stomach ache). I can hardly say that I’m sorry I’m still alive, but I’m damned sorry your brother is dead. It was horrendously unfair. I remember Johnson saying that he wasn’t going to be the first president to lose a war, as if the lives of the troops didn’t matter as long as he emerged a winner, and I also recall more recent acknowledgements on the part of government officials that the war was a mistake. Those at the top are never the ones to pay the ultimate price. As for our recent senseless wars, I think of Bush and Obama enjoying a pampered retirement while maimed veterans are denied adequate medical care, and I just want to go out and kill these two men. Like in most of life, it’s always the “little” guys who suffer. A CEO can run his company into the ground and walk away with a multi-million dollar bonus while his former employees trudge down to the unemployment office. Trump can talk about how unfair it would be if he had to give up a dollar because he is our president, yet he’s fine with other men losing their lives under his command. So much in life is utterly unfair and maddening. I just wish we had a modern war protest movement that would be of such power as to force the government to bring our troops home, just as I wish the men at the top of government and commerce would have to pay a price for what they cause other people to suffer.

PhilipH said...

This is such an impossible topic to discuss. There is NO answer that will satisfy everyone.

I'm not a pacifist. I detest violence but would ENJOY killing anyone who murdered any of my children or grandkids. But I would HATE to kill any person just because our political masters ordered it ... UNLESS that person was known to be a vile killer, such as a Taliban or I.S. murderer.

War today could trigger Armageddon. It really could be the war to end all wars. Too many countries have nuclear weapons and we all know who they are. It may have been alright to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70-odd years ago when America knew there could be no retaliation, thus finishing the war against Japan, but not today.

I was lucky to live through the Blitz in London in the 1940s. It was a few years of constant aerial bombardment by hundreds of German aeroplanes, then the pilotless V1 terror bombs and finally the V2 rockets. We didn't hear the V2 as they were silent until they exploded.

Hitler was trying to get the atom bomb and he would have used it had he completed it. I'm sure of that.

President Trump has this weaponry. And he's just one of many. Old-style war is just too slow and costly isn't it? Surely it has to be 'jaw jaw' not 'war war' as Winnie Churchill put it. Politics, the art of the possible, has to be the watchword, or Armageddon follows.

Emma Springfield said...

Just to be clear I resent no one who did not serve during a war. I am happy for all who were able to stay safe at home. At the same time I admire those who did serve. The cause may not have been right but they did what was required of them. Many came home with scars inside and out. If you could escape that I applaud you.

Snowbrush said...

“I admire those who did serve. The cause may not have been right but they did what was required of them.”

If you admire American troops who were in the wrong simply because they “did what was required of them,” would you not, by the same logic, admire all the obedient troops of all the nations that were in the wrong? Why is doing wrong on one’s personal initiative—or in obedience to a gang leader—a criminal offense, and doing wrong in obedience to a president admirable? The most I can say is if, after examining the issues behind a war, a man or woman chooses to fight in that war because he thinks it is right, though it later be proven wrong, I can respect him or her for making a sincere effort to act honorably. But I do not and I cannot respect people who kill for no better reason than that they are ordered to do so. The best I can say for most of our troops is that they didn’t know any better than to go fight in a meaningless war. Perhaps in Vietnam more than in most of America’s wars, if you were young, from a poor family, and weren’t in college, your ass was grass as the saying went, but if you were all these things and black too, you were were going to die. How cynical Johnson and Nixon must have been to make cannon fodder of tens of thousands of young men who had their whole adult lives to look forward to!

“I detest violence but would ENJOY killing anyone who murdered any of my children or grandkids.”

I don’t know that any amount of pain and fear that I could cause would satisfy me, and I can’t say that I am pleased to possess the potential for such hatred—and even such contempt for the rule of law—but I’m very much aware that if someone should kill Peggy, I would gladly die to cause them as much misery as possible. Peggy regards capital punishment more highly than I do, one difference being that I regard America’s practice of locking some criminals up in a solitary cell for 23 hours a day as worse than death.

“It may have been alright to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70-odd years ago”

And even then, it wasn’t Japan’s military leaders who threw in the towel but rather its emperor. The older I become, the more doubt I have about whether I could have dropped those bombs, or the ones that fell on Tokyo, or the ones that burned Dresden. One of war’s many problems is that it has a tendency to make us into what we hate. Politics is the same way. I detest Donald Trump and many others of his immoral party so terrifically that it is hard for me to avoid taking the attitude that the end justifies the means in stopping them, although winning at any cost equates with giving up the very values of rule by law under which we live.