Stay the course

Stay the Course

Sun Tzu and Terence McSwiney agree on this point.  It is not the side that can inflict the most, but those who can endure the most who will conquer.  It is a constant source of argument in military theory:  which side suffers most casualties; winners or losers?

In ancient Greece when battles were decided head to head on the field by two infantry armies it was accepted that the winning side often lost the most men.  By the time one side broke the winning side was so exhausted they were in no fit state to give chase.

This dynamic changed dramatically with the introduction of cavalry.  No horse alive will charge a well formed phalanx, but a routed enemy is manna to the cavalryman.  Any enemy who could not retire from the field in good order was sabre fodder.

The dynamic changed again with the introduction of artillery, especially mobile horse artillery, to the battlefield.  A solid infantry square was safe against marauding cavalry, but sitting ducks for artillery.  Dispersing to avoid the cannon fire opens your lines to the cavalry.  The Napoleonic wars were choreographed by the interplay between infantry, cavalry and artillery.

With the development of the rifle musket in the 1850’s the dynamic changed again.  The effective rifle range switched overnight from 3/4 rounds per minute at around 50 yards to 5/6 rounds per minute at 1,000 yards range.  The days of bright coloured lines of infantry standing toe to toe on the open field were over.  The US Civil War demonstrated that in such circumstances a defensive force with prepared earthworks could wreak havoc on forces attacking over open ground.

In WW1 the Western Front signaled the death of the horse on the battlefield.  The swan song of the horse in modern warfare was probably the charge of the Australian Mounted Infantry on Turkish Positions in Palestine.

Then at the end of the First World War the tiny forces of the IRA fought the all conquering British Army and Militarized Police to a standstill in Ireland, by enduring the most.

By the end of the Second World War it appeared that the infantryman with his rifle was almost redundant in a world of fighters, bombers, A-bombs, Aircraft Carriers and attack helicopters.  And then there was Vietnam when the people demonstrated again that it is the side that can endure the most who will conquer.  Despite overwhelming superiority of the USA in kill ratio and military technology they still lost.

Given the lack of appetite of the American people for losses in war raises many questions for the presence of US forces in far off battlefields like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or Somalia.  If you are prepared to quit, don’t start.

 

Don’t Quit; by John Greenleaf Whittier
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
when the funds are low and the debts are high
and you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
when care is pressing you down a bit,
rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
as every one of us sometimes learns
and many a failure comes about
when he might have won had he stuck it out;
don’t give up though the pace seems slow —
you may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out —
the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and you never can tell just how close you are,
it may be near when it seems so far;
so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit —
it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit

Barefoot Boy

bikila1

Abebe Bikela of Ethiopia became the first sub-Saharan African to win Olympic Gold on Sept 10th 1960 in Rome.  He ran the Marathon in his bare feet.

In 1964 he won the Tokyo marathon only 40 days after an operation to remove his appendix.

In 1968 he broke a bone in his foot while training barefoot in the days leading up to the race.  At 17km he was in too much pain to continue.  The race was won by his countryman Mamo Wolde.  Wolde later said that Bikela would have won the race had he not been injured.

In 1969 during civil unrest in Ethiopia he was involved in a car crash which left him quadriplegic.  He died in 1973 at the age of 41.

Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.”…………Abebe Bikela

The Barefoot Boy; by John Greenleaf Whittier

Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!

Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!

Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!

A candle for hope.

1st Sunday

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of discipline preceding the Celebration of Christmas in the Christian calendar.  Traditionally this is marked by the lighting of the first of the purple candles on the advent wreath.  There are four purple candles and one white.  Four weeks of discipline leading to Christmas celebration.

Advent is a time of reflection, introspection, self examination.  But it should never be a time of misery.  Discipline should never be seen as denial – and all too often it is.  The tradition I was raised with in the Catholic church was to deny yourself something you like for Lent.  Give up chocolate!  And so it was generally seen as a time of misery.  But that is simply weak teaching.

Yoga is a discipline, one which makes us stronger, more supple, healthier.  It is an expansive form of discipline.  Learning is another discipline.  When we learn it requires the discipline of time and mind, but the result is to accumulate knowledge and broaden the mind.  Sporting exercise is a discipline that can make you faster, stronger, better.  Charitable acts are a discipline that improves the lives of others.

Don’t see Advent as a time of less.  See it as a time of more.  More of the right kind of thing.

Purple is the colour of discipline in the Catholic church.  The first purple candle is called Hope.  So today we light a beacon for hope.  First poem that came to mind was “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson, but I have used that in my blog before.  So here is a poem about another beacon.  It is also a poem of the sea and the mind, so it belongs on Mindship.

Burning Drift-Wood; by John Greenleaf Whittier

Before my drift-wood fire I sit,
And see, with every waif I burn,
Old dreams and fancies coloring it,
And folly’s unlaid ghosts return.

O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleft
The enchanted sea on which they sailed,
Are these poor fragments only left
Of vain desires and hopes that failed?

Did I not watch from them the light
Of sunset on my towers in Spain,
And see, far off, uploom in sight
The Fortunate Isles I might not gain?

Did sudden lift of fog reveal
Arcadia’s vales of song and spring,
And did I pass, with grazing keel,
The rocks whereon the sirens sing?

Have I not drifted hard upon
The unmapped regions lost to man,
The cloud-pitched tents of Prester John,
The palace domes of Kubla Khan?

Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers,
Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?
Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,
And gold from Eldorado’s hills?

Alas! the gallant ships, that sailed
On blind Adventure’s errand sent,
Howe’er they laid their courses, failed
To reach the haven of Content.

And of my ventures, those alone
Which Love had freighted, safely sped,
Seeking a good beyond my own,
By clear-eyed Duty piloted.

O mariners, hoping still to meet
The luck Arabian voyagers met,
And find in Bagdad’s moonlit street,
Haroun al Raschid walking yet,

Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams,
The fair, fond fancies dear to youth.
I turn from all that only seems,
And seek the sober grounds of truth.

What matter that it is not May,
That birds have flown, and trees are bare,
That darker grows the shortening day,
And colder blows the wintry air!

The wrecks of passion and desire,
The castles I no more rebuild,
May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,
And warm the hands that age has chilled.

Whatever perished with my ships,
I only know the best remains;
A song of praise is on my lips
For losses which are now my gains.

Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost;
No wisdom with the folly dies.
Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaust
Shall be my evening sacrifice!

Far more than all I dared to dream,
Unsought before my door I see;
On wings of fire and steeds of steam
The world’s great wonders come to me,

And holier signs, unmarked before,
Of Love to seek and Power to save,—
The righting of the wronged and poor,
The man evolving from the slave;

And life, no longer chance or fate,
Safe in the gracious Fatherhood.
I fold o’er-wearied hands and wait,
In full assurance of the good.

And well the waiting time must be,
Though brief or long its granted days,
If Faith and Hope and Charity
Sit by my evening hearth-fire’s blaze.

And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared,
Whose love my heart has comforted,
And, sharing all my joys, has shared
My tender memories of the dead,—

Dear souls who left us lonely here,
Bound on their last, long voyage, to whom
We, day by day, are drawing near,
Where every bark has sailing room.

I know the solemn monotone
Of waters calling unto me;
I know from whence the airs have blown
That whisper of the Eternal Sea.

As low my fires of drift-wood burn,
I hear that sea’s deep sounds increase,
And, fair in sunset light, discern
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.