Pact With Death

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Pact With Death

Postby JOHN THURSTON » Thu Mar 13, 2003 4:57 pm


This will be a bit of a diffuse post, and a bit related to the Martial Arts as we study them.

It was saddening to note the volunteers headed for the "Suicide Camp" in Iraq talking about using the "suicide weapon" and that no non muslim country has such a weapon. Of course this comment flies in the face of historical fact..

It is this dedication to death that bothers me. Americans make their own pact with Death, but it is not sought out or used as a 'weapon".

The reason for that is fairly simple, suicide charges and attacks eventually physically and morally bankrupt the user.

During the early American Landings in the Pacific, the "Banzai" charge was frequently used as a regular tactic, ie: in a calculated manner not born of desperation.

This actually made it easier for the Americans, and the specific use of the tactic was in decline, except in desperate situations, after the Guadalcanal CAmpaign.

The Commander on Iwo Jima, while not ruling out the tactic, limited it to the desperate last stand, similar to the "Last Charge" on Kiska (Attu) during the Aleutian campaign. The Japanese still particularly remember the men of the last charge in the Aleutians.

Morally bankrupt-that is not a phrase I use lightly. Nor do I mean to say that Islam or Muslims generally are in this spiritual state.

But we forget the terrible carnage on the Western Front in France in the Great War, where many charges were 'virtually' Suicide charges, as were many by the Anzac Troops on Gallipoli.

The Image of troops from the life loving country of "OZ" as they call themselves, spitting their wedding rings and penciled goodbyes and wills on bayonets and driving them into the into the trench Walls before a 'buggered up" charge could be made on the Gallipoli Peninsula is permanently seared in my mind.

I believe the commanders who continued the use of these tactics were "moraly void" and should always be considered as such.

How MANY times have we quoted Patton's Remark: "it's Not Your Job to Die for Your Country, but to make the other bugger die for his".

As crazy as he might have otherwise been, he was right on target on that one and well beffited a man from Hamilton Mass.

The Martial ARts, even when one is "down" as I am with debilitating bouts of pain caaused by FMS, DRAGS you "Back into Life".

One cannot but focus on the here and now in Kata or form or meditation practice and not understand the tendrils that the Art uses to tie you to where you are at that second. That second of being and worrying or caring about nothing else 'at that second' . Time which binds you to life.

We have a pact with death perhaps, as we all must, but Life seizes its moments forever.

Last edited by JOHN THURSTON on Sat Mar 15, 2003 2:58 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Great post John

Postby gmattson » Thu Mar 13, 2003 9:51 pm

Hope you recover soon from you illness.
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Postby JOHN THURSTON » Fri Mar 14, 2003 2:47 pm

Hi Gem Sensei:

Well it seemed a topic that deserved some attention.

The "Islamic Weapon", as it was categorized by one of the "volunteers" is not unique to Islam-nor particularly associated with Islam until, at least, the suicide bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon.

I feel that this is a very sad tendency.

Thanks for the encouragement.
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Postby JOHN THURSTON » Fri Mar 14, 2003 5:28 pm


The distinction should be made between the "desparation" suicides present in Western Martial History, and the use of Suicide as a weapon.

Caesar's General Sabinus (he notes in the Commentaries) was lured out of Quarters in Western Gaul and Ambushed on the "route" by a German King. (Hugh may remember his name)

When it became clear after the "orbis" was formed and night had fallen, that there was no hope; Caesar Notes that the surviving Legionarii and their officers "fell on their Swords".

This was not deemed by him, as such, to be at all disgraceful.

However, again, the willingness of the Roman Soldier to take this extreme was not factored into tactical decisions.

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Postby RACastanet » Fri Mar 14, 2003 8:13 pm

Nice topic JT. Glad to see you on the forums.

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Postby Hugh » Mon Mar 24, 2003 9:28 pm

John, I don't remember that specific, but many Roman leaders "fell on their swords" rather than embarass their families and class by returning to Rome in disgrace. Brutus and Cassius did this after Philippi. This has been a practice of aristocratic military for centuries. Even Erwin Rommel, who was not an aristocrat, took that option. And the concept of ritual suicide is well-established in Japan.

The use of suicidal attacks, however, is another matter. Remember that the kamikaze attacks in WWII were named after the "Divine Wind" that had destroyed the Mongol invasion fleet at the time of Kublai Khan and that the pilots were very convinced in their belief that they were saving the homeland just as the original kamikaze had. This was NOT a simple suicide, this was a death with a purpose, albeit one that we in the West had a hard time understanding. The "banzai" charges were a similar tactic, and one that other Asian nations have used, "Human Wave" attacks as in Korea. And they have been known to work. The British know them as "Forlorn Hope" attacks and they have a history going back beyond the Nap[oleonic Wars, or so I understand. I know that Wellington used them in his Peninsular Campaign (as in the Sharpe's Rifles books). And, yes, we have used them. What would you call Pickett's Charge? Or the charges ordered by Grant in the Wilderness Campaign in 1864? In those cases, both Lee and Grant knew that they were sending the men to their deaths, but they believed, or prayed, that the courage of the attack wopuld carry the day.
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Postby JOHN THURSTON » Wed Mar 26, 2003 5:45 pm

Hi Hugh:

Yes, all those events came to mind when I wrote the post. I was deliberately mentioned those that fewer people would have knowledge of, sort of to add to the novelty of the Thread.

Suicide Charges are, of course, not unknown. I just haven't found an instance where they, or other forms of killing oneself deliberately in as a military tactic, even one can be associated with 'victory'.

Perhaps the Palestinians will be a first.

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