[lit-ideas] Re: Sunday Poem

Excellent poem, Lawrence Helm
 
 
>"To subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest  of
>excellence."

This sounds _very_ interesting. I was wondering, is it from some quote I  can 
find in the Loeb Classical Library (I'm collecting those many volumes) More  
on this below. 
 
>What is this?
>Cloaked as she was
>And frowning -  How
>I wondered could
>I find out what
>Or why without  asking;
>So I did.  What?
>Which of course
>Made it  worse.                                                 
>She took implements
>From her purse
>And used them  tactically.
>I tried to recall Sun Tzu
>But it was all a  blur.
>I looked about
>Frantically for cover.
>She stood  strategically
>Blocking the door
>Dabbing at tears
>With a  tissue.
>I was doomed.

I think, foreigner as I am, I get the main gist. The female enemy is  
desplying a 'tactic' (Gk. 'taktika', related to Latin 'positio'). I wonder  
when that 
verb gained a military (not just 'army') connotation.
 
Then the poet uses the same female 'enemy' (obviously in the _offensive_,  
attacking role) as displaying _strategies_. Here the etymology is clearer. It's 
 
from Gk. 'strategos', 'an army (or a navy) general. This strictly  relates to 
what the classics (or was it Napoleon -- or the Prussians)  referred to the 
"art of war" -- where 'art' was understood in pretty much the  same way as the 
'seven liberal arts'. 
 
So the point is that the enemy is in the offense (or defense?  displaying 
items from the purse strategically -- they say 'war' is always a  chain 
reaction 
of action and reaction).
 
And following the epigraph, the other point is that no battle has been  
_offered_ or done, thus, there has been no 'victory' or 'doom' _in the field_,  
but 
just with _diplomacy_. 
 
And it is here where I think L. Helm's displays this level of paradoxical,  
poetic imagery. When we speak of 'enemy' we usually think it in terms of 'doing 
 battle' for which, the 'art of war' declares, we have to 'declare' war. Note 
 that the epigraph mentions 'enemy's _army_', not just 'enemy', where the  
'army'  is the display of force _prepared_ to do 'battle'. There is  subtlety 
in 
the use of 'subjugate' (cognate with Anglo-Saxon, 'yoke' I would  think) -- 
and 'excellence', which I take to come from the Greek source of the  epigraph, 
as being a translation of the Achillean (via Peleus) concept of  'arete'. 

>"To subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest  of
>excellence."

Yet, I'm questioning the dictum. If held as a desideratum, it will be  
welcome by the pacifists. But I was recently reading about the appeal (in  the 
construction of that thing we call 'masculinity') that war has.  One big 
exception 
is Mrs. Thatcher, and, masculinity 'studies' have a  problem with her. But 
here is what I read from G. Dawson's book on 'soldier  heroes'. He is 
recollecting the "Falklands War" (England -- or UK --  against Argentina). A 
'war' which 
has never been 'declared' incidentally,  making it the sneakiest of events):
 
"Of particular interest to me was the INTENSE FASCINATION and EXCITEMENT  
[which Dawson later explains in terms of Kleinian sublimation] generated for 
men  
AND BOYS by *the military side of the war*." (p. 3). 
 
It's not easy to see what Dawson really means, but in another context, when  
he is explaining the 'wars in India', she retrieves a comment from one  
'history teacher':
 
There seems to be an 'educational' side to 'war'. If we are having war in  
Rajastan, and Bihar', then the educational side to it is that the  fellow 
countrymen will be made aware of where those places are, and put  "Rajastan" 
and 
"Bihar" on the map. This obviously applies to the "Falklands".  Dawson writes:
 
"[War narratives -- where the enemy is subjugated with doing battle in some  
exotic land or even on the Channel, or even in the fields of Leicester for the 
 War of the Roses. JLS] adopt an expressly _educational_ stance. J. S. Banks  
offers his [war narrative] "in the hope of interesting young readers in  ..." 
that part of the world were the battle was being done. F. M. Holmes notes  
the "fast passing away' of 'popular ignorance and indifference' concerning  
world geography. L. Taylor, addressing boy readers, suggests they find [the  
battle sites] on the map."
 
Then there is the case of armour and swords and everything that D. Ritchie  
has studied with detail. Armour almost _makes_ a warrior (cf. Iliad and the  
lost of Achilles's identity when he allowed Patroclus to _wear_ his armour --  
and cfr. the madness of Ayax when he failed to win the armour on Achilles's  
death). 
 
L. Helms seems to quote:
 
 
>"To subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest  of
>excellence."

Now the implication of 'doing battle' is that  there will be deaths -- on 
possibly both sides. And I will be more than  curious to know what historian, 
war-tactician, or politician said that."  Churchill? Bush?
 
My favourite Churchill quote of recent, is "I will make them [it's not  clear 
who 'they' are] learn English, have Latin as a rigour, and Greek as a  
treat'. I love the idea of a Greek treat (or trick).
 
Happy Halloween.

Cheers,

J. L. Speranza,


Buenos Aires, Argentina. 



************************************** See what's new at http://www.aol.com

Other related posts: