There are so many horrors to point to. And there will be so many horrors yet to come.
What is so startling is the terrible incompetence of the attempt to have the American military leave the country. The experts seem to know nothing. The Intelligence Community knew nothing about the real state of affairs.The US Military were being withdrawn BEFORE the Afghan citizens they were suppose to re-locate were removed from the country.
Planning – what planning?
A dire situation – for the USA was eventually going to leave regardless – was turned into a disaster.
Afghanistan, historically known as the Graveyard of Empires, took another one
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries. Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village of Zurau, where he is living with his sister. He is talking about the end of the Empire the townsfolk have been living under all their lives. Their Empire, and the civilization they know, is soon to be swept away. Will their lives go with it?
He speaks the truth /he avoids the truth.
15 January 1918
This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.
I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.
The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.
“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.
I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.
I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.
And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.
And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.
16 January 1918
I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.
17 January 1918
I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.
I don’t know how it started – I heard it, but didn’t see it.
There was a harsh thud against the window. If you are used to it (I have heard it enough) you know that a bird has struck the glass. Generally hard enough to stun or kill. Break their necks. When he was a child, my father saw a bird hit a window so hard that it smashed the glass and ended inside the room. It was dead.
So I got out of my chair and pulled the blinds open and took a look. By the sidewalk was a blackbird, dead enough looking for me to assume it was dead. As it proved to be. But, also on the scene were five or six blackbirds, calling and fluttering and diving and raising right hell .I thought it an unusual commotion even for the death of one of their own, And then I looked up into the fir tree on the corner of the property. A third of the way from the ground was a crow. A very cautious crow. A crow twisting its head every which way it could.
Now, I did not see what made the blackbird crash into the window. It is reasonable to assume the crow was somehow the cause. Blackbirds chase crows, and dive bomb them, and worry them, and harry them, and do so with the help of other blackbirds. Crows like to raid their nests and eat their eggs or their young. A crow is a big bird compared to a blackbird. Strength in numbers.
So, I suspect the dead blackbird made an in flight miscalculation while chasing the crow. It got too close. Then, as it tried to get out of range, it crashed into the window. I was quick to look out the window, and the crow was already in the tree. It may have lunged at the blackbird, or spread its wings. or aimed its beak. The blackbird moved too quickly in its attempt to get out of the way.
But the crow was not out of the woods yet. It wasn’t going to take to the sky and attempt an escape. A half dozen blackbirds could inflict injury on the crow. It was going to stay put.
I had the unusual experience of being nearly level with the crow. I watched it. I watched its head. I watched its eyes. Birds have active, cautious, suspicious eyes. Their eyes are large in relation to their heads. Their eyes are jammed into their eye sockets, so they are generally unmovable. Consequently, when they want to move their eyes, they have to move their head.
So, this crow was moving its head a lot.
Five or six blackbirds kept hovering and diving. Even two blue jays joined in the ruckus, screeching in the background at all the commotion.
This went on about five minutes, then the other birds departed. A couple of minutes later, the crow lifted from the branch. It had murder in its eyes.
I don’t post this every first day of summer (tempting though it is), but I find it neat to have such a connection to the Celts, about whom I have written three novels
During World War Two, my father had the unique experience of guarding Stonehenge. Not by himself, of course, there were other members of the Canadian Army with him.
The vast plains around Stonehenge were utilised by the military in both world wars. During the First War, the area was a training ground for troops from various countries. There were many encampments for recruits, with both basic training and preparations to train for the trench warfare awaiting on the continent. There were thousands and thousands of men, and huge amounts of supplies.
During the Second War, the area was used as staging ground for the D-Day invasion. There was great security, and as much secrecy as possible. Soldiers were in place to guard the perimeter.
So, my father found himself not only guarding Stonehenge, but doing so on Midsummer Morn, when the sun rose over the monument. He was a learned man – a school teacher – and versed in the history of the place. He knew of the Celts and the Druids and some of the mythology. He knew this was sacred ground and that Midsummer Morn was especially important. He might have paused and tried to look into the past, and see more in the morning mist than was actually there. I do not know.
He did, however, when their shift was over and they got to eat, tell the other soldiers of the history of the place. He mentioned that, during such celebrations by the Celts, the Druids might have a virgin killed to appease the gods. The other soldiers were shocked.
So implies the newspaper headlines in the Spring of 2020. With photos. Photos provided by the Russian military.
In The Bonner Resolution, my novel of NATO Military Intrigue, the Russians do not invade the Artic. But they make stealth under the ice with a nuclear submarine. NATO is waiting.
This is how “The Bonner Resolution”begins:
Afternoon ZULU Time 14:52
The sky is clear and cold.
This does not help while watching the expanse of ice. Colonel Bonner thought it would. He thought such a clean demarcation of surface and horizon would accentuate anything appearing between the two. Across kilometers of rippled ice that encourages the winds. The winds that make the Arctic cold penetrate his high tech parka and his thermal long johns. They talk about “wind chill” in the country Bonner is used to. They don’t know nothing.
Before this assignment, Colonel Bonner presumed he had been every place NATO could send him. He has been in war zones. He has been in safe zones where people did not know there is a war. He has been in those diplomatic zones that teeter-totter between the two. Those most of all. He has fought enemies both foreign and domestic. He has averted disaster of massive proportions on his own soil (well – legal sea boundary) that has still managed to remain unexplained.
It was cold there, too.
Colonel Bonner is lying under white camouflage blankets and upon a waterproof mat. He has been in this position for two hours. Any longer and he will be prone to hallucinations. Any longer and he will freeze his balls off – regardless of protective clothing and insulated mat. This is not just his opinion; it is the observation of his guide. His Canadian Ranger companion had nudged him on the shoulder and cupped his own groin and pointed at his watch. If he wants to have babies he’ll move his ass. The cold doesn’t creep up on you, it hits with a wallop. From one minute to the next.
Bonner looks at his own watch. Twenty minutes left though he feels he could have been here either four hours or forty minutes. Time expands and contracts at the same time. This happens during long periods of observation, wherever he has such an assignment. It happens with more force when there is virtually nothing to see. The passage of the sun is the most notable action going on before him. It proves to be of little distraction. And anyway, it is dimmed by his snow goggles.
Bonner adapts to this barren reality by accepting it is not really barren. He pays attention not only to the things the Canadian Rangers teach him, but he watches how they interact to the surroundings. With few humans to deal in an environment that can kill them, they are far more attentive to their senses than he. A creaking of ice, or the slant of shifting snow, tells them more than a manual reveals. They can smell a change coming toward them that is hours away. He makes an attempt to follow their lead. He keeps his mouth shut on the inane observations those from the south are prone to make. He has been shown his restraint is appreciated.
And this is but one of the many news stories that cover the real event.
My father, Bombardier Byron C Estey, Service Number G4094 Units: 1st Anti Tank Regiment: 90th Anti-Tank Battery was on the crew of an anti-tank gun, similar to the one shown above. His job was to plot the trajectory of the shells, so perhaps he would have stood in the same position as the fellow closest to the camera. The photo is taken during the Italian campaign in 1943, so my father was in the area.
Dad talked about the war, but rarely about the bad parts. He was full of amusing antidotes and descriptions and the tales of how people would act. He met my mother in England and it was love at first sight. He rarely neglected to add that he met her “…while searching for the ruins.” Those ruins were Hadrian’s Wall and my mother was also visiting them – with her boyfriend. So it goes.
My father was stationed in England for nearly three years. Canadian soldiers were positioned around London in case of a German invasion. Though such orders were never directly given, it was understood that the Canadians would ‘take no prisoners’ in the event of an invasion. My father had no problem with that.
He landed for the Invasion of Sicily and fought up through Italy. He was in what is classed as one of the bloodiest battles Canadian forces encountered, The Battle Of Ortona, called “The Italian Stalingrad”. He spoke little about these eight days, which included Christmas amongst the blood.
Dad was never wounded (though he once stood up in his slit trench to see what the “funny noises” were and had his battle tunic shredded with shrapnel). He also contracted malaria, and the day the hospital tent was sweltering and he dragged his mattress beneath a tree, two doctors stood over him. They thought him unconscious and debated his condition. There was a new medicine for malaria and they discussed whether Dad was too near death to waste it on him. Since I am writing these words you may conclude they decided in favour.
I regret not talking more about the war with him, though he did not welcome such intrusion. I did once ask how close he actually got to German soldiers. He said: “Close enough to kill them.”
Battle of Britain Day is 15 September. On that day in 1940, the German Air Force accepted that they could not sustain an air invasion of Britain. They ceased their daytime attacks, and resorted to only attacking at night.
I just realized today that my father, a soldier in the Canadian Army (whose prime military involvement in the Second World War was the invasion of Sicily and Italy), actually had greater personal hardship from events dealing with the air invasion of Britain, than the acute danger he faced during his land invasion.
The first thing that comes to mind is that he hated the confinement of bomb shelters, and would not use them. He would wander the streets and watch the air action. He saw bombs explode, and planes (of both sides) get shot down. He recounted one experience of seeing a German pilot parachuting to the ground, after bailing from his plane. A very young soldier aimed his rifle at the descending airman and was ready to shoot. An officer knocked his rifle aside. The soldier started to cry, yelling “They bring me over here, and they train me, but they won’t let me kill a damn German.”
On one occasion, my father went on leave with a group of soldiers, including his three best buddies. They were always together. However, my father also spent time with my mother (she was a British girl, and became his War Bride). As a result, my father did not return on the same truck that his buddies did, but spent as much time on leave as he could with my mother. When he did return to his barracks, he was greeted by shock and disbelief. The truck he was supposed to return in had been struck by a direct hit from a German bomber. It had just been assumed that one of the mangled corpses was his.
And the third thing, which I believe he only mentioned once, concerned an incident that happened near one of his British postings. His company was often moved and placed elsewhere during the three years he was in Britain. They would stay in each place a few months, and make friends with the local people. Near one of these postings there was a Boy’s School, mainly of younger teenagers. The boys were interested (indeed, fascinated) by the Canadian soldiers, and spent time with them. One day the school was bombed, and the soldiers were first into the ruined building. My father was eventually to see things more horrible than this slaughter, but I feel it affected him the worst.
Commander-in-Chief Donaldo decided it would be a grand day to become Admiral of the Fleet – Lord High Admiral, if he chose the hat with cockade and plume.
The plume put on an impressive display, as he either agreed (or disapproved) with a toss (or a shake) of his head. The dancing ostrich feathers would added a dashing air as he boarded his flagship and, with just the right mixture of stringent authority and well-tempered geniality, moved among the ranks of ratings on the aft deck.
He would, of course, be extra careful about the pitfalls awaiting a man, with ornate dress sword and scabbard, among the steep steps and narrow companionways.
Wednesday was khaki day for Commander-in-Chief Donaldo.
It was the day set aside to remind him of the loyalty he must always retain from his men. What is a leader without his troops? As a treat – for really, dull brown did not make a striking appearance – he would chose the tank commander’s uniform.
With its wide web belt and shiny black holster on the hip, flap unsnapped to reveal the butt of a wicked forty-five. And black leather gloves, as befits a man at the controls of so much power. And a steel helmet polished to a mirror-shine.
The riding crop? Ah, the riding crop was debatable.
Today he would have a parade.
Massed men at attention with stiffly-held rifles and fixed bayonets.
Commander-in-Chief Donaldo would have to chose carefully. to represent his awesome power and responsibility. Cavalry boots are a must, raising half-way up the calf, resounding with silver spurs, steel-tipped toes and heels.
Then would come crisp black trousers, billowing majestically around the thighs, kept up with a wide leather belt. He took care that each red stripe reaching the length of each leg was as straight as an arrow.
His blue tunic, he decided, would have only muted decorations, with the minimum of gold braid entwined about his shoulders. He is – after all – a fighting general.
Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:
August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.
That was it.
But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.
But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling. Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.
07 February 1918
I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.
There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.
“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”
That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.