The Thin Red Line, by James R. Jones – 1962, 1964 (Unknown artist)

the-thin-red-line-james-jones-1962-1964Welsh had never been in combat.
But he had lived for a long time with a lot of men who had.
And he had pretty well lost his belief in,
as well as his awe of,
the mystique of human combat.
Old vets from the First World War,
younger men who had been with the Fifteenth Infantry in China,
for years he had sat around getting drunk with them
and listening to their drunken stories of melancholy bravery.
He had watched the stories grow with the years and the drinking sprees,
and he had been able to form only one conclusion
and that was that every old vet was a hero.
How so many heroes survived and so many non-heroes got knocked off,
Welsh could not answer.
But every old vet was a hero.
If you did not believe it, you had only to ask them,
or better yet, get them drunk and not ask them.
There just wasn’t any other kind.
One of the hazards of professional soldiering was that every twenty years,
regular as clockwork,
that portion of the human race to which you belonged,
whatever its politics or ideals about humanity,
was going to get involved in a war,
and you might have to fight in it.
About the only way out of this mathematical hazard
was to enlist immediately after one war
and hope you would be too old for the next; you might just make it.
But to accomplish that you had to be of a certain age at just exactly the right time,
and that was rare.
But it was either that, or enlist in the Quartermaster Corps or some such branch.
Welsh had already understood all this when he enlisted in 1930
exactly between wars at the age of twenty,
but he had gone ahead and enlisted anyway.
He had gone ahead and enlisted,
and he had enlisted in the Infantry.
Not in the Quartermaster Corps.
And he had stayed in Infantry.
And this amused Welsh too.

 

jones-1110_edited-2Doll had learned something during the past six months of his life.
Chiefly what he had learned was that everybody lived by a selected fiction.
Nobody was really what he pretended to be.
It was as if everybody made up a fiction story about himself,
and then he just pretended to everybody that that was what he was.
And everybody believed him, or at least accepted his fiction story.
Doll did not know if everybody learned this about life
when they reached a certain age,
but he suspected that they did.
They just didn’t tell it to anybody.
And rightly so.
Obviously, if they told anybody,
then their own fiction story about themselves wouldn’t be true either.
So everybody had to learned it for himself.
And then, of course, pretend he hadn’t learned it.
Doll’s own first experience of this phenomenon had come from,
or at least begun with,
a fight he had had six months ago with one of the biggest,
toughest men in C-for-Charlie,
Corporal Jenks.
They had fought each other to a standstill,
because neither would give up,
until finally it was called a sort of draw-by-exhaustion.
But it wasn’t this so much as it was the sudden realization
that Corporal Jenks was just as nervous about having the fight as he was,
and did not really want to fight any more than he did,
which had suddenly opened Doll’s eyes.
Once he’d seen it here, in Jenks, he began to see it everywhere,
in everybody.

jones-2111_edited-2Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep

Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;

An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit

Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”

But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll –

The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,

O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

(Rudyard Kipling’s Verse, definitive edition, (1891), 1940)

Flight to Arras, by Antoine de Saint Exupéry – 1942 (Lewis Galantiere)

flight-to-arras-antoine-de-saint-exupery-lewis-galantiere-1942-19__-paul-bacon_edited-1Pure logic is the ruin of the spirit.

* * * * * * * * * *

I don’t think highly of physical courage.
Life has taught me that there is only one true kind of courage:
resisting the condemnation of a mode of thought.
I know that it took me much more courage
not to budge from the line of conduct my
conscience dictated to me,
despite two years of slander and insults,
than to photograph Mainz or Essen…

The Years of War, by Vasiliy S. Grossman – 1946 (Unknown artist)

the-years-of-war-vassili-grossman-1946-1 the-years-of-war-vassili-grossman-1946-2_edited-1 grossman-vasily-ds-600 The attached document – Vasiliy Grossman’s Commendation for The Order of the Red Star (Ordenu Krasnaya Zvezda – Ордену Красная Звезда) , dated 9 December 1942, was obtained from the Podvig Naroda (Подвиг Народа – Feats of the People) website.  This document specifically mentions Grossman’s works “The People are Immortal,” “The Battle of Stalingrad”, “Stalingrad Crossing”, and “Stalingrad Story”.  The English translation of the award citation can be found here.

Grossman’s experiences, recollections, and reporting during the Battle of Stalingrad formed a central basis for the setting and characters in his postwar novel, Life and Fate.

For a deeper understanding of the life and works of Vasiliy Grossman, I strongly recommend The Bones of Berdichev – The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman, by John Garrard and Carol Garrard (The Free Press, 1996), and A Writer At War – Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, by Anthony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova (Pantheon Books, 2005).    

grossman-vasiliy-s-1a grossman-vasiliy-s-1b

The Coast of Chicago, by Stuart Dybek – 1990 (Tunis Ponsen)

the-coast-of-chicago-stuart-dybek-1990-tunis-ponsen-1The infield is for
wisecrackers,
pepper-pots,
gum-poppers;
the outfield is for
loners,
onlookers,
brooders who would rather study clover and swat gnats than holler. 
People could pretty much be divided between infielders and outfielders.
Not that one always has a choice. 
He didn’t necessarily choose right field so much as accept it

– Stuart Dybek

the-coast-of-chicago-stuart-dybek-1990-tunis-ponsen-2

Walk the Dark Streets, by William Krasner – 1949 (Unknown artist)

walk-the-dark-streets-william-krasner-1950-1The Marne Hotel

The yellow fog was already creeping up around the Marne Hotel,
mingling with the white breath from the sewers,
carrying the faint, sweet, rotting scent off the Ohio River. 
It was not thick yet,
only a gentle curdling in the atmosphere,
but it laid damp greasy fingers on the crumbling granite,
on the pavement,
and on the windshield of the coupe
that Detective Captain Sam Birge of the Homicide Squad
was pulling to the curb across the street.

 

walk-the-dark-streets-william-krasner-1950-2He looked at his watch.  It was late now.
It was time to be on his way home.
Time to go home, to Edna, and to his son.
He got up.
Nobody called to him as he went through the outer office,
or through the brightly lit corridor.
No one was at the doors as he passed through.
It seemed to him, outside, that it should have been lighter there,
now that it was time for dawn.
But the fog was all around, a moving, blinding sheet,
and he could not see in any direction.
He lifted his eyes toward the sky.
Perhaps it was becoming lighter somewhere,
far above,
but there was not way to be sure.
He turned his collar up and stepped out into the dark street.

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman -1980, 1987 (Christopher Zacharow)

life-and-fate-vasily-grossman-1985-1987-christopher-zacharow-newThe fate of many of them seemed so poignantly sad
that to speak of them in even the most tender, quiet, kind words
would have been like touching a heart torn open
with a rough and insensitive hand. 

It was really quite impossible to speak of them at all..

grossman109_edited-2But an invisible force was crushing him.
He could feel its weight, its hypnotic power;
it was forcing him to think as it wanted, to write as it dictated.
This force was inside him;
it could dissolve his will and cause his heart to stop beating;
it came between him and his family;
it insinuated itself into his past, into his childhood memories.
He began to feel that he really was untalented and boring,
someone who wore out the people around him with dull chatter.
Even his work seemed to have grown dull,
to be covered with a layer of dust;
the thought of it no longer filled him with light and joy.
Only people who have never felt such a force themselves
can be surprised that others submit to it.
Those who have felt it, on the other hand,
feel astonished that a man can rebel against it even for a moment
– with one sudden word of anger,
one timid gesture of protest.

The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy

the-moviegoer-walker-percy-1980-1982-gifThat is the way I got to know Mr. Kinsella:
engaging him in conversation about the theater business.
I have discovered that most people have no one to talk to,
no one, that is, who really wants to listen.
When it does at last dawn on a man
that you really want to hear about his business,
the look that comes over his face is something to see.

the-moviegoer-walker-percy-1980-1982-2-cover-art-editNo, I do it for my own selfish reasons.
If I did not talk to the theater owner or the ticket seller,
I should be lost, cut loose, metaphysically speaking.
I should be seeing one copy of a film
which might be shown anywhere at any time.
There is a danger of slipping clean out of space and time.
It is possible to become a ghost
and not know whether one is in
downtown Loews in Denver or surburban Bijou in Jacksonville.