A Moment of War

Quote of the Week:

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

We gathered in the square, blowing in the ice-sharp wind, and were given long sticks for guns. We were going to attack a ‘strong point’ up the hill, an enemy machine-gun position; a frontal and flanking assault on bare rising ground. “The attack will be pushed home with surprise and determination,” said the Commandant. “It happens all the time.”

…Near the top of the hill, with the banging of the oil-drums much closer, our leaders cried, “Forward! Adelante! Charge!” We leapt to our feet and galloped the last few yards, shouting as horribly as we could, and cast ourselves on the men who had been beating the oil-drums, who then threw up their arms and surrendered, sniggering.
Twenty minutes’ crawling and sauntering up that bare open hill, and we had captured a machine-gun post, without loss. Our shouting died; it had been a famous victory. Real guns would have done for the lot of us.

We finished the day’s training with an elaborate anti-tank exercise. A man covered a pram with an oil-cloth and pushed it round and round the square, while we stood in doorways and threw bottles and bricks at it. The man pushing the pram was Danny, from London. He was cross when a bottle hit him.

(Laurie Lee: A Moment of War)


Return from the War

Quote of the Week:

Robert Graves (1895-1985)

“England looked strange to us returned soldiers. We could not understand the war-madness that ran wild everywhere, looking for a pseudo-military outlet. The civilians talked a foreign language. I found serious conversation with my parents all but impossible.”

(Robert Graves: Goodbye to All That)

Pizarro & Atahualpa

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Pizarro leaves Trujillo with 130 men, forty cavalry and two small cannons…

Pizarro captures Cajamarca during the Inca’s absence and sends a messenger with an invitation to Atahualpa. The latter arrives with 6000 men, and within thirty-three minutes a centuries-old empire lies in ruins. The divine Inca is carried to the main square of the city on a golden litter, the feet of the son of the Sun are not permitted to touch the ground. Servants sweep the street ahead of the procession. But Pizarro has ordered his soldiers to take up positions in the surrounding buildings and he himsef, a towering figure on his horse (an animal unknown to the Incas), rides towards the Inca. The Dominican monk Valverde holds out a Bible to Atahualpa; he doesn’t know what it is and lets the holy book fall to the ground. This is the signal for attack. The two small cannons are fired, the Indians panic, 2000 unarmed Incas are massacred, Atahualpa is taken prisoner.

But it is only in our minds that he was defeated by fewer than 200 Spaniards and forty horses. He, however, was defeated by beasts with feet of silver, creatures that were semi-human, centaurs. Or in the shape of a legend of white gods who were fated to return. His downfall was not brought by the power of his adversary, but by an interpretation, and by the time the Incas realised that it was too late.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

The Seed of Resistance

Quote of the Week:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas. Defeat may prove to have been the only path to resurrection, despite its ugliness. I take it for granted that to create a tree I condemn a seed to rot. If the first act of resistance comes too late it is doomed to defeat. But it is, nevertheless, the awakening of resistance. Life may grow from it as from a seed.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)


The Enemy III (The Power of Life and Death)

We’ll remember the Exodus, the flight of many millions of French civilians from the advancing German army in June 1040, with another quote from Léon Werth’s book 33 Days.  (For the previous two quotes, please see the links below.)

Quote of the Week:

Léon Werth, 1878-1955

Behind this soldier is the entire might of the Reich, and the eyes of German soldiers are “full of victory,” as a peasant said to me. I’m obsessed by the idea that between this soldier and myself there is no man-to-man relationship or any relation determined by the laws and customs of a common country. There’s only the law of war, which is nothing but utility and caprice. Between him and me, it is understood that he has the power of life or death.

(Léon Werth: 33 Days)


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The Enemy II (They Enter Whenever They Like)

A few weeks ago, we had a quote from Léon Werth’s book 33 Days. The author was French, and a friend of Antoine de St-Exupéry who not only dedicated The Little Prince to him, but also wrote the foreword to 33 Days.

33 Days tells the author’s experiences in the so called Exodus, the great flight of many million French civilians from the advancing German army in June 1940.

It’s a book close to my heart because Léon Werth’s description of what it was like to live under occupation tallies with what my grandmother told me about living under first German, then Russian occupation in World War II. (Although my grandmother had much more horrific stories to tell of the vulnerability of civilians – and especially that of women – than what you can read in 33 Days.)

Quote of the Week:

Léon Werth, 1878-1955

I don’t need a dictionary to describe the difference between force and authority. I’m nothing more than a member of a captive tribe.

They’re next to us, up against us and all around us. They’re outside the house and inside the house, which they enter whenever they like.

(Léon Werth: 33 Days)


The Enemy

Quote of the Week:

Léon Werth, 1878-1955

At the door of the town hall-schoolhouse, a German officer politely makes way for my wife. He hesitates, then suddenly says in passable French, “You are afraid of us, madame?”

“Afraid? No, monsieur. But as long as you wear that suit (she points at his uniform) here, you are my enemy.”

(Léon Werth: 33 Days)


Exodus (Éxodo)

France, June 1940:

An estimated 10 million people, including up to 80% of the population of Paris, fled south from the German advance to seek safety beyond the River Loire in what became known in history as l’Exode – the Exodus.

Francia, junio 1940:

Se estima que 10 millones de personas, incluido hasta el 80% de la población de París, huyeron hacia el sur del avance alemán para buscar la seguridad más allá del río Loira en lo que se conoció en la historia como l’Exode: el Éxodo.

Continue reading “Exodus (Éxodo)”

Lucan on the Civil War (Lucano sobre la guerra civil)

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (39 A.D. -65 A.D.) 

Quote of the Week / Cita de la semana:

If you have such a passion for unspeakable war, Rome, turn your hand against yourself only when you have put the whole world under Latin laws: you have not yet run out of enemies.

Lucan: On the Civil War

Si tamañas ansias tienes, Roma, de una guerra impía, una vez sometido el orbe a las leyes latinas, vuelve tus manos contra ti: pero hasta el momento no te han faltado enemigos en el exterior.

Marco Anneo Lucano: Farsalia: De la guerra civil

Si tantus amor belli tibi, Roma, nefandi, totum sub Latias leges cum miseris orbem, in te uerte manus: nondum tibi defuit hostis.

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus: De bello civili (Pharsalia)


Quote of the Week: A Crop of Golden Trajectories

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Toulouse in 1933
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

Each burst of a machine gun or a rapid-fire cannon shot forth hundreds of these phosphorescent bullets that followed one another like the beads of a rosary. A thousand elastic rosaries strung themselves out towards the plane, drew themselves out to the breaking point, and burst at our height. When, missing us, the string went off at a tangent, its speed was dizzying. The bullets were transformed into lightning.

And I flew drowned in a crop of trajectories as golden as stalks of wheat. I flew at the centre of a thicket of lance strokes. I flew threatened by a vast and dizzying flutter of knitting needles. All the plain was now bound to me, woven and wound round me, a coruscating web of golden wire.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

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