Posts Tagged ‘Honor’

This is the third in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

In THE COMPLEAT GENTLEMAN, Brad Miner tells us that a gentleman should hold his own beliefs, his own code so dear that when the time comes to give his life for what he believes, it should appear he cast it away as though it meant nothing to him. That is how action appears when one depends on a belief that is complete, whole. One can put everything one is into action and proceed without hesitation.

This isn’t always possible. Not every believe we hold is so complete, so whole that we can act on it so decisively.

Is Musashi advising us to only act when you’re absolutely certain of your reasons, the environment, the adversary, the desired outcome? This would be impossible and would leave us trapped in inaction while we constantly gathered new information and re-examined our beliefs.

What Musashi is advising us here is that one can rely on and act so decisively only on whole feelings, complete information. But when we are required to act on partial feelings, information and commitments we recognize are imperfect and incomplete, we must not depend on the course such feeling would insist on without being prepared to alter that course when we learn the feeling or incomplete belief we are acting on is wrong.

When considering this precept, its important to keep in mind the idea that any “partial feeling” must also include its opposite. A partial feeling that a man is trustworthy admits to a partial feeling that the same man is not trustworthy. Neither of those feelings can then possibly be relied upon.

I, personally, have many times watched the failure of my plans and thought, “I saw that coming” or “I knew…” or better, “I should have known…” This is the after effect of relying on a partial feeling. When we are genuinely mistaken, failure comes as a surprise.

Following this precept then requires that we take upon ourselves two habits. We must examine our beliefs closely. We must know what we believe utterly (and hope it reflects the first precept’s admonishment to accept things exactly as they are) and what beliefs we cannot commit to wholly. An incomplete belief, whether moral or concerning the nature of things, need not be abandoned, but it must be recognized as only partial.

I have a pretty solid conviction that the US Constitution is the most perfect political document. It is only “pretty solid” and not “absolute” because I do not know the details of most other governments (I am not terribly interested in political theory) and because the romantic in me wants a monarchy while the rebel in me wants anarchy. I also recognize that the constitution hasn’t been a meaningful part of how our government works for over a hundred years.

My decision to enlist in 1985 was not fueled by patriotism. Enlistment is one of those “all or nothing” decisions a man makes in his life. You place yourself entirely in the hands of a system that openly admits it will risk or spend your life as it sees fit and expect you to obey. Doing so on the basis of a partial feeling of patriotism would be foolish.

I enlisted because I wanted to know the things soldiers know. I wanted the skill set that comes with being an infantryman in an army. I had no doubts about this. Had I been born in any other country, I would have still found myself in the army.

My feelings on the country are partial. My feeling on military service is not.

The second habit required when one holds incomplete beliefs is the adoption of contingency plans. Every plan the military makes considers the possibility that our understanding is incomplete. As a result, those plans contain clauses that “If we find this, we will do that.” When we hold partial feelings, we must have plans and provisions that come in to play when we discover which of the possibilities we half believed in is “things as they are.”

Again we are brought to the first precept. We discussed there acceptance that we will always have blind spots and errors in our understanding. But we are resolved to accept things as they are no matter how inconvenient that is to our self image or our view of the world.

Likewise, when our feelings are partial or incomplete, we must consider how we will act when reality comes down on one side or the other and reality makes one belief complete. We must have contingency plans. “Trust, but verify.” Be prepared when one verifies our trust was given in error, act on the way things are, not on that fiction our trust hoped for.

General James Mattis gave us a good rule to follow: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

We are obliged by the human condition to act on impartial feelings. I suspect most men are good and mean well for their fellows. But I always carry myself as if among secretive enemies. I cannot rely on my suspicion that men are good and let my guard down, exposing those I love to the wrath or opportunity of those few corrupt souls.

Start where you stand. With the first precept we analyzed our beliefs and our understandings. Now we must acknowledge that we must be prepared for the unpleasantness of learning that our worst suspicions might be the reality we live in. Especially examine and test your own capabilities and refuse to depend on anything but the most solid proof that you are physically, mentally prepared to walk the way alone.

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This is the second in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

When Musashi wrote these precepts, he wasn’t writing for all of us. He wasn’t writing for you and me. He was writing for one student; Terao Magonojo. He wasn’t writing for shopkeepers who attend a martial arts class twice a week. He was writing for a student who would face death every time he drew his weapon and was depending on that “Way” as his path to enlightenment and salvation.

For Musashi and for the warrior-monk, prowess is part of the path to salvation. If you study a martial art that ends in -do (Aikido, Judo, Karatedo, Hwarang-Do) then you should understand that “-do” means way in the exact same manner that “Dharma” means way. Among the Hindus of the classic age it was recognized that each caste had its own dharma. What was right for the Brahmin might not be right for the Ksatriya.

When Musashi says “the Way” he is referring to this concept. The Way of the Sword. The Way of Walking Alone.

That said, perhaps it is important to ask whether every man has a duty as a warrior to train and study and think upon these things as though he, too, were facing extinction at every moment. Perhaps our shopkeeper needs to keep death in his mind at all times, prepared for the robber who lies in wait when he locks his shop at night. In picking up this slender volume of essays, in reading even once THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS, we have committed to being students of the Way and students of that psychotic swordsman.

So, we do not seek pleasure for its own sake as our teacher taught us.

Note that Musashi does not say, “Do not seek pleasure.” He says do not seek pleasure “for its own sake.”

As a warrior, even a warrior who spends his time as a shopkeeper or a doctor or a carpenter, it is necessary to put training and fighting ahead of everything else. Those two arenas must occupy all of our time. By fighting, I don’t necessarily mean a physical struggle. Sitting here at this laptop writing these words is fighting. Reading about how better to push my ideas into the world is training.

But if we lift for two hours a day, and train jujitsu for two hours a day and have 40 hour a week jobs, that leaves about 72 hours a week for study and recreation. We have families, children, who are owed far more time than we seem to have to give them.

My point isn’t that our lives are too busy to train. You’re a warrior, training should be a given, sleep and work might be questionable. My point is that we have SO much time for recreation that we need to ask whether we are using that time as we should or whether we are merely killing time by seeking pleasure for its own sake.

Training and constant vigilance require energy. There’s nothing wrong with recharging your batteries by playing guitar and drinking a few beers with your brothers. There’s nothing wrong with eating delicious food. There’s nothing wrong with sitting in a room lit only by the TV watching a show with your fingers in your wife’s hair allowing the day to decompress.

When I get a pizza and sit alone in the back of my truck, eating too many carbs and undoing the work accomplished that morning at the gym, I am indulging in pleasure for the sake of pleasure. When I take my youngest son to Chuck E Cheese and eat an even less healthy pizza (and drink soda) the purpose of our pleasure is bonding over video games and the accumulation of tickets to be exchanged for plunder. It is, in effect, training time for two warriors as we throw skee-balls and gun down aliens.

No form of recreation…provided it doesn’t undo your training…is unhealthy or unnecessary provided it is done always with an eye toward your role as a warrior.

I play Dungeons and Dragons with my sons. We play Minecraft on XBox. There are few activities that I would condemn out of hand as never having any benefit. Smoking, perhaps. The use of dangerous recreational drugs. This precept only condemns those pleasures that claim our time and our strength and benefit no one. And we are surrounded by such pleasing vices.

This, then, becomes the vital point for the ronin in the 21st Century, pleasure and recreation must be seen in the context of furthering your aims as a warrior whether those aims are that you support and defend your family or the perfection of prowess for its own sake. If it does not increase the harmony you feel within and without, it must be cast away no matter how good it feels.

For my own part, I struggle with this precept constantly. I want Pepsi and tacos…that aforementioned pizza. I recently examined my life, the amount of time I wasted when I should be training or fighting and made the decision to live outdoors. I have been able to put more money into my business ideas, have been more diligent about training and nutrition, but best of all, I have rediscovered the pleasure of waking up to the sky after a night spent falling asleep under the stars.

I have an infinite access to pleasures…but none of them exist for their own sake now. It becomes obvious to me now that the pleasure I chase for its own sake is always a vice.

Start where you sit. Consider the comforts you are surrounded by now. How many are essential? How many actually further your development and how many somehow hold you back? How many of the pleasures you indulge in serve no purpose beyond that pleasure? If you stripped away those pleasures that are actually innocent seeming hedonisms, would you have more time and greater resources for the things that truly matter to you more?

If you recognize that you have pleasures that you cannot discard even though they hold you back, you have to examine whether these addictions are such that you willingly step away from the Way of Walking Alone. There will be legions who cannot follow this Dharma, this Do, this Way. Only you know if you are among them.

Was anyone actually surprised?

We all grew up on stories of young starlets going to Hollywood and making it big either because of or in spite of a dalliance on the casting couch. On 16 Oct, Ben Zimmer wrote a piece for the Atlantic in which he disclosed the origin of that phrase: “the casting couch” and he traces the phenomenon beyond Hollywood of the 20’s and 30’s and to Broadway where the Schubert brothers apparently kept apartments for their dalliances with actresses and dancers.

In 1920, Photoplay magazine ran an article which Zimmerman quotes as saying, “young women are not advanced in their chosen profession unless they submit to the advances of studio managers, directors or influential male stars.”

Suddenly, we’re not talking about the activity of a few rich and powerful men.

We’re talking about an aspect of a sub-culture.

Women choosing this profession of actress must surely have heard the same stories as you and I. They knew advancing in their craft mean headshots and dance lessons and a voice coach and nights at the Four Seasons with Harvey Weinstein. We have heard a great many starlets come out with their stories of how Harvey assaulted them or asked for a massage or made some lewd comment. That we haven’t yet heard from Sally Mae of Podunk, Arkansas about the time she rejected Harvey and was told she would never work in Hollywood again suggest that, perhaps, even when not embraced, Harvey’s advances were an accepted, expected part of doing business in Hollywood.

Until it wasn’t.

Until whoever complained first spoke out and then so many followed her talking about their experiences YEARS after the fact. These poor victims who had made so much money and garnered so much fame as a result of their dance lessons, their head shots, their voice coach and their nights at the Four Seasons with Harvey Weinstein.

I have never met a good man who one day discovered he wanted to be a pimp. Pimping, it could be supposed, might be that vehicle he took to such fortunes as might buy his mother a house and send his sisters to college and build a hospital to name after his father. Such noble use of wealth seems incompatible with the base nature required to be a merchant in the rental of women’s bodies (Dan Akroyd in DOCTOR DETROIT and Will Ferrell in THE GOOD GUYS being the exception that proves the rule, perhaps.)

Being a pimp simply carries with it a moral burden and a blood guilt that good men would refuse to bear.

If my son said he was thinking of becoming a pimp, I’d lay out for him the moral issues and the stain such deeds imprint on one’s soul. If my daughter were thinking of going to Hollywood, I’d remind her that success depended a great deal on “who you blow” rather than “who you know.” It has always been this way.

I’m not arguing that since it has always been this way no victim should complain or that Harvey Weinstein should be viewed only as an artist and a businessman in an environment flowing with the eager attentions of women. I am arguing that every woman who posed for a head shot had already decided whether she was going to submit to his advances and had already decided she would at least keep quiet so she could be part of that sub-culture.

I hope it is time to throw out the casting couch and demand that these flesh merchants be honorable men. I don’t expect it, I’m sure a director with a true White Knight’s respect for women could never cast an interesting movie where some young starlet wears the Black Widow costume or exposes her body (for the sake of the art, of course) or embodies the literary and commercial excellence of the FIFTY SHADES movies.

These women knew these advances were going to occur when they walked into the room and declared they were an actress.

And they still walked in that room.

Harvey Weinstein might be a terrible example of the merchant mentality where sex is bought and sold for influence and favor just as any commodity is. But I doubt he is the worst. He’s just the one we’re going to talk about this week. #BringBackOurGirls

He will be replaced and hound starlets will kneel before his replacement auditioning as expected for the lead role in the remake of BUTTERFLY or 9 1/2 WEEKS. I don’t fault them. It is how powerful merchants have always behaved. What cannot be won, must be purchased and everything has its price in their world.

I do not fault, either, the young actresses posing for headshots and trying to relax when such a man touches them and they do what they must to advance in their profession. I do hope neither plays the hypocrite and pretends they did not know, they did not accept, they did want to pay this price.

One last note: I think the greatest fault and condemnation in these stories falls to the men by whom these women thought they were held dear. Where were the brothers, the fathers, the boyfriends? Why did none of these men break role and stand up to the villain and punish him? Had they, too, accepted it was merely part of the culture of Hollywood? We’re they afraid of that offense some women seem to feel when a man thinks they need rescued?

One of the things I’ve been working on while away from my blog has been the ADF Dedicant program.

 

1: Written discussions of the Dedicant’s understanding of each of the following nine virtues:

Wisdom:  Wisdom is an understanding of the universe both broad enough and deep enough that one can understand the impact of his decisions. Only then can one be held truly accountable for his deeds. This isn’t a requirement that one possess any form of omniscience, only a mingling of “common sense” and enough experience that one understands that Deed A provokes Reaction A and, perhaps, a moral maturity that allows one to prefer certain outcomes to others. It is this experiential aspect to wisdom that makes our earthly elders worthy of respect as repositories of wisdom. As one lives and learns, he sees with his own eyes that the worlds work a certain way. The deeper the understanding of how one’s decisions impact the greater community and the earth herself the greater one’s wisdom can be said to be. I follow Aristotle in insisting that wisdom is incompatible with mis-deeds. Wisdom promotes courage by allowing us to see when and where we should stand and fight and the awful consequences of cowardice. Wisdom chooses our fears, but we do not allow our fears to choose our deeds. Wisdom is a cornerstone of piety. Wisdom tempers courage and forges it. Wisdom allows our practice of simplicity to be sincere and effective. Wisdom helps us find our proper place so that our piety is not in vain.

Piety:  Piety is an understanding of one’s proper place in the world of men and spirits and striving to fill that role in relation to one’s self, one’s community and the Earth herself. Arrogance is assuming a higher place than one has earned. Derogance is assuming a lower place in hopes of avoiding the responsibilities. None of this is to argue a fascist position that one is born into a hierarchy and need stay where one was born. Piety is that desire to preserve those traditions of that past that still serve us well and to promote new ideas still in harmony with the folk and the Gods when old ideas no longer serve. The individual has a responsibility to gather knowledge and grow in wisdom and strength in order to better serve the community and the Gods. This is the common view of piety; that one respect and honor and obey the Gods. But this narrow view fails to encompass such specifics as “filial piety” and fails to recognize that all deeds are either pious or impious. Every one of us is born to be a steward, a teacher, and a servant. Knowing what causes to serve is wisdom and serving them as well as possible is piety. Piety requires wisdom and courage. It supports perseverance by reminding us that we strive not for ourselves alone.

Vision:  Vision is that intellectual ability to gaze into the future and see what could be and what should be. It balances one’s desires for a better future with an understanding of what is possible, what is likely, what is desirable and what is mere fantasy. In this, it is dependent on wisdom. Once one can discern what is possible and good, one must then have a vision of how to achieve such a future in a manner that doesn’t undo the good inherent in the vision. A vision of material comfort and physical safety for all people everywhere is a fantasy. But it’s made worse if one rests that vision on denying personal freedom and responsibility. In this way, our vision must be curbed by the constraints of reality and an appreciation of the necessity of imperfection. Vision requires wisdom. Vision is the foundation of integrity. It is meaningless without courage. Every act taken in furtherance of our vision is a manifestation of fertility.

Courage: Courage is the capacity to make decisions out of compassion and love rather than fear. Whether it is a physical deed or a word spoke, courage is the decision to act (or refrain from acting) based on the needs of a moment and the future rather than one’s instinct for immediate self-preservation. It is almost cliché to quip that courage is seeing the danger and proceeding anyway. For my youngest son, jumping into the deep end of the pool requires courage where it doesn’t for his older brother or myself. We see no danger. But something troubles the youngest and he shakes and he knows something awful stands before him as he approaches the edge of the pool. Fear begs him to back away, it insists that he preserve himself and stand. If he lets fear make this decision, he loses more than an afternoon playing in the water. So, we ask him, “What do you do when you can’t be brave?” And he answers, “You pretend to be brave.” He still shakes. He still feels the fear. Sometimes…he jumps. We become brave by doing brave deeds. It is vital though that we learn authentic courage rather than simply acquiring a “fear of fear.” Courage is required for all good deeds. Nothing is easy. As I said; we cannot let fear make decisions for us. This is not the same as embracing foolhardiness and risk for its own sake. We do not court danger but we cannot let fear move us to act in ways that do not further the cause of Right and Good. We hold our values and our honor so closely that, when the time comes to give our lives in defense of our values and in pursuit of the Good, it will seem as though our lives meant nothing to us. But this courage must be tempered by wisdom lest it become a recklessness that does more harm than good. All other virtues are mere echoes without courage. But without wisdom, courage is simply foolhardiness.

Integrity: Integrity is one’s commitment to live according to his vision of what his own life should be. A man who can be counted on to always be selfish and greedy exhibits integrity when he encourages others to live so and never fails to serve himself first. That is integrity…but it lacks wisdom and piety. It is far more common for people to praise the good and claim to serve it even as they fail again and again to accomplish deeds or serve causes that further the good. It isn’t usually the case that people are devious servants of Evil, but we are far too often complacent and lazy. We mean it when we lament the evils we encounter. But that sincerity is not always enough to overcome the inertia of our modern, sedentary lives. When one possesses integrity, you can see their beliefs in their deeds. Integrity is the honest pursuit of one’s vision. It is the act of manifesting one’s piety. It requires courage and perseverance.

Perseverance: Perseverance is the virtue of not quitting. It really is that simple. You’re hungry? Don’t quit. You’re tired? Don’t quit. You’re unappreciated? Don’t quit. You’re going to fail anyway? Don’t quit. When we pursue our chosen goals, we will meet obstacles. Some of them beneath our notice, some easily dealt with, and some that make us question whether the goal is worth the effort. There is nothing wrong with questioning and re-evaluating a goal. And it is inevitable that sometimes we will fail. Perseverance is that attribute that allows us to push past reasonable doubt and push toward the goals that we have chosen. It is the ability to push past physical pain, intellectual doubt and the spiritual dark night of the soul. Perseverance is rooted in the compassion we have for those whom our goal will benefit, even if that goal seems only to benefit ourselves. Perseverance is, perhaps, impossible without Vision. The great enemy of perseverance is the idleness that comes when one seeks a life free of pain and conflict. We must shoulder our burdens and move forward seeking our proper place and executing our duties so as to benefit the community and honor our Gods and Ancestors

Hospitality: Hospitality is the generosity we must extend to those with whom we share the same moments whether kinsman or stranger. It is, of course, a consideration of what is owed a guest by a host and a host by the guest, but it is, also, a recognition that we carry nothing with us to the grave and leave behind a world impacted by our passage for better or worse. Hospitality, in its fullness requires that we consider our community entire and the well-being of future generations. In our days, we encounter those who can be said to possess the world and its delight’s less than we do. Whether it is a homeless person, a child, or someone else whose circumstances deprive them of full participation in the tribe’s affairs, hospitality requires us to recognize that in very real ways, that person is our guest in that moment.  By stepping forward and taking our place on the wall, we assume responsibility for the lives and well-being of others. What greater generosity is there than that we share our strengths and spend our lives in pursuit of the well-being of all? Give your time, your wealth, your energy to those people whose need hampers their development or the advancement of us all. Hospitality, generosity, largesse requires courage. The coward fears that he will not have the strength to feed himself again if he shares his meal with the hungry. When we exercise largess and keep an open table, we remind the world through our example that we have the strength and confidence to make our way into the future. Hospitality is a manifestation of piety as we recognize that we are not alone and that it is our place to feed and clothe our people. It requires the wisdom to discern what is needed by ourselves and others. It is not hospitality to offer an alcoholic a drink no matter how prettily he begs. And the simplicity of our own needs should be recognized so as to free up resources that we can share with those whose grasp is insufficient for their own modest needs. In this way, practicing moderation increases our capacity to practice hospitality. But hospitality is not limited to physical needs. The emotional needs of prisoners, children, and the entire community must also be addressed. We must, by our very presence and our words and deeds, convey to our community that they are safe and valued and supported.

Moderation: Moderation is the ability to perceive our own needs and to live according to those needs rather than our whims and desires. This is not to suggest that we must all adopt some ascetic existence bordering on starvation and devoid of joy. One of our genuine needs is recreation and laughter and occasional EXCESS! Just as moderation requires that we curb certain appetites such as junk food or harmful, immoral behavior, we must also cultivate certain appetites. But we must cultivate the wisdom to discern when our mere whims (as opposed to our legitimate desires) impede our progress and our ability to live meaningful lives in service to the community, our Gods and our ancestors. Greed and gluttony are the vices of cowards. Greed and gluttony are possibly the two greatest vices threatening the survival of humanity. In our practice, moderation makes it possible to exercise a greater generosity.

Fertility: Fertility is the capacity to create and increase. The inspiration to create is not enough. One must take that breath and proceed with action turning that inspiration into a work that will outlast us as it touches others. We all leave a mark as we pass through the world. Fertility is the virtue we must cultivate if we want that mark to be a positive increase in the well-being of our community. As we undergo the studies and training that make us, we must also find a means whereby we can pass on our learning to the next generation and to those who stand beside us. It is just as important that we pass on what we have learned and what we have become through our works as it to strive to become more and find a greater ability to serve. If we do not find a means to pass those things on, then they die with us and their benefit ends where it could have flourished and grown forever. Things do not stay constant. Everything changes and nothing abides. In a world marred by greed and insufficiency, our ability to create and increase determines whether the future is dominated by these flaws or whether our ideals and visions continue to push back the darkness that threatens us. It requires wisdom to discern what to create and when. It takes courage to create that which the masses will not yet understand. It takes integrity and perseverance to stand beside what one has created. The sharing of these creations is possibly our greatest act of hospitality.

The Blood-stained Banner

Posted: June 24, 2015 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

So…let’s talk about that rebel flag I got hanging on my wall. Let’s discuss why its flying on state property in some states and whether I am a HUGE racist for honoring men who died for an imperfect cause.

One of the first things we need to address is the whole bit about whether the war was about slavery or state’s rights. I’m tired of this one. Absolutely it was about state’s rights…but, in particular…the right of a state to allow slavery. In every state that seceeded, slave owners were a minority. But in every state that seceeded, the legislation passed for secession addressed the fact that slavery WAS the cause they were leaving over.

But do any of you think all them northern white boys were abolitionists? They risked their lives glad for a chance to rid the world of evil? If so, why was slavery allowed to continue throughout the war in Kentucky (Dec 18, 1865), Maryland (Nov 1, 1864)and Delaware (Dec 18, 1865) even AFTER the Great Emancipator did his proclamation bit (Jan 1st, 1863)? In fact, slavery was still legal in Kentucky and Delaware eight months AFTER the war ended with a Northern victory.

If slavery was why the South seceeded, these facts show it was certainly not the cause over which a Republican North invaded.

Could this war…like most wars…have been about much simpler economics from the aggressor’s point of view?

Republicans like to trot out the fact that their party was the one that freed the slaves. But that party was as corrupt then as it is now and one aspect of history that has not changed is Republican willingness to exchange blood for gold.

One of the dirty little secrets to the war’s origins is just how little the average northerner cared about secession and how willing many were to let the Confederacy go its own way. The nation’s first draft would be held during this war because not enough poor people showed up to fight for the Union without the gentle prodding of bayonets.

It wasn’t until March 30, 1861 (two weeks before Sumter), that the NEW YORK TIMES called for measures to be taken to bring the south back under control, specifically calling for the enforcement of “revenue laws.”

The reasoning was simple, every industrial power supports tariffs to protect the profits of those selling goods manufactured within their borders. Agricultural powers, on the other hand, do not want tariffs since it is necessary to import most manufactured goods and tariffs serve only to drive up those prices.

The NYT recognized, and made the public aware, that New York’s position as a port city and its economic influence on the world was jeopardized. If the US had tariffs and the CS did not, why would any exporter go to New York and lose money when he could dock at New Orleans and keep his profits intact?

This was the motivation of Republicans in 1861 as they invaded the South.

Then…the war to preserve the Union ended. Those states that had left the Union and were now occupied by the US military sent their congressmen and senators back to Washington.

After all, had not the purpose of the war been to preserve the Union? After being brought back into the fold at the point of a bayonet, the seceeding states were now all kicked out of the union and told they had to petition again for admittance.

Here is where the flags come in:

When those state legislatures met, they crafted new mottoes, nominated new state insects, and designed new state flags. Only one state, my home, MISSISSIPPI, included the Confederate Flag as part of its heraldry. That state refused to repent of the virtues of the warriors who fought for their state, even as they admitted the cause of slavery was unjust.

Alabama adopted the battle flag of a specific state cavalry regiment as its state flag. Also honoring its warriors, though it could no longer support their cause.

BUT Georgia added the Confederate flag to its state flag in 1956 as a protest against integration. There can be no argument that THIS usage of the flag was profane and intended as racist. That sacred banner was defiled as it was brought out to honor the causes of racism and not the deeds of the honorable men who had fought under it.

Like the Mississippi State legislature in 1894, I hang a Confederate flag in the corner of my room to honor the men whose patriotism and love of a sacred homeland led them to sacrifice and heroism. That their cause was imperfect, that their love of home could be cast as a sanction to racial slavery, does not lessen those men in my eyes anymore than recognition of the Union support of slavery in non-seceeding slave states taints the heroism of men who fought with honor against the Confederacy.

No matter what flag you fly over a state capital, that flag is stained with racial slavery.That terrible error is no reason to decry the United States and no reason to condemn the Confederacy. Let us not be the hypocrites who would curse one set of heroes in order to falsely increase the nobility of another.

I salute the Confederate Flag with affection, reverence and undying remembrance.

The Trossingen Lyre recovered from Trossingen Grave #58.

The Trossingen Lyre

There are two people writing this blog and I am both of them.
The first is Joey “Moonbase” Hall and he is just sorting some things out. You know, the usual stuff; the wars, childhood, love, life, kittens, fatherhood. That stuff.

The second person is Einar Hrafnsson, a 9th Century Dane who has somehow found himself striving for knighthood in the Kingdom of Caid in AS 50. He’s far more interesting than the other guy. In fact, this post is written mostly by him.

I’ve been away from my blog for several months. I got hurt, I got lost, and I didn’t write. I’m doing the Blogging 101 course again to get started and look at me: I’m already days behind that schedule.

Both of the persons writing this blog and living this life are semi-educated pagans, dedicated to the worship of ancestors and Northern Gods. They are both students of runes and the secrets of the bersekr.

I have ambitions. Some of them are difficult to share because they seem unlikely for me. I am embarassed of my failure in advance.

I’m a fifty year old man who has been beat up by the army and other causes and I spend time training and fighting trying to win a belt I should have won before I was thirty.

I do not read music or play any instrument, but I want to write poetry and music and play the lyre and recorder. More than that, I want to be a skald. I want to sing songs and make stories that honor heroes and gods and have people actually enjoy listening to them. That is worth a post on its own, perhaps.

My son and I also do a good deal of woodworking. We craft bows and arrows and intend this summer to build lyres modeled after that found in Trossingen. That, too, is worth its own post.

I am subjecting you good gentles to these thoughts because I want your feedback, because I want your approval, because I need your encouragement, and because I hope to somehow inspire some like minded soul to reach out in like manner. I want you to know me and to wish you knew more, even as I do for those who write the blogs I follow.

I want to find here a community of warrior poets…and those who would want the company of such.  I would seek the counsel of swordsmen and poets and priests. Of magicians and witches and skeptics. Of nobles and peasants and rogues.

I want to find fascinating company and I hope you will be part of that.

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

C. S. Lewis THE ABOLITION OF MAN

Kalev_Bonecruncher

This is the Code of Chivalry as observed in House Hammered Raven.

Honor: Honor First.

You won’t really find it in a dictionary anymore. Its gets discussed by college sophomores reading THE ILIAD for the first time, then it gets dropped as being an impossible philosophical construct. “Is it honorable to steal bread to feed a starving child?” There are a hundred catchy, pretty phrases and no explanation.

Honor is the idea that some ideas and values are so important that we would choose extinction rather than betray those values. Perhaps the value itself is unimportant and what is vital is that we hold it passionately. For one man, honor might demand that he steal before he lets an innocent suffer. For another, honor might demand that he let innocents die before he steals.

Rather than simply bearing witness, Honor is that impulse that demands we act when we see what is Right.  And Honor is the impulse to stand silent as a witness when that is what Right requires.

Prowess: Train constantly. Your strength and your prowess are all that stands between the Right and the Adversary.

Without the virtue of prowess, all other virtues are irrelevant. If a man is unable to strike down an enemy, then it is not mercy that stays his hand but simple weakness. Prowess is the virtue that provides a knight with the means to change the world to suit his own desires.

Without prowess, a man’s desires are meaningless as he cannot act on those desires. Your desire to feed the poor, clothe the naked, establish schools and courts will count for nothing if it is not matched by an ability to stay the hand of those who intend to remove those things.

Honesty: Always speak the truth.

I’ve been told this tenet can be a cruel one that defies mercy. I see that point, but I disagree. There are often truths that are unpleasant to speak, but when you hold your silence, it is not for their sake but for your own. There are truths that cause suffering, when you speak that truth, you must be prepared to stand and share that suffering.

To lie doesn’t avoid an unpleasant truth, it merely delays its uncovering. Perhaps, when it is uncovered, the hearer will be in company less comforting than your own.

Courage: We cannot let fear make decisions for us.

This is not the same as embracing foolhardiness and risk for its own sake. We do not court danger but we cannot let fear move us to act in ways that do not further the cause of Right and Good. We hold our values and our honor so closely that, when the time comes to give our lives in defense of our values and in pursuit of the Good, it will seem as though our lives meant nothing to us.

Mercy: Defend the weak. Protect the innocent.

Just as we prevent the suffering of others through our pursuit of the right, we seek to inflict no more suffering on the wrong-doer than necessary. This is one reason why prowess is the foundation of chivalry and why chivalry can only be pursued by warriors.

Mercy takes many forms, but it is never the simple over looking of errors and mis-deeds.  We confront and defeat the weakness and ignorance of men, but we do not always need to defeat the man himself.

Humility: Praise the worthy deeds of others as you seek to emulate their virtues, but do not boast of your own.

If you are spending your time in the proper company, there will always be others to speak of more highly than yourself, and there will always be others speaking highly of you as they learn the code through watching your actions.

When we boast during sumbel, remember that those supporting you will be affected by your aspirations. Always push the limits of what you can do, but remember that if you push too hard and fail, your burdens fall to another.

Generosity: Gluttony and greed are marks of cowardice.

By taking up arms and taking our place on the wall, we assume responsibility for the lives and well-being of others. What greater generosity is there than that we share our strengths and spend our lives in pursuit of the well-being of all? Give your time, your wealth, your energy to those people whose need hampers their development or the advancement of us all.

The coward fears that he will not have the strength to feed himself again if he shares his meal with the hungry. When we exercise largess and keep an open table, we remind the world through our example that we have the strength and confidence to make our way into the future.

Justice: Seek justice for others without thought of your own gain.

What is good and right is always under assault by weak and ignorant men. Through our words and deeds, we seek to temper the harm done by those who act against the Right. We seek to set two examples. Of course we hope through our actions to inspire others to seek the Right, but we must also conduct ourselves in such a fashion that such men know that acting against the Right in our presence will be met with opposition.

If there are those who imagine that they can act in defiance of what is Good and Right in your presence, then you should reflect on how you have failed.

But justice is a terrifying thing when we truly examine our own lives so we must temper that pursuit of justice with mercy.

Honor: Honor first.

This is the Code of Chivalry as observed in House Hammered Raven.

PART ONE can be found here.

With recent attention turned to the use of torture for information gathering purposes sanctioned by the United States Government, I’ve had to discuss torture as a common practice among cultures where “honor” was a highly prized value. Specifically, I am reminded of the prevalence of torture among American Indians and the “blood eagle” among the Norse.

What I find is that these tribes did not use torture as a means to gather information or any advantage in war. We don’t find records of prisoners in Indian hands being questioned or being told that their torture would end once they cooperated. We do find records of men and women being tortured and treated very harshly for years only to be accepted as full members of the tribe at some future point.

An Indian warrior living among the tribes of the American Southwest and the American Northeast, where torture seems to have been most prevalent, expected to be tortured if taken prisoner, just as his foes knew to expect torture at his hands if they fell into them. The purpose of this torture seems to have been twofold. On one hand, it served as a simple act of revenge and was often accomplished by women who had lost husbands and sons to the enemy.

Secondly, it tested the warrior’s mettle, possibly for the last time, and gave him a chance to prove his toughness, his spirit, and his honor. There are stories of great torture lasting for days wherein the victim did not cry out. This was seen as a great show of courage even among enemies. It was also apparently common for a victim who did cry out to be killed immediately, provided he had suffered in silence a sufficient time. White soldiers often began crying out immediately under torture and those cries were ignored.

In this cultural context, one sees torture used as part of an honor system where an enemy is provided a chance to prove he is strong and brave, and any need for revenge can also be satisfied. It was expected that both of these values were respected by all parties to the conflict.

What we do not see is instances of one tribe torturing prisoners while crying out that the other tribe is monstrous for its treatment of captives. Suffering for personal glory and the well being of the tribe is a warrior’s lot and the routine torture of prisoners is seen as a part of this.

The Norse Rite of the Blood Eagle was not such a part of a shared set of values. The blood eagle may have been a form of execution where a prisoner had his back cut open, his ribs hacked from his spine, and his lungs pulled out. In truth, we do not know what was meant when the Skalds reported that an eagle was cut on or in a man’s back, but this is the popular image, based on a description in the ORKNEYINGA SAGA.

To my knowledge, there are no human remains that suggest they were the victim of this rite as so described and earlier sources suggest it may have been so simple as carving the picture of an eagle on the victim’s back.

The most recent pop culture exploration of the blood eagle was in The History Channel’s VIKINGS, where Ragnar Hairy Pants (That IS what Lothbrok means. Kinda takes some of the grandeur out of it, huh?) inflicted this punishment on his enemy. What seems to have caught the public’s imagination most was Ragnar’s  explanation that if the victim suffered in silence, he would prove he was worthy of Valhalla.

This, Gentle Reader, is good entertainment, but the sagas make no mention of such an aspect to the rite.

It was an execution or the prelude to an execution, pure and simple.

The Rite of the Blood Eagle (whatever it was) seems to have had only one objective; the painful death of an enemy. Ivarr the Boneless inflicts this death on his father’s slayer. Torf-Einarr inflicted this death on his enemy Halfdan Long Legs.

Neither are being honored in any respect. Nor are either of them being questioned. Neither has a chance to end their suffering with a confession or a vital piece of disclosure.

These are important distinctions when considering torture among those cultures and in our own.

 

Honor and the Torturer: PART ONE

Posted: December 12, 2014 in Honor
Tags: , , ,

We’ve all seen responses to the recent (Dec 2014) release of the US Senate’s Report concerning the CIA’s use of torture during the ongoing Global War on Terror. Some claim to be sickened that their republic would stoop to such measures, but to me, the cries seem shallow, hollow, or simply false. We’ve all known for ten years this was happening. It happened under President Bush, and most of the reaction is coming from people who are simply so excited about another chance to talk about Bush that they are about to pee.

Liberal outrage comes and goes like hashtag crusades against #Kony or #HobbyLobby. There was no substance to the voiced outrage then and there is no substance to the voiced outrage now.

But that outrage has given certain conservative elements of our culture an excuse to parade their patriotism and righteous indignation about the liberals’s righteous indignation. And these “conservative” sentiments seem perfectly sincere.

I’m not going to address the report’s conclusion that, in the end, torture yielded no benefit whatsoever. Only the very naive cling to some notion that interrogators are too stupid to know when a subject is lying to save his skin. Torture works. That it works is a poor excuse for using it.

On FaceBook, I saw a photograph of a man falling from one of the twin towers and the caption around this tragic death turned social media meme read that “This is why I don’t give a shit how we gathered information from terrorists.”

My FaceBook friend list is dominated by people I deployed to Iraq or A-stan with. Good men all, and many of them agreed with that sentiment. Those deaths and the many that followed and the possibility of preventing other such murders were all the justification we needed for torture.

On the surface, its hard to argue with. What is more important; my sons’s lives and safety or the way a terrorist is treated?

If the bad guys need killing, why does it matter how we identified them or how we found them?

It matters because we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. I’m not weak. I’m not squeamish. But our entire cause rests on the idea that human beings are obligated to treat each other with a modicum of benevolence.

It doesn’t matter how the terrorists are treated. It matters what we do. It matters how we conduct ourselves. It matters what deeds we commit and what deeds we even tolerate in our presence.

The GWOT began when Al Qaeda murdered thousands of non-combatants. They behaved worse than any rabid beast and in that attack, they demonstrated there was no possibility of peace or co-existence with the culture of Radical/Extremist Islam. They proved it was necessary to annihilate that culture. Those men must be killed and their way of thinking exterminated.

These facts were undeniable. Radical/Extremist Islam must be eradicated.

The only questions that remained concerned logistics.

And how to stare into the abyss, fight monsters, and not become monsters ourselves.

Its easy to suggest that we’re the good guys because we were attacked and its easy to cite the countless heroic deeds done to protect the innocent as we waged this just, necessary cultural genocide. We give candy to children, build schools for girls, wells for villages, and we put our bodies between murderous dogs and their intended innocent victims.

But then we piss on the corpses of their dead. We humiliate the prisoner without any expectation outside the moment’s amusement.

And in the names of justice and efficiency, we tortured.

When we stared into that abyss, it stared back and we crumbled.

The test of whether we are good and honorable men doesn’t come when we are defending what we love and cherish. It doesn’t come when the innocent cry out for aid. Those cries are easy to answer.

The test comes when the evil-doer has fallen into your hands and you now face the same temptation they faced. “I hate, therefore I will hurt.” When we faced that temptation to hurt and we yielded to it, some of that evil crept into us.

That they have done evil, that they have killed innocents, that they have tortured cannot be the guide we use to determine what is moral and honorable in our conduct. It doesn’t work. We cannot follow the thoughts and inclinations and deeds of evil men and hope we somehow come to some place other than that desperate darkness they found. Good men cannot allow evil men to provoke them into committing evil deeds.

It is sometimes necessary to put down a mad dog.

What makes us different from the terrorist is that we do not kick that dog first.

In pursuit of their warped vision of what is Good, the terrorists have yielded their humanity to the Adversary. If we follow and commit the atrocities they embraced, no matter how loudly we voice our reluctance, we too sink into the abyss and serve the Adversary.

To argue that we serve a greater good, that we need to commit torture because the benefits of expediency and information and the possibility of saved lives justifies it, only commits us more completely to the path that the terrorists took as they started down the road to suicide bombs and public beheadings.

I do not ask myself if I would commit torture to save my sons. I am weak. My answer might shine light into parts of my soul I am not ready to examine.

But I ask if I would want my sons to carry the taint of having tortured another human being, no matter how monstrous, and I know what is right.

Good men do not torture nor do they allow torture to be conducted on their behalf.

Honor First.

PART ONE has been my commentary as a warrior and a veteran to revelations concerning activities by the United States during the GWOT.
PART TWO will concern the perception of torture among the Norse and some Native American tribes.