Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Belt of Orion

When Richard Rogers wrote Beneath the Southern Cross for the sound track of the 1950s documentary Victory at Sea he must have known its music would evoke more than combat in the South Pacific. It would bring the palm-fringed islands themselves to life, changing as the day wore into a landscape of surf-pounded beaches under a starry sky. This magical piece became a hit single under the alias, "No Other Love", under false colors probably because nobody wanted to remember its true provenance: a momentary vision of beauty in the Pacific war.

TE Lawrence often achieved the same effect in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It is the story of a campaign to evict the Ottomans from Arabia by guerilla warfare and mayhem. Yet Lawrence manages to invest the scenes with a degree of timeless beauty; a beauty not wholly due to his great literary skill. In one passage he attempted to convey the impact of the desert on the Arab mind.

The common base of all the Semitic creeds, winners or losers, was the ever present idea of world-worthlessness. Their profound reaction from matter led them to preach bareness, renunciation, poverty; and the atmosphere of this invention stifled the minds of the desert pitilessly. A first knowledge of their sense of the purity of rarefaction was given me in early years, when we had ridden far out over the rolling plains of North Syria to a ruin of the Roman period which the Arabs believed was made by a prince of the border as a desert-palace for his queen. The clay of its building was said to have been kneaded for greater richness, not with water, but with the precious essential oils of flowers. My guides, sniffing the air like dogs, led me from crumbling room to room, saying, ‘This is jessamine, this violet, this rose’.

But at last Dahoum drew me: ‘Come and smell the very sweetest scent of all’, and we went into the main lodging, to the gaping window sockets of its eastern face, and there drank with open mouths of the effortless, empty, eddyless wind of the desert, throbbing past. That slow breath had been born somewhere beyond the distant Euphrates and had dragged its way across many days and nights of dead grass, to its first obstacle, the man-made walls of our broken palace. About them it seemed to fret and linger, murmuring in baby-speech. ‘This,’ they told me, ‘is the best: it has no taste.’ My Arabs were turning their backs on perfumes and luxuries to choose the things in which mankind had had no share or part.

We can be thankful to milblogs for helping preserve the impressions of an American helicopter pilot operating over Iraq. He understood that the war itself was a thin veneer over the currents of life; and that however much the headlines denied it, both enemy and friend lived beneath the same sky. Hurl describes a night mission over Iraq.

The last three nights here in central Iraq have been beautiful. The sky has been much less dusty than it usually is. The stars are brilliant. Orion pops up around 4am - Taurus a couple of hours before that. Mars is very clear after midnight. Normally the visibility is pretty poor - usually less than 3 miles. Sometimes less than 1 mile. Flying in these conditions can be quite challenging - especially at night.

By FAA standards, anything under 3 miles is technically considered IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) as opposed to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) and require Instrument flight plans to be filed. But this is Iraq, not Kansas. Flight plans would be useless anyway since there is no Air Traffic Control system. Depending on the mission, we routinely find ourselves flying in low visibility - i.e. IFR conditions.

2 nights ago I flew into Baghdad at about 3:30am. It was a very clear night and I could see for dozens of miles in all directions. It looked like it could be anywhere in America - lights were on EVERYWHERE. Whatever electricity problems there were in the past, they certainly seem to be fixed now.

There are also numerous gas flares from various refineries in operation. One huge refinery right in Baghdad would put any Gulf coast refinery to shame. I know Iraqi oil production is almost where it was prior to the war - currently 2.5 million barrels a day. It appears that their refinery capability is rapidly improving as well. In spite of countless terror attacks on the Iraqi infrastructure, the builders seem to be prevailing.

Situated on the Tigris River, Baghdad is a beautiful city at night. The slums don't look as slummy. Palm trees grow like weeds. There are no skyscrapers, but there are numerous high-rise buildings in the downtown area, many with very interesting architecture. There are several very nice multi-story hotels where the incestuous media hang out by the pools, sipping cocktails and plagiarizing one another. They wait like vultures for news of the next suicide attack so they can smear the blood and shove the latest body count in our face. I wouldn't be surprised if they have betting pools on when, where, and how many will die....

This past night at 3:30 am all was quiet. There wasn't a single car on any road. Nobody shooting or blowing anybody up. The city was completely lit up and so.... peaceful. I know it will be short-lived, but I can't help but hope that it will someday be as peaceful as this one night most of the time.


Blogger Doug said...

The contrast between the visions and hopes of the "incestuous media" and the pilot's could not be more stark, and reveals so much to all who are willing to see.

8/18/2005 03:02:00 AM  
Blogger Jace said...

I went scuba diving last week on heavy cruisers the HMAS Perth and USS Houston when they were sunk shortly after the battle of Java sea, and I had that Victory at Sea song in my head all day.

8/18/2005 04:43:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Rush ran a piece from Matt Lauer talking to a captain in Iraq yesterday:
As Rush said, he shouldn't have asked, as the captain explained in detail how the world he saw each day was the opposite of what one gets from the MSM.
Optimistic, articulate, smart, and proud of his job and his leadership.
Said all they need to accomplish anything is to know that we are covering their backs.
...and Rush noted that ALL of the reports he gets from the men on the ground are similarly optimistic.

8/18/2005 04:43:00 AM  
Blogger Cardozo Bozo said...

Wow. Great milblog. Great post. No comments really, just a "Thanks" to W for sharing.

8/18/2005 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Odd that a helicopter pilot would be a more magniloquent orator, able to sense the beauty of the moment, the wisdom that comes in the stillness of the night, and describe it in it’s insoluble terms, the most unfettered image of truth.

Like T.E. Lawrence before him, the sages of time drink directly from the spigot of history. May his story unravel in mysterious ways and may he continue to give us, the staid masses, another glimpse into the eye of timelessness.

8/18/2005 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

"Odd that a helicopter pilot would be a more magniloquent orator, able to sense the beauty of the moment, the wisdom that comes in the stillness of the night, and describe it in it’s insoluble terms, the most unfettered image of truth."

Hey, that's not odd at all!!

8/18/2005 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

a m
The picture of a Military Man as an uneducated ape is part and parcel of the MSM portrayal of soldiers since 'Nam.
Helodrivers are all college educated and degreed. As are all other types of US Military officers. Many NCO's have degrees as well. In ancient times Soldiers made up the core of the enlighten elite, not the minstrels, clowns and rumor mongers we have today.
The Samurai of Japan were artists and poets, as well as decapitators.

8/18/2005 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

It's true. The landed classes of Greece and Rome contributed the elite troops of the phalanxes and legions; these were the best and brightest and the flower of the civilizations the West inherited. Woe that the perception has changed although reality has remained the same.

8/18/2005 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

All true, but the odd fact is, is that a class of citizen would make it the focus of their life’s energy to report, to journalize the ‘news’ of the day, and to fail so wholly. What this says about our School of Journalism is that those institutions are rotten to the core and that an educated man, not necessarily educated in the ‘liberal arts’ but in the science and industry of making war should be better prepared to answer civilizations call for the great oration of the day.

Today, for this reason, once again, I salute them!

8/18/2005 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

When I read something like this, it reconfirms something that I have known for quite sometime.

Lesser men work the papers.

8/18/2005 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

When was the last time you saw Dan Rather write something like that? Have you *ever* seen an MSM star write something like that?

8/18/2005 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Agree, but my knowledge of the history of Journalism is meager.
But my opinion is:
Earlier Journalists tended to know more about the world outside their world of Journalism than do the graduates of J-Schools today.
...and by far the largest percent of J school students say they are there because,
"They want to make a difference."
I would hope, at one time, they wanted to report the news, as do the milbloggers out there keeping us in touch w/sanity through the insanity of war.

8/18/2005 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Studebaker Hawk said...

desert rat,

The samurai followed a philosophy of bun bu ryo do, the path of pen and sword. In much the same way that a sword is tempered, so too is the warrior. It is easy to create a killer, much harder to create a resolute warrior-poet, a man of refinement and erudition who was as hard as the steel of his katana and yet compassionate and polite. To this end the samurai learned the tea ceremony and flower arraingment along with kenjustu (swordsmanship) and yarijutsu (spearmanship). He learned caligraphy and poetry along with yabusame (archery practiced on horseback at full gallop).

8/18/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Wild Bill said...

Hurl is not the only one I have noticed commenting on the nite sky of Iraq lately.. Team Med-Fah(a tranplanted Texan) was also reflecting on the nite sky seen thru night vision tech devices.. He was plainly awed by what he saw.. Combined with Hurl's depiction, I cant help but wonder if they really arent trying to give US a little hope for better times in Iraq or just displaying their OWN hope.. I also thought that they may just be longing to see the stars from their own home instead of Iraq.. Hurl's take seems to lean more to the hope for Iraq.. Med-Fah's seems to be all the above.. I just finished a book last nite about reflections of WW2, by local Vets, and especially their thoughts on the final months of the war then.. Its odd, but they too had many mentions of the nite sky..

8/18/2005 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Davis said...

Beneath the Southern Cross (1952) was used by Rogers in one of the few unsuccessful musicals he created with Oscar Hammerstein, Me and Juliet, with the title "No Other Love". At thirteen hours, Victory at Sea is the longest symphonic composition yet created and a critical part of a great documentary tribute to the U. S. Navy in World War II. It was also the reason a lot of families bought their first TV, an RCA.

8/18/2005 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Steven Stills also wrote a song of falling and redemption under the Southern Cross. Evocative of other men who have written or composed of barreness as a prelude to the "Higher Voices that are calling me"

TE Lawrence will always be known. There have been millions of men as exceptional as he, in just the 20th Century...but his writing and exploits gave him the immortality most of the others lack except through offspring.

8/18/2005 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Karridine said...

C4- This is the FIRST of your posts with which I agree. More, please.

(Altho I covered "Southern Cross", its not on any of my CD's at

8/18/2005 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

"Lawrence of Arabia" David Lean masterpiece, if you haven't seen it, go ahead and wait 'til you have the biggest screen you'll ever have. Then buckle your seat belt for a film zenith.

8/18/2005 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger PresbyPoet said...

The warrior as a man of honor. I suspect that to stay sane, you need a code of ethics. Otherwise you are just a killer, and it gets hard to live with yourself. I know awful stuff happens, my wife's father never wanted to talk about what happened as a Marine on Guadalcanal.

As an example of military men, as men of education, when he died, he had a library of 20,000 books.

8/18/2005 11:21:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

I hear you exhelodrvr. Some of us have a way with words - and others - we they are content on keeping both feed on each rudder pedal, the left hand on the collective, the right on the cyclic (with the trim and "other buttons"), the air speed within the envelope and the needles together (and operating the radio) while fighting a beat.

8/19/2005 12:37:00 AM  

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