Wednesday, November 17, 2010


An Unholy Trinity

Basil L. Gildersleeve, "A Southerner in the Peloponnesian War," Atlantic Monthly 80 (1897) 330-342 (at 332):
To frighten, to wound, to kill,—these three abide under all forms of military doctrine, and the greatest of these is frightening. Ares, the god of war, has two satellites, Terror and Affright. Fear is the Gorgon's head. The serpents are very real, very effective, in their way, but logically they are unessential tresses. The Gorgon stares you out of countenance, and that suffices. The object is the removal of an obstacle. Killing and wounding are but means to an end. Hand-to-hand fighting is rare, and it would be easy to count the instances in which cavalry meets the shock of cavalry. Crossing sabres is not a common pastime in the red game of war. It makes a fine picture, to be sure, the finer for the rarity of the thing itself.

To frighten, to wound, to kill, being the essential processes, war amounts to the same thing the world over, world of time and world of space. Whether death or disability comes by Belgian ball or Spencer bullet, by the stone of a Balearic slinger, by a bolt from a crossbow, is a matter of detail which need not trouble the philosophic mind, and the ancients showed their sense in ascribing fear to divine inspiration.
Gildersleeve's language in the first sentence ("these three abide" and "the greatest of these") recalls 1 Corinthians 13.13: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

Gildersleeve's own disability came by a Spencer bullet in the thigh.

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