Escape The Virginia Tech Shooting with The Shield of Achilles

The School Shootings dominate the headlines today and probably for quite some time into the future. There is much to say and too much said already that should not have been said at all. I thought I would turn away from the spin doctors, hate mongers and the various news programs and escape into something a to distract myself from the whole horrible episode.

I went to Swenglish Rantings Weekend Radio 041307 and played the mp3 file of the lecture by Dr. Phillip C. Bobbitt broadcast by the Pritzker Library last week on Thursday, April 12th. Dr. Bobbitt begins with a brief humorous introduction and a poem by Czeslaw Milosz called “Preparation”

Still one more year of preparation.
Tomorrow at the latest I’ll start working on a great book
In which my century will appear as it really was.
The sun will rise over the righteous and the wicked.
Springs and autumns will unerringly return,
In a wet thicket a thrush will build his nest lined with clay
And foxes will learn their foxy natures.

And that will be the subject, with addenda. Thus: armies
Running across frozen plains, shouting a curse
In a many-voiced chorus; the cannon of a tank
Growing immense at the corner of a street; the ride at dusk
Into a camp with watchtowers and barbed wire.

No, it won’t happen tomorrow. In five or ten years.
I still think too much about the mothers
And ask what is man born of woman.
He curls himself up and protects his head
While he is kicked by heavy boots; on fire and running,
He burns with bright flame; a bulldozer sweeps him into a clay pit.
Her child. Embracing a teddy bear. Conceived in ecstasy.

I haven’t learned yet to speak as I should, calmly.

Dr. Bobbitt then takes us through some of the topics from his critically acclaimed book “The Shield of Achilles: war peace and the course of history”.

He quotes several scholars and writers as he lays out his thesis. “After bosnia, After September eleventh we can expect a clash of civilizations”. Elablorating he goes into the former states of Yugoslavia he discusses three plates coming together, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Muslim. The clashes between India and Pakistan, or the Sunni & Shi’a conflict in the middle east.

He then goes into an explanation of the Modern State, and the Nation States. He begins with the fall of Constanpenople and the forging of the famous brass cannons. I can remember in my history reading the engineers of these cannons and how they offered the cannon to various rulers of the time and finally found the Turks who saw the wisdom and payed for the building of the Cannon. Latter on after the fall of Constanpenople, cannon of similar design were latter brought to Italy and changed the course of history there.

Bobbitt takes us to the American Revolution and the tacktics of warfare then to the tactics used in the Conquests of Napoleon.

Dr. Bobbitt makes interesting constitutional points with reference to Nation Statehood. He places the United States Nationhood not at the signing of the declaration of independence or the ratification of the US Constitution but instead with the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. He explains how there is a difference between a Nation and a State.

There is a brief explaination of what he terms the five challenges of the Nation State:

Internationalization of Culture

The Globalization of trade and finance

The Development of International Human Rights Laws

The Development of Transnational Threats

The Emergence of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Further into the lecture he discusses similarities in how the Right wing and the Left Wing “people on the left who favor affirmative action have a lot in common with people on the right who want to criminalize abortion. People on the left who want hate-speech codes look at law in the same way as people on the right feel about narcotics codes”

Dr. Bobbitt brings in the concept of Market States. Groups that are not connected to the State but still coheisive and formatable.

His new book “Terror and Concent” he says will cause him to be cast out of most social circles, as he lays out how wars will be fought in the future. Classic warfare is over, wars with a beginning and an end are over.

Europe still believes they know terror but Dr. Bobbitt explains that new terror is here and it is called Market State Terrorism. Market State Terrorism is Networked, Global it will outsource it’s activity, it will be privatized. “The war aim will not be the couquest of terror but the protection of civilians.”

The lecture was chok full of history Information and some poetry. He concluded with this poem:


    Perhaps these thoughts of ours
    Will never find an audience
    Perhaps the mistaken road
    Will end in a mistake
    Perhaps the lamps we light one at a time
    Will be blown out, one at a time
    Perhaps the candles of our lives will gutter out
    Without lighting a fire to warm us.

    Perhaps when all the tears have been shed
    the earth will be more fertile.
    Perhaps when we sing praises to the sun
    The sun will praise us in return
    Perhaps these heavy burdens
    will strengthen our philosophy
    Perhaps when we weep for those in misery
    we must be silent about miseries of our own

    Because of our irresistible sense of mission
    We have no choice

    –Shu Ting
    (translated by Carolyn Kizer)

For me this lecture was a good break from the 24/7 news of the School Shootings in America.

Take a break, sit back and spend the 40 minutes to listen to this Professor talk about issues that need our thought and attention.

Another poem that Dr. Bobbet has read in similar lectures is this poem by W.H. Auden that depicts a world at war. Auden’s poem ends with the goddess Thetis, who had commissioned the new shield for her warrior son. I am putting the whole poem here although I am only aware of Dr. Bobbitt reciting the ending in past lectures.

    The Shield Of Achilles
    W. H. Auden

    She looked over his shoulder
    For vines and olive trees,
    Marble well-governed cities
    And ships upon untamed seas,
    But there on the shining metal
    His hands had put instead
    An artificial wilderness
    And a sky like lead.

    A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
    No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
    Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
    Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
    An unintelligible multitude,
    A million eyes, a million boots in line,
    Without expression, waiting for a sign.

    Out of the air a voice without a face
    Proved by statistics that some cause was just
    In tones as dry and level as the place:
    No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
    Column by column in a cloud of dust
    They marched away enduring a belief
    Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

    She looked over his shoulder
    For ritual pieties,
    White flower-garlanded heifers,
    Libation and sacrifice,
    But there on the shining metal
    Where the altar should have been,
    She saw by his flickering forge-light
    Quite another scene.

    Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
    Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
    And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
    A crowd of ordinary decent folk
    Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
    As three pale figures were led forth and bound
    To three posts driven upright in the ground.

    The mass and majesty of this world, all
    That carries weight and always weighs the same
    Lay in the hands of others; they were small
    And could not hope for help and no help came:
    What their foes like to do was done, their shame
    Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
    And died as men before their bodies died.

    She looked over his shoulder
    For athletes at their games,
    Men and women in a dance
    Moving their sweet limbs
    Quick, quick, to music,
    But there on the shining shield
    His hands had set no dancing-floor
    But a weed-choked field.

    A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
    Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
    Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
    That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
    Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
    Of any world where promises were kept,
    Or one could weep because another wept.

    The thin-lipped armorer,
    Hephaestos, hobbled away,
    Thetis of the shining breasts
    Cried out in dismay
    At what the god had wrought
    To please her son, the strong
    Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
    Who would not live long