Beyond the count of years I walked the world,

and my children built their shrines to me. 

Decades and centuries and millennia pass,

and still the shrines are built.

Temples insubstantial to men,

clear to my eyes. 

No foundations or walls or roofs,

but shrines nonetheless.

Holy ground, consecrated 

Today, every day, somewhere in the world,

the earth is prepared for my coming. 

My hallowed grounds are everywhere.

In valleys and on mountains,

on broad plains and deep in hidden passes,

in deserts, on city streets. 

Nameless, unremembered places.

Named, remembered places. 

Forest trails where the quiet lines of tall, clean-limbed men walked,

leaving behind them squat, hairy cave dwellers

in pools of their own blood. 

Grassy plains over-marched by long rows of men with sandaled feet

and burnished helmets and spear points,

falling as chariots scythed their way through the ranks. 

Glens where hollow squares of foot soldiers held spears

against the charge of armored knights

and storms of arrows found crevices between their shields. 

Green ridges where thousands charged their countrymen,

muskets firing, cannon spewing grapeshot and canister,

and they cried for water,

and for their mothers,

and for the pain,

and died under bloody banners. 

Muddy remnants of orchards where the machine gun fire

tore the trees to stumps three feet above the ground

and the men fell down in rows,

and the trenches where grenades and shells found them

and left them in buried piles

of limbs and torsos. 

Forests where the scream of artillery shells

and the hollow thunder of tree bursts

sent foot-long splinters of wood

through the bodies of men below. 

Frigid hilltops and foxholes filled with frozen bodies

left after their positions had been overrun

and the air support came too late. 

Jungles where they bled and screamed and died,

bodies lying forlorn until they rotted into the rank growth under them,

a shiny bit of metal their only marker. 

City streets strewn with the rubble of destroyed houses

still echoing

to the chatter of automatic weapons fire. 

Incinerated landscapes where lost children weep for dead parents;

lost parents weep for dead children.

The dead with no one left to weep for them. 

Megiddo. Thermopylae. Tyre. Kai-Sia. Carthage. Hastings. Stirling. Falkirk. Culloden. Quebec. Lexington. Concord. Saratoga. Yorktown. Leipzig. Borodino. Austerlitz. Waterloo. Manassas. Antietam. Shiloh. Vicksburg. Gettysburg. Cold Harbor. Gallipoli. Verdun. Ypres. Nanking. Pearl Harbor. Guadalcanal. Iwo Jima. Wake. Midway. Kasserine Pass. Caen. Bastogne. Dresden. Leningrad. 

Hiroshima. Nagasaki. 

Inchon. Pusan. Chosin. Hill 800. Heartbreak Ridge. Ia Drang Valley. Khe Sahn. Hue. Hamburger Hill. Saigon. Gaza. West Bank. Bosnia. Mogadishu. 

Monuments with names of soldiers and battalions and brigades and regiments,

police actions, peace-keeping missions, conflicts, battles and wars. 

Cemeteries with ranks of white crosses as far as the eye can see. 

A black granite Wall with names and names and names

and the visitors come and look down where the wall

is one, two, three inches high coming out of the earth

and there is a line of names there

and they think this isn't so much,

and as they walk the trail dips down

and the Wall appears to grow

and the lines of names are higher and higher until

the topmost line is so tall you need

a ladder to reach it,

to read it

A monument to me.

Collateral damage 

Friendly fire 

Ethnic cleansing 

Suicide bombing 

Pre-emptive strike 

Keeping the peace 

Making the world safe

My brothers and sisters are fading away.

It is right; it is just.

Their shrines are tumbled, forgotten.

No one brings offerings to Sun or Earth or Thought or Love. 

My brother Peace died stillborn.

I remain because my children continue to consecrate the ground,

in my name,

with their own blood.

I thrive and grow. 

Hate and Demagoguery, Jealousy and Selfishness

have joined my long-time outriders,

Fear and Panic. 

We ride together. 

We serve our father well, the Horseman who is called Death.

I am War.

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Joseph S. Bommarito's picture
Columns on STR: 17

Joseph Bommarito was a freelance writer who lived in Georgia.  He passed away on January 3, 2005.  Comments can be sent to his wife Sally.


Samarami's picture

Please, please -- do not "...thank me for serving..."

I served nobody. I did disservice to everybody. And I regret that it took me the better part of 70 years to come to this understanding -- and another almost 10 years to forgive myself.

Sally, you can be thankful for Joe's memory.


mjackso6's picture

I "served" for almost 20 years before my body gave up the ghost on me and forced me to retire. Thanks to unusual circumstances, it's only taken me a little over five years to understand the disservice that we all did (to everyone, everywhere, not just in the places listed above; the world is continually a worse and worse place thanks to that kind of blind "service"). I don't know that I'll ever exactly "forgive" myself. I can think of a myriad better ways I could have spent those two decades. On the other hand, if I had done differently, I'd never have met the mother of the children who I love, nor the woman who became the love of my life after the children's mother abandoned us all to return to Germany. So all I can do is accept the past as it is and hopefully help contribute to a better world for my children and everyone else.

Mike Jackson