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June 21, 2006

The Grave of the Hundred Head -

Interestingly, Kipling's poem came up in office conversation a couple of weeks ago. We have fascinating conversations at the office, waiting for the data to process...

They made a pile of their trophies
High as a tall man's chin,
Head upon head distorted,
Set in a sightless grin,
Anger and pain and terror
Stamped on the smoke-scorched skin.

Subadar Prag Tewarri
Put the head of the Boh
On the top of the mound of triumph,
The head of his son below-
With the sword and the peacock banner
That the world might behold and know.
Thus the samadh was perfect,
Thus was the lesson plain
Of the wrath of the First Shikaris-
The price of white man slain;
And the men of the First Shikaris
Went back into camp again.

...what may have worked then (there are plenty of counter-examples) will certainly not work now. And, I submit, we don't want it to work for us.

Nor is it a good idea to give vent to your anger over the deaths of Private First Class Kristian Menchaca and Private First Class Thomas L. Tucker screaming for the heads of the jihadis to be piled high in the streets - and doing so for the Joy of Google. I imagine the jihadis are having a good chuckle. (Hi, a$$hats! What's that whistling noise?)

It's a war. War sucks. Being blown into large chunks, but still concious and bleeding out isn't a much better fate. Burning to death in a vehicle isn't a better fate than befell our two soldiers.

And the calls, as I've seen them elsewhere, for "3 heads for every one!" isn't useful and only plays into our enemy's hands, however much it sounds like a satisfying revenge to our lizard brains.

The costs, to our soldiers and our nation, far outweigh any unlikely benefit. We're already fighting people who want to die fighting us. The manner of their death, fantasies of wrapping them in pigskin notwithstanding, simply isn't the deterrent some think (or wish) it will be. Blowing Indians from the guns certainly makes for pride-swelling reading if you're a Brit, doesn't it? Proud to tell your grandkids that story? Results matter. But how we achieve the results sets the stage for later. As the Germans found out when they went into Russia, and paid the price on the way out.

The Germans tried reprisals. What did it gain them? Allied Armies in Berlin, and the East in ruins. Same-same Japan. It didn't work out well for the French, either. And in those areas where it has worked, sorta, it has been between opponents who are very much not like us.

Don Sensing has covered this terrain before.

I personally don't think we can get that much tougher, without throwing restraint aside and becoming a terrible mirror of our foe. We're already killing them at a rate greater than three to one, and they revel in the dying, do the jihadis.

I don't mind killing them, truth to tell. But to repay savagery with savagery will put a burden on our soldiers and ourselves that will not be repaid with success on the battlefield. If we were to react as some wish - it would, I believe, kill the mission in Iraq, and guarantee the Global Opinion Golem would stomp it flat. And that when it was all said and done - just as many many people can recognize My Lai and almost no one but those who were there and geeks like me can relate NVA/VC atrocities in Hue - everybody would remember an American equivalent of "The Grave of the Hundred Dead" and no one, other than those who were there and geeks like me would remember Private First Class Kristian Menchaca and Private First Class Thomas L. Tucker.

It is *not* the American Way of War - which is precisely why it is memorable when we do it, and "Yeah, so?" when they do it.

It isn't always easy, it isn't always fair, as the song goes.

It's a hell of a leadership challenge that now faces our most junior leaders. Keeping their figurative heads, so that those about them don't lose their metaphysical heads.

And if what happened to those two soldiers harden's the public resolve to continue the fight - *that* would actually be good!

For those who keep hearing about it but haven't read the poem - it's in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

The Grave of the Hundred Head

by Rudyard Kipling.

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There's a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun;
And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done.

A Snider squibbed in the jungle-
Somebody laughed and fled,
And the men of the First Shikaris
Picked up their Subaltern dead,
With a big blue mark in his forehead
And the back blown out of his head.

Subadar Prag Tewarri,
Jemadar Hira Lal,
Took command of the party,
Twenty rifles in all,
Marched them down to the river
As the day was beginning to fall.

They buried the boy by the river,
A blanket over his face-
They wept for their dead Lieutenant,
The men of an alien race-
They made a samadh1 in his honour,
A mark for his resting-place.

For they swore by the Holy Water,
They swore by the salt they ate,
That the soul of Lieutenant Eshmitt Sahib
Should go to his God in state,
With fifty file of Burmans
To open him Heaven's Gate.

The men of the First Shikaris
Marched till the break of day,
Till they came to the rebel village
The village of Pabengmay-
A jingal2 covered the clearing,
Caltrops hampered the way.

Subadar Prag Tewarri,
Bidding them load with ball,
Halted a dozen rifles
Under the village wall;
Sent out a flanking-party
With Jemadar Hira Lal.
The men of the First Shikaris
Shouted and smote and slew,
Turning the grinning jingal
On to the howling crew.
The Jemadar's flanking-party
Butchered the folk who flew.

Long was the morn of slaughter,
Long was the list of slain,
Five score heads were taken,
Five score heads and twain;
And the men of the First Shikaris
Went back to their grave again,

Each man bearing a basket
Red as his palms that day,
Red as the blazing village-
The village of Pabengmay
And the "drip-drip-drip" from the baskets
Reddened the grass by the way

They made a pile of their trophies
High as a tall man's chin,
Head upon head distorted,
Set in a sightless grin,
Anger and pain and terror
Stamped on the smoke-scorched skin.

Subadar Prag Tewarri
Put the head of the Boh
On the top of the mound of triumph,
The head of his son below-
With the sword and the peacock banner
That the world might behold and know.
Thus the samadh was perfect,
Thus was the lesson plain
Of the wrath of the First Shikaris-
The price of white man slain;
And the men of the First Shikaris
Went back into camp again.

Then a silence came to the river,
A hush fell over the shore,
And Bohs that were brave departed,
And Sniders squibbed no more;
For the Burmans said
That a white man's head
Must be paid for with heads five-score.

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There's a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun;
And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done.

1A memorial. 2 Native cannon.