The Eternal Reciprocity of Tears

“If you are on a battlefield and the enemy is charging from all sides with overwhelming numbers…so that remaining in your trench, bayonet extended, is like fighting a five-hundred-foot wave with a teaspoon…you retreat below…. You start digging, and I don’t mean digging in. You find another way.”

— Uncle (“Mustard Gassed”) Max

“To cross a frontier is to be transformed. Alice at the gates of Wonderland…cannot pass through the tiny door…glimpse marvelous things until she has altered herself to fit into her new world. But the successful frontierswoman is also…in the business of surpassing. She changes the rules…terrifies the locals…. She argues…and…at last sees through the charade of power…calls Wonderland’s bluff, and by unmaking it finds herself again. She wakes up.” –

– Salman Rushdie

It would be oh so nice if so-called progressives would get out of the way of progress…in human relations. Set up a proper camp…on the other side of a new frontier.

One simply can’t have leftists writing about things like reforms for gays in the military at this point, or going on and on about this or that military-related scandal. Not denude and delude ourselves over red herrings like Equal Representation along with Military Representation on Campus. Not if we expect improvement.

We have to do away with the military. As in eliminate for all practical purposes…and take our chances with brotherhood.

No need to lecture me respecting Cynicism. It’ll do no good.

If you’re for kneading the military…into acceptable shape, you’re closer to the Neocons’ camp than mine.

Like John Donne before him and Ernest Hemingway afterwards…further down the Ugly American Road, WWI’s Wilfred Owen asserted that all men are involved with one another…and that every man’s death diminishes his fellows. Gertrude M. White –at a special event honoring Owen at Columbia University in the 60s– told me that I “should know” that W.O. saw man as a spiritual being…’cause I had been blabbering about Owen’s man being bound by physical parameters, nature, laws. (1)

He does address the fundamental bond of brotherhood between men; he does stir up sympathies over war’s effect on our souls. Separation from identification with others –so common today, so accepted, so cheerled– has bled us dry. Owen is not just about bodily horrors…as so many of our progressive citizens seem to be.

Reading through the analysis, the reports…there’s a sense that things might not be quite so bad if this or that physcial abomination had been avoided. If x number of deaths had been reduced, if a figure of y limbs had not been severed, if z degrees of trauma had not manifested in truncated lives. That’s the underpinning of so much leftist literature…if you look closely.

I don’t want to embarass individuals at this juncture. I want them to cross over…to my camp.

It is deep blasphemy to not identify with suffering. And Owen’s war poems often address the dis-ease with which we’ve lost this essential part of our humanity. Take the end of “Insensibility”:

But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,
That they should be as stones;
Wretched are they, and mean
With paucity that never was simplicity.
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever mourns in man
Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
Whatever shares
The eternal reciprocity of tears.

This is a profound poetic statement respecting the very worst thing that a man can experience: to be dead to the sense of oneness with all men…dead to a sense of oneness with all suffering, with all grief. Oblivious to this fact of life.

The operative phrase today is “Get over it.” Say that…think that…and I ask you to get over to the other camp. Are you clone? Killer? Unkind? Confused? It matters not.

Just as all the criticism of the military comes to naught. It matters not.

You are obligated to take the unpopular, crazy stance that we can’t dance with them…with their uniforms on. Whatever the consequences.

Let’s hear it for Vulnerability over Insensibility.

Uniformly, we must wink at one another. Keep that twinkle in the eye as we acknowledge how silly it is to jump through verbal hoops about depriving the military of funds…because of what they’re doing at present…or because of the lopsidedness of their piece of the nation’s financial pie. How disgusting. Kick up our heels in knowing that we know better.

You see, the sty in the eye is that…none of the qualifications/specific complaints matter. And neither do the odds supposedly stacked against you in finding another way.

The next time someone nestles up to you, agreeing with your anti-military attitude…and substantiating their position by noting, say, that the U.S. military –through toxic dumping, etc.– has made uninhabitable a land mass equal to the size of Florida (in the continental U.S.), shake your head. We don’t need no stinkin’ documentation, do we? (2)

Or do you?  Do you get it?

This is the difference between talk and walk. The discrepancy between mental masturbation and…vision. The demands of our camp.

Take a look at what Gertrude has to say about Wilfred’s take:

“The soldier must lose imagination, retreat into dull insensibility; for soldiers ‘have enough to carry with ammunition.’ In doing so, he loses the best part of himself, ‘Alive he is not vital overmuch;/Dying, not mortal overmuch;’ — but he has no option. He does not choose this spiritual death; he is the victim of the circumstances of war. But of those who, without the soldier’s reason and excuse, consciously and deliberately choose not to identify with all suffering, past present, and future, the poet says….” (3)

Following this, Gertrude provides the excerpt from “Insensibility” that I’ve given you above. It’s worth a re-read.

You see, you can decide NOT get dragged into discussions which make excuses for citizens…by virtue of what the media deprive them of…or what the educational system does to them. Even the soliders have a choice…regardless of their economic circumstances…before giving up…their imaginations.

And your role in all this? To speak extremely against the military…to speak against reforms, its abominable nature. To use your imagination, strive over frontiers like Quijote…and be willing to be alone.

To be alone…at Camp Owen.

You are the frontier you must cross. (4)

RICHARD OXMAN can be reached at …if he’s not arguing with Mad Hatters, talking back to Caterpillars, or telling execution-hungry Kings and Queens that their camps are “nothing but a house of cards.”

(1) I trust that many readers will check out a bit of Owen’s bio and his WWI poetry. Kubrick’s Paths of Glory makes a nice supplement for the evening, if you haven’t seen it.

(2) See Peter Phillips’ & Project Censored’s Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003), pp. 79-82.

(3) Gertrude M. White, Wilfred Owen (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1969), p. 66.

(4) Abandon pretty much all hope “all ye who enter.” Hope in being able to reform the military, hope in cultural icons or products being able to make a significant enough difference soon enough in this time of crisis (See the absurd suggestions in, hope in the U.N. with or without John Bolton heading the U.S. mission (See and/or , hope in the EU (See Monbiot’s “The Real Straight Banana” at, hope in the electoral process…and so forth.





RICHARD OXMAN can be found these days reading Joe Bageant’s material in Los Gatos, California; contact can be made at The Ox’s never-before-revealed “biography” is available at of his recent writing can be found in his Arts & Entertainment section and Features (under Social) there.