I have been a War Lover as long as I can remember. I loved John Wayne as a military hero: Flying Tigers, The Fighting Seabees [the word “Seabee” comes from initials “CB” which in turn comes from the term Construction Battalions], They Were Expendable, Sands of Iwo Jima:

john wayne sands of iwo jimaJohn Wayne

 Then Steve McQueen, in The War Lover or Hell Is for Heroes or The Great Escape.

 I grew up with Two-Fisted Tales comics, and Frontline Combat.

 frontline combatFavorite War Comic Book

“CALL UNCLE BILL!” my mother shouted from the bathroom. He came on a Saturday morning, March 10, 1951. Off I went to see The Steel Helmet at the Ogden Theater in Chicago (at 63rd and Marshfield, a favorite place I could walk to). And after the movie–VOILA!–I had a new baby brother. That was neat. Go to the movies–and get a brother. (That is one of my fondest memories of a time–and one of my favorite movies, yet to this day.)

And then, older, I became so aware of content and history. In addition, after years with studying and teaching Shakespeare–and reading of war, like The Iliad and The Aeneid, like For Whom the Bell Tolls or All Quiet on the Western Front–I realized that if the essence of a tragedy is our awareness of the WASTE OF GOOD, then surely the essence of war is double tragic: waste upon waste.

I asked, What of this loss of all that is good or could be good in a man?

War brings out the worst: disregard for all that has been taught to be valued, to be sacred: life and property, manhood itself. It is often a rite of passage, a ripping from the womb of adolescence or youth (or younger, with boy-soldiers), tearing at morals, sensibilities, a sense of love and decency. And war tears apart, rips from limb to limb, often literally.

This is nothing new: we have wars, we live war. Some live for war itself; for some, it is a job, maybe even a duty. Sometimes only the players change; sometimes the same territory is fought over and paid for again and again, in human life, in human misery.

Arma virumque cano: “I sing of arms and the man,” Virgil put it so aptly many years ago (29-19 BCE) in a “great” war story. However, what is so “great” about a war story, so great that I “love” such tellings of action or characters in military situations.

A war story is truly a work of art, a play that pits human against human in extremis, in the extreme. It is a show from an artist’s perspective, a show of good and goodness–if such is possible in this Game of War, which relates hurt and hurting, winners and losers, death and destruction.

“Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies,” said Picasso (1923). The artist of war, as in Guernica, shows the truth of the story: that war IS hell, that war IS a double tragedy, that the truth of war needs to be told, to be shown: heroes die, we die. Death is real: portrayed, acted, dramatized.

guernica Guernica

Of course, there is often much more to it: morality, politics, history–even theology (a story of gods and about God, perhaps?). For me, however, it is character (Saving Private Ryan), story (The Hunt for Red October), emotion (even with Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” mournfully played while I watch Platoon, tugging at my senses). Sometimes I cry, I mourn, I laugh (even); I am moved. I often think of the artist trying to exorcise his devils (Shakespeare’s “war” stories like Othello?), showing the waste of souls (like Apocalypse Now), or relating war’s errors and futility (A Bridge Too Far).

I am a War Lover. I have my favorites, even those about love-in-war (like The English Patient). But I do hate war and what necessitates it and what it does solve or not solve. Yet I am not a “hawk” by any means. Nevertheless, I have accepted the reality of it. And I am aware as an American citizen that I am a recipient of the spoils of war (The Patriot). And so it goes (SlaughterhouseFive). Perhaps, someday–highly unlikely–we may experience A Farewell to Arms.

© James F. O’Neil   2015

ADDENDUM: Full Metal Jacket was recently “voted” the best war movie ever made–arguably, very arguably. Stanley Kubrick’s film was “victorious” in a title matchup of Military Times‘ “Military Movie Madness,” downing Patton by a sizable margin vote to determine the best military movie ever made.

full metal jacket

Notes from an old college handout, 1960

By Abbé Ernest Dimnet [1866-1954]: “Dimnet invites the reader into a state of honesty, where he [or her] evaluates himself [or herself] as a thoughtful human being.” (Wikipedia)

“Whatever we read, we must first comprehend and, when we have comprehended, criticize.”

“Comprehension is the first and essential step in reading.”

“There is an abyss between people who want [literature] to be as accessible as the morning paper and people in possession of, or in search of, culture.”

“Criticizing is only another aspect of the effort to comprehend. The word in its etymology means ‘to judge,’ and, in fact, we think of a critic as a competent, not carping, judge.”

“Teachers should attach the greatest value to the school exercise called literary analysis.”

A student must acquire the habit…not to receive anything as true or beautiful, but to consider everything as a problem.”

“We should be given the habit of critical attention so that our first contact with anything worth the effort will give us as keen an impression as we are capable.”

“Comprehension is criticism, and criticism or judgment is a mere synonym for THOUGHT.”

“I think that the self, in its quest to be free and solitary, ultimately reads with one aim only: to confront greatness. That confrontation scarcely masks the desire to join greatness, which is the basis of the aesthetic experience once called the Sublime: the quest for transcendence of limits.

“Our common fate is age, sickness, death, oblivion. Our common hope, tenuous but persistent, is for some version of survival.

“Confronting greatness as we read is an intimate and expensive process . . .”



Allan Bloom

Has anything changed in education since the publication [1987] of this evocative and controversial book?

Subtitled: “How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students”

Again: What is the place of the humanities programs on college campuses?

What should an “educated” person know?

Should there exist a “core” of required readings for all students?

Does any of this really matter in our culture today?

THESE are some of the Great Human Questions HUM 2930.

“The ultimate challenge in education is to go to the individual human being and help her or him become what otherwise he or she would never become.”


Freytag wrote about structure of five-act plays. Shakespearean formalist critic of the first rank. His Pyramid formula is used as a tool for intelligent appreciation, leading to further enjoyment. “Wow! That is really neat!”

The structure of the play becomes dynamic: every event falling into place, every word and image seen as leading to an effect, every action adding to the interest and suspense of the plot. (Story is who, what, when, where. Plot is how, why. “She bonked him over the head with the frozen lamb roast” = story [line] “because he is leaving her” = plot.)

Easy explanation of analysis done in 1863:250px-Freytags_pyramid.svgHowever, TV writers, fiction writers, and dramatists cannot be so simple. Twists and turns of plot. Story changes. Things happen. If not, readers and audiences would hoot and holler.

So, here is how it really works, since “drama” is “character portrayal IN ACTION.”

Introduction (Prologue), Rising Action, Exciting Force (or Exciting Force, Rising Action), Crisis, Climax (the Crisis is NOT the climax: the crisis is deciding what to do; the climax is the result of, the decision), Falling Action. THE PLAY COULD END HERE. “BOOO! BOOO!” “I want my money back!” But wait: There is more. Problems/Complications, then Denouement (happy) or Catastrophe (sad), finally, the Ending (Epilogue).

Try it out: Gnomeo & Juliet; Gone Girl; “The Open Boat”; Hamlet; Grey’s Anatomy; Die Hard; Gravity; DaVinci Code; The Sixth Sense; “The Lottery”; Interstellar; Balto.

Here are some bits and pieces: Where/how do they fit? “We got it just in time!”; “To be or not to be”; witches on a beach making (a) pot (of stew); didn’t get the promotion; iceberg; “You have cancer.”; a perfect storm; finding a diary; “And they lived happily ever after.”; commercial break, score is 101-99, with ten seconds to go; “Oh, no! The tire is flat!” plane crash in Alps; “I left my wallet at home, Officer.”; antidote did not arrive in time; “Once upon a time,…” The End. Fin. Finis. -30-

Thank you, Mr. Freytag, for showing us the way. Now what about deus ex machina?


Clear and Present Danger

In the film Clear and Present Danger, hero (Dr.) Jack Ryan is accused of being a “boy scout” because he learns of a misguided military operation–and intends to commit “transparency.”

Is the truth to be told? Is telling the truth–facts–a bad thing, to be associated with being a “boy scout”? Seems so, by the standards of the antagonist’s comment to Jack Ryan. It’s complicated. “It’s grey” (not always just black and white).

Whistle-blowers are conflicted, are complicated. Are they “boy scouts” by not speaking up, by not speaking out, by not telling it as it is: the truth?

“[Jack]…You are such a Boy Scout!”

I was a real Boy Scout. Troop 661. St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Chicago. Here I am pictured in my most official uniform, smiling, giving-receiving the Scout handshake. There I am, published in the Southtown Economist, a local Chicago newspaper. My fellow Scouts and I are with the regional Scout director. We must have done something special to get our picture taken and distributed. I cannot remember what it was.

Jimmy as Boy Scout with Scout Leader 1950sWhat I remember about Scouting could fill pages, memories from years of service, from Cub Scout to Boy Scout, ending in 1955. It was a sad time for me when I “resigned,” but we also were moving away from the neighborhood. Once there, my high school studies became a priority. No time for Scouting.

life scout patch pre-1972


So there I sit, smiling and handshaking. One can see the sash  I have over my right shoulder, with a few merit badges, with my pins from my previous ranks: Tenderfoot, Second-Class, First Class. At the time,  I was a Star Scout.

Then I progressed to complete the requirements for a Life Scout. (I never became an Eagle Scout.) An honor, Life Scout was, to wear the heart over my heart, and become a card-carrying member of an elite group.

Scouts, as many know, complete time-in-rank requirements (as military Service members do) and requirements for merit badges before advancing. I earned mine mostly the hard way: work and study. Some stand out more than others, are memorable memories of a time past.


FIRST AID: Though no badge is pictured on my sash, I did complete all required tasks. I later received the badge symbolized by a green cross on a red background.

I wondered about that color until I learned about copyright rules and using the Red Cross logo. I always had to explain that badge. I was pretty good at first aid, one of my better subjects. I knew A-B-C (Airway, Breathing and Circulation, the protocol for cardiopulmonary resuscitation–CPR. “The color, don’t forget the color: When the face is red, raise the head; when it’s pale, raise the tail; when it’s blue, it’s up to you.”) And other good tidbits of life-saving activities.

I remembered much from first aid that helped me in my job while in college as a hospital orderly, even the chest compressions I gave on a patient (who died), and at another time for a neighbor lady who had a heart attack in her yard (who died). Not a really good record, but as a Scout I helped our troop win some first aid competitions.

Later, many years later, I was training for a local volunteer EMS service in our small town. In First Aid Competition, I did well with GSW [gunshot wound] and delivering a baby. Neither of these was I taught in Scouts. My demonstration of the Heimlich maneuver was so good that the “victim” blew out his false teeth… I would have saved his life, but probably bruised his diaphragm.

sleeping bag


A most important badge for Scouts is CAMPING. Mine is seen there in the picture, along with HIKING–to get to the campgrounds, usually. Most of my experiences in camp, summer or weekend or camporees, were disasters. Most of the time I was constipated…

I had a WWII-Korea-era, US Army–style sleeping bag passed down from my older cousin. It zipped up my body into a cocoon, leaving only my face exposed to the mosquitoes.

I had a good voice for singing around the campfire, could roast marshmallows burned the right way, could even put up a tent or two; but my land navigation was “crap.”



My Army surplus metal eating-cooking pan and plateware oxidized, rusted, and were awful to clean with cold camp water. These were real “mess” kits.

SWIMMING: I hated summer camp swimming: cold, cold water. Always cold–and over my head. My merit badge for this activity was earned later, really earned. It took a long time for me to get in over my head, literally. But I did it–and was even able to dive from the barrel raft once I overcame my fear of deep water. Scouting enabled me to do this.



PUBLIC SPEAKING: “Prepare a talk on a topic…” And so forth, to collect and organize information…leading a meeting…rules of order…

I received this badge, never dreaming that I would stand in a classroom in front of students, teaching for nearly fifty years.

On my left arm is the patch for Senior Patrol Leader: I became drill instructor, teaching marching, calling meetings to order, and tried to teach knot tying. (I was awful with the Bowline on a Bight, and some others. But I did master the square knot.) I planned outings with our Scout Master (who drove a beautiful four-door Hudson–and told us he was a G-man. Then we learned he worked for the Chicago Sanitation Department: a “Garbage man.”) And, I did “other duties as assigned.”


One of my greatest experiences was our troop’s exhibition in the lobby of the beautiful Southtown Theater.

Our troop was invited to set up a model campsite, make pretend fire, answer questions, and make displays of our own hobby work. I shall never forget pretending I was sleeping in the tents we arranged–and eating baby hot dogs.

So that is some of what “such a Boy Scout” means to me. I tried to “Do a good turn daily.” Is that such a bad thing? I know I have tried to “Be prepared.” I swore the oath to “do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times (not a bad idea); to keep myself physically strong (ooops!), mentally awake, and morally straight.” Quite a bit for twelve to eighteen year old boys.

I was such a Boy Scout!

I was “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Then. But I remember. All this from watching a movie. Way to go, Jack Ryan! (Way to go, Author Tom Clancy!)

* * *

“Boy Scouting, one of the traditional membership divisions of the BSA, is available to boys who completed the fifth grade and are at least 10, or who are 11, but not yet 18 years old. The program achieves the BSA’s objectives of developing character, citizenship, and personal fitness.”


© JAMES F. O’NEIL 2015



From notes gathered into my journals: Will I ever “get to the bottom of it?” [bottom of what?]

Should I know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

* * *
TRUTH = the quality of being true or correct according to SOME ground or test for establishing the reality of a statement (proposition, idea, thought, belief, opinion).

“Truth” assumes that what it applies to DOES depict fact or reality.

But some statements are to be tested: proposals (accept or reject); resolutions (yes, or violated); promises (kept or not); suggestions (heeded, or not); commands (obeyed, or not).

***TRUTH IS THE CONFORMITY OF THE INTELLECT WITH THE THING (logical truth, “truth of knowing”).

SHOULDS: Contain VALUE JUDGMENTS, without moral import at all. “You should turn here.”  YET, the action COULD have moral import…and consequences: “You should turn here, or you’ll….”

PRACTICAL LIVING demands certain guidelines or limits within which all humans should behave.

BASIC MORAL PRINCIPLES can indeed be set up to govern most human actions–yet exceptions can be provided for, with careful and strong justification.

So, we live with NORMATIVES (“It’s good/right.”) and PRESCRIPTIVES (“You should not do it.”).

**Yet, even if a proposition is true, there is no guarantee that people will act in accordance with it–yet the proposition still remains true whether they do or not….

Just because they do it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Just because they believe it doesn’t make true.

* * *


The principle that states a human being should always OUGHT to strive to tell the truth or be honest, except when it would interfere with or seriously violate the principles of GOODNESS, VALUE OF LIFE, and JUSTICE. [This principle is necessary for meaningful communication and human relationships…]

Vital-Lies-Simple-Truths-CoverARE SOME LIES VITAL? 

VALUE OF LIFE [SANCTITY OF LIFE] = 1st moral principle = life of humans is to be preserved, protected, valued

GOODNESS/RIGHTNESS = moral/ethical = good/right
Promote good over bad
Cause no harm/badness
Prevent badness/harm

JUSTICE/FAIRNESS = not enough to do good and avoid bad, but some effort must be made to distribute the good and bad resulting from actions = moral rightness, equity, fairness:
Exchange = payment/remuneration
Distributive = merit, reward (for work performed)
Social = fair and just for all
Retributive = eye for an eye/punishment

* * *

From On Truth by Harry G. Frankfurt (Knopf, 2006):

Truth is so important to us . . . we should especially care about it. Yet common sense tells us that we know what it means to tell the truth, …and what it means to give false accounts: to lie.

Higher levels of civilization must depend even more heavily on a conscientious respect for the importance of honesty and clarity in reporting the FACTS, and on a stubborn concern for accuracy in determining what the facts are.

[No one in his right mind would rely on a builder, or submit to a physician, who does not care about truth. There is a clear difference between getting things right and getting them wrong, and thus a clear difference between the true and the false.]

…societies cannot afford to tolerate anyone or anything that fosters a slovenly indifference to the distinction between true and false. AND indulge the . . . narcissistic pretense that being true to the facts is less important than being “true to oneself.”

We need to avoid being debilitated either by error or by ignorance. We need to know–and, of course, we must understand how to make productive use of–a great many truths.

Our success or failure in whatever we undertake, and therefore in life altogether, depends on whether we are guided by truth or whether we proceed in ignorance or on the basis of falsehood.


…hiding our eyes from reality will not cause any reduction of its dangers and threats.

If we have no respect for the distinction between true and false, we may as well kiss our much-vaunted “rationality” good-bye.

For every fact, there is a true statement that relates it; and every true statement relates a fact.

…caring about truth plays a considerably different role in our lives, and in our culture, than does caring about the accumulation of individual truths.

It is because we appreciate that truth is important to us that we care about accumulating truths.

It is only through our recognition of a world of stubbornly independent reality, fact, and truth that we come both to recognize ourselves as beings distinct from others and to articulate the specific nature of our own identities.

How, then, can we fail to take the importance of factuality and of reality seriously? How can we fail to care about truth? We cannot….

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