Ernie Pyle: Brave Men

Ernie Pyle was an American war correspondent during World War II. He was very well known across a great cross-section of the American public – a real celebrity in his day – and very well liked.

In his newspaper columns and in his book Brave Men that was published in 1944, he describes the minutiae of army life in wartime from the perspective of the common soldier.

He described the way the war machine works – from engineers pulling captured tanks off the line with giant earth moving machines, to bomb loaders preparing bombers for a mission, to cooks cooking up thousands of meals for the troops.

The book describes the push from North Africa and up through Italy, then the waiting period in England before D Day, and then the invasion and the battle through France.

One cute image that he describes is of the American soldiers stationed in London in the lead up to D Day, and how the US Army established rules for one-way foot traffic for soldiers when walking along the pavements.

It was done in order to minimise how often soldiers would have to meet and salute one another while approaching from opposite directions.

Apparently, there were so many soldiers that before the rule was in place soldiers were having to salute every five steps or so and getting sore arms from all that saluting.

Another scene that he describes is of captured German soldiers on D Day standing on the cliffs and staring in disbelief and resignation at the sheer number of Allied ships that stretched from horizon to horizon.

The final chapter of Brave Men was written in August 1944, and Pyle talks about the war being more or less over.

That was, of course, before the German counter-offensive in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in December 1944, which was the last major offensive against the Allied forces in Europe.

It’s hard to tell you exactly why or how the book is so touching and sad. Certainly the tone changes when Pyle goes with the invasion forces on D Day, and he becomes more sombre and in the end, lyrical.

I started the book Brave Men about a year ago, and then put it aside while I read some other books. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago and I have been reading a few pages at a time, mostly over breakfast.

I finished it today.

One passage is particularly poignant. It is about the jeep ride that he and another journalist and the photographer Robert Capa took into a town near Cherbourg.

The Germans has only just been pushed out of the town, and there was always the risk of snipers or of Germans left behind – manning a machine gun somewhere by the roadside. So Pyle was nervous, and he talks about the fearless Capa, who would push on whatever the risk.

Robert Capa was one of the original Magnum photographers. I know his work well and I also know that Capa was killed in 1954 when he stepped on a mine in South East Asia, in what was then called Indochina.

What I learned a week ago when reading up about the background to Brave Men, is that Ernie Pyle was killed in 1945 by Japanese machine gun fire on an island off Okinawa.

There is something strange about reading in a book published in 1944, the author writing about his companion, Capa, who I knew would be killed in 1954, and knowing also that the writer himself would be killed even before that, in 1945.

And there they were in his book Brave Men, described as large as life and nervous as kittens – riding into a town during the Allied invasion of Europe.


After the war, the Takarazuka Theater in Tokyo was taken over by the US Army headquarters and renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater – which remained its name until 1955.


Government Of A Fat Population

There was an article in the 19th February edition of the Guardian, under the headline ‘Government not interested in obesity fight.’

It reports that to Dr Tim Lobstein, director of policy and programs at the International Association for the Study of Obesity, claims that the government aren’t interested in fighting obesity in the population.

I think that’s wrong.

I think that the government are specifically interested in the obesity fight – they just don’t want to win it.

Why should they want to win it? Why should they have a healthy, active, and dissenting population when they can have a population that is fat, ill, and sluggish.

That is – fat from eating processed food, ill so they can be treated by a privatised health service, and sluggish so they won’t dissent.


One Trillion Dollars of Mineral Ore Found In Afghanistan

One trillion dollars of mineral ore found in Afghanistan is a lot of mineral wealth in anyone’s estimate. Who will benefit?

A news article in the New York Times reports on the previously unknown extent of mineral deposits in Afghanistan. A quote from page two of the article reads:

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

The article also refers to “An internal Pentagon memo that states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.”

As of June 2008, Wikipedia’s entry on Mining in Afghanistan states:

The country has extensive deposits of barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semiprecious stones, salt, sulfur, talc, and zinc. Precious and semiprecious stones include high-quality emerald, lapis lazuli, and ruby.

A Reuters Report from March 16, 2009 states:

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had shown that the war-torn nation may hold far higher amounts of minerals than previously thought, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel said.

“In the field of minerals, Afghanistan is the richest country in the region, much more, hundreds of times more. Except for diamond, you have all the other minerals that you find in nature, in Afghanistan,” Adel told Reuters in an interview late on Sunday.

Based on the USGS survey, he said, Afghanistan’s north is estimated to hold between 600 to 700 billion cubic meters of natural gas and the country has some 25 million tonnes of oil in four basins.”

According to the Afghan Embassy, Mr. Muhammad Ibrahim Adel is the Minister of Mines and Industries in Afghanistan.

On its page describing the Afghan Geological Survey, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Mines recites:

Like other government institutions, the Afghanistan Geological Survey was seriously weakened during more than two decades of military conflict, and suffered from a lack of investment and skills development. Throughout this period of conflict and during the later rule by the Taliban, the staff of the AGS salvaged and protected documents, maps and samples, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families. After the Taliban left Kabul in December 2001 these precious data were returned to the Survey.

Following the fall of the Taliban regime, the Government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of international donors, began formulating a mining sector strategy and policies. Amongst many things, this recognized the need for the rehabilitation and restructuring of the Afghanistan Geological Survey to help it perform as a modern geological survey and implement a program of geological mapping and resource assessment using modern concepts and methods.

In response to this need, in 2004 the British Geological Survey and United States Geological Survey commenced collaborative projects with the Afghanistan Geological Survey and Ministry of Mines. These projects are funded by the Governments of Britain and the United States of America respectively. Together they are implementing a comprehensive program of capacity-building, geological mapping, evaluation of mineral and hydrogeological resources, and the creation of geological and mineral databases and geographical information systems. A mining cadastre office is also being established. These programs are providing comprehensive training for Afghans.

The site in turn refers to the United States Geological Survey and from there to the report #3063 Preliminary Assessment of Non-Fuel Mineral Resources of Afghanistan, 2007 which states:

Afghanistan has abundant mineral resources, including known deposits of copper, iron, barite, sulfur, talc, chromium, magnesium, salt, mica, marble, rubies, emeralds, lapis lazuli, asbestos, nickel, mercury, gold and silver, lead, zinc, fluorspar, bauxite, beryllium, and lithium.

The Minerals Law of Afghanistan 2005, drafted with the aid of the World Bank and recited in the publication issued by the Department of Minerals of the Ministry of Mines and Industries of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan states at Article 4, paragraph (1)

“All naturally occurring Mineral Substances and all Artificial Deposits of Mineral Substances on or under the territory of Afghanistan or in its water courses (rivers and streams) are the exclusive property of the State.”


Disaster Looms

Arrgh, Disaster looms!

Well, that will push people along and you might think it is a laudable idea to get people to do good. The problem with it is that it tacitly makes the argument that doing all the things we do is OK so long as the consequence is that we do not cause famine, total breakdown, etc.

I have a slightly different argument on the ‘why’ of how we should proceed, which is this:

There may be room for argument about the effect that man is having on global warming. There may even be room for argument about whether we are experiencing global warming as anything other than a blip in the graph.

What is not in doubt is that we are destroying the Earth with pollution.

So I say don’t let arguments about global warming be a red herring to deflect from the fact that we should clean up the mess we are making.

It doesn’t or shouldn’t need the justification that we are facing disaster.

A tree does not need to justify its existence.

We do however need to justify destroying it, whether or not at some point down the road the fallen tree will get its innocent revenge by releasing CO2 and killing the planet.

And careful housekeeping – looking after the place and not treating it like a rubbish tip – is simply good manners and a show of gratitude.