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10 February 2009



this sounds tough and a little frightening. not the kind of lifestyle we could all live


You must have felt that the song was written just for you and your own Anoula. I was reading a book yesterday about the philosophy of music in which the author claimed that composers did not have to be experiencing an emotion in order to write about it, that composers of sad songs full of longing are not sitting in lonely places remembering. I found that impossible to believe: how can you write convincingly about something you have not experienced yourself? And isn't the way that you responded to the song testament to the authenticity of the song's voice ...

It's tempting to glorify war, but it's not glorious, is it? Only a symptom of our failure to get along with each other, a last resort when all else has failed. You had every reason to survive, to come back to your wife and child, and, as you describe it, that warm heart at home was so necessary to you, waiting in the desert. Difficult not to think of those soldiers without such comfort - the marriages that break down under the strain of long separations - and all the other men on the other side of the line, remembering their Anoulas too, their songs. And of Anna, all the Annas, waiting at home, powerless to influence the outcome, frightened that they may have to bring up their children fatherless.

And yet, having lived all that, despite the failure that war represents, it expands you, for you have lived through experiences that most of us will never know anything about, and couldn't write songs about.



I'm not sure I would describe it as a lifestyle choice. It's called doing one's duty and applies to conscripts, volunteers and professionals alike.


One of my favorite lines in the Lord of the Rings is when Frodo sighs, “I wish none of this had happened,” and Gandalf responds: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

I pray that our children will never have to live through such experiences.

I had an opportunity to question and talk to a few Iraqi prisoners. I remember one in particular who showed me a photo of his wife and child. We are all essentially not so very different from one another as we may think.


Your post reminded me vaguely of a book in Greek, To Makri Potami (The Long River), written by the late Yannis Beratis and originally published in 1946. Beratis, like most of the men of his generation, was called to arms when the Italian fascists attacked Greece in 1940. Of poor health, Beratis somehow succeeded in joining as a volunteer and was thrust in the midst of it all in the snows of Mt Pindus and the harsh terrain across the border into northern Epirus. His story, written very much in your firm-paced, economical style, extensively talks of the emotions involved in war and being away from home fighting to defend your own and the nation’s survival. Unfortunately, Beratis succumbed to the plagues of war and foreign occupation shortly after the Nazis retreated from Greece; we thus lost a powerful writer who could have contributed greatly to modern Greek literature. Next time you are in Athens look for the book, it has been reprinted many times and should be available from Hermes Publications. I know you’ll enjoy reading it and I’m sure you’ll discover Beratis speaks of many things you are personally familiar with in your former capacity as a professional military officer. A great post.



It's funny that you should mention this particular book. I bought a copy when I lived in Greece many years ago. I wandered into a bookstore near Syntagma and asked the proprietor if he could recommend a good book on the subject of the Greek-Italian War. He handed me Berati's book. Years later I decided to reread it and it was one of the few books I took to the desert with me. My dogeared copy has been sitting on my bookshelf since then collecting dust. Your comment made me pull it out to look at it once again and I even found some notes I had stuffed in it dated March, 1991.

Looking through again it I found this paragraph that speaks to what is uppermost in a soldier's mind.

Αύριο μεθαύριο πάλι θά φύγει. Ἔτσι τοῦ μυρίζεται. Γιά τίς πρῶτες γραμμές. Είναι ἄτιμη δουλεία νά ´σαι σύνδεσμος κι ὄμως τού ἀρέσει. Τά βαριέται αὐτά τά γραφεία.

Δέν ξέρεις, ὄταν φεύγω, ὄταν είμαι κεί μπροστά, πῶς τή σκέπτομαι τή γυναικουλα.

Tomorrow or the next day he will leave. For the front lines. The job of liaison was a thankless one, but he liked it. He is tired of office work. "Don't you know that when I leave, when I'm at the front, how I think of my little wife."

Thank you for tweaking my memory.



Amazing story! Statistically, we've hit the jackpot! I’m so glad you have read To Makri Potami. It remains my favorite book on the Albanian campaign. Beratis had a remarkable eye for the human condition and, as you’ve discovered, he’s at peace with himself despite the enormous crises imposed on him by Fate and the twist of the moment. Now we’re discussing this I must go back and re-read the book.



A jackpot indeed. I will expect one of your wonderful posts about it when you are done.

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