David Martin retired from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009, where he worked as an economist. He had the "good fortune: of receiving orders for Korea during the height of the Vietnam War (1967-68).

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Martial Machismo: At What Cost?


Mark Lentz

At What a Cost

©2009 Mark Lentz

Send me there

I’ll do as you will

I’ll even kill

I’m your rock

You put me here

Can’t show any fear

You say it’s a thrill

I’m your rock

I fight your wars

On another tour

Defend your shores

I’m your rock

Trained me well

Put me into hell

Your point you sell

I’m your rock


How can I be me

Fighting for the land of the free

Doin’ all I’m told

Watching your plan unfold

Watching your plan unfold

I took your hand

You made me a man

In this foreign land

I’m your rock

You planted the seed

I fought for your greed

Now I live with the deed

I’m your rock

Welcome home

All I love is gone

No one on the phone

I’m your rock

Now all is lost

At what a cost

I’m at a loss

I’m your rock



Martial Machismo: At What Cost?


by David Martin


A good work of art, though it may be the product of one person’s experience, is timeless and universal. By that standard, the song “At What a Cost”* by Mark Lentz is, to my mind, a fine work of art. In war, there are always the grand planners at the top, but the actual dirty business has to be carried out by other human beings at the bottom. The price paid by those at the bottom seldom weighs very much in the calculations of the grand planners at the top, and if there is folly in the plans, no one sees it better than those at the bottom.

Listening to “At What a Cost” the first lines that come to mind are those written by A. E. Housman upon the occasion of the celebration of the 50th year of the reign of Queen Victoria. Observing the bonfires burning all over the mountaintops of Shropshire as part of the big shindig, with the celebrants singing “God Save the Queen,” the poet reflects:

Now, when the flame they watch not towers

About the soil they trod,

Lads we’ll remember, friends of ours,

Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,

To fields that bred them brave,

The saviours come not home tonight

Themselves they could not save.

Housman’s friends died furthering the plans of the builders of the British Empire; the subject of Lentz’s song suffered for the planners behind the American one.

Below the grand strategists, between those at the top and those at the bottom, are the tactical planners, the military officers. Their plans often go tragically awry, as they did with “The General,” a fairly typical British World War I character as captured by combat veteran Siegfried Sassoon:

“Good-morning; good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

But how do those above get the human instruments below to carry out their plans when the underlings’ costs can be so heavy in the process?

Outlawed, rendition, torture and disappearance…

Bear in mind that the potential costs are not just physical, but they are emotional, moral, and spiritual, as well. The military pawn is not just asked to risk life and limb, he is ordered to kill and maim, as well, and to witness his comrades being killed and maimed.

To achieve the proper degree of dehumanization a psychological appeal is often made. The planners’ pawn must be persuaded that he is more than that, he is the spear point, he is a superman, or as Lentz’s warrior puts it with bravado that deep down he only half believes, “I’m your rock.”

Reality, though, usually intrudes. A man, no matter how masculine, as hardness goes is a good deal less than a rock, but he is also more than one. The rock can only get ground down, but a man can be transformed by war in countless ways, most of which are not good.

The keen student of the war in Afghanistan hears in “At What a Cost” precisely what has been going on there for more than a decade now.

Surely no military adventure was ever more fiendishly calculated and planned, and we know precisely who the planners were. That is the theme of at least two of my poems, “PNAC’s ‘Mein Kampf’” and “PNAC’s Pearl Harbor.”

The song is presented on YouTube with accompanying photos that leave no doubt that what is being described is the post-9-11 Bush-Obama “War on Terror” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. It turns out, though, that “At What a Cost” grew out of different, earlier war.

The song didn’t come from the experience of the repeated tours into hell that have reduced even many would-be human boulders to gravel. Rather, it came from what most Americans think of as a short, glorious victory. It might as well have been one of those countless, nameless little wars of the Victorian era that moved Housman to pen his lines instead of the human meat grinder of all meat grinders that was the WW I that Sassoon experienced and wrote about so movingly.
Here are the artist Lentz’s own words:

An old friend of mine, a Gulf War veteran from the first war in 1990, conveyed for the first time to me the details of his tour over in Iraq. After one too many drinks, he started pointing to himself saying how he had to be a rock, could not show any emotion, had to kill against his beliefs. How could this be him. He talked of how he had to do what he was told while their objective was a goal that had no point. They were within 50 miles of Baghdad and told to turn around. They could have ended that war then but it was not in the plan. As you can see. the violence and bloodshed which accompanies any war is pointless. It kills innocent people and also destroys the lives of those fighting it. The guy has never talked about his tour again. I don’t suppose he ever will. I was fortunate however to get a first hand glimpse of his pain, hence the song. This guy is not the only one suffering in his own mind. I’m sure there are numerous (beyond comprehension) veterans that suffer just as he has and is. It will never end, but the song was my way of bringing attention to the vast numbers of our servicemen and women suffering pointlessly.

Operation enduring freedom ?

The spear point had a ringside seat for the unfolding of the twisted plan. He had a view that his countrymen back home, besotted by wishful thinking, propaganda, and mindless consumerism could never have or even imagine. Yes, it might have been a glorious little war in our minds, but the song that grew out of it captured it well, as it captures the ones being fought now and the much bigger one that our nefarious rulers seem for all the world to be planning.

As a final note, we have this news item from June 8, 2012, followed by the full Sassoon poem, the final verse of which concludes the “At What a Cost” video:

According to new Pentagon figures, 154 military service members committed suicide during the first 155 days of this year. During the same period, ending June 3, 136 U.S. troops died in combat in Afghanistan, according to casualties.org, a website that tracks combat casualties.

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy

Who grinned at life in empty joy,

Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,

And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,

With crumps and lice and lack of rum,

He put a bullet through his brain,

No one spoke of him again.

. . . . . .

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer when soldier lads march by,

Sneak home and pray you’ll never know

The hell where youth and laughter go.

Siegfried Sassoon: Collected Poems 1908-1956 (Faber and Faber, 1961), p. 78.

Note: Song written and performed by Mark Lentz. SUPPORT OUR TROOPS
Do right by them, and with them, and by their families and friends too.

Source: For lyrics and related essay: http://www.dcdave.com/article5/120711.htm

 David Martin : I  retired from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009, where I worked as an economist.  This photo was taken in the lobby at BLS by my son on the day I retired. I had the good fortune of receiving orders for Korea during the height of the Vietnam War (1967-68).  You can see the hangul rendering of “Martin” on my name tag in the photo behind my signature here

My mother’s younger brother, William Gray Bell, is still missing in Korea, so we did literally lose him. I understand that there’s a fancy resort with a golf course where the battle in which he disappeared was fought.

I was flying space available around the Orient during my mid-tour leave in early 1968 when I had the experience that inspired this poem.  I was waiting for my flight to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines there in Okinawa among a crowd of Marines.  They seemed so very young to me.

Dave illegally smoking a Cuban cigar off the Greek island of Patmos.

The views expressed herein are the views of the author exclusively and not necessarily the views of VNN, VNN authors, affiliates, advertisers, sponsors, partners, technicians or the Veterans Today Network and its assigns. Notices

Posted by on July 13, 2012, With 0 Reads, Filed under Afghanistan War (2002-?), Charities, Causes & Foundations, Heroes, Military & Veterans, Wars. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Responses to "Martial Machismo: At What Cost?"

  1. Samuel  July 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Chris Hedges writes:

    We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites.

    The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do.

    Any story of war is a story of elites preying on the weak, the gullible, the marginal, the poor.

    It’s not about defending the country or serving our people. It’s about working for some rich guy who has his interests.

    It is not the war of the movies. It is not the glory promised by the recruiters. The mythology fed to you by the church, the press, the school, the state, and the entertainment industry is exposed as a lie. We are not a virtuous nation. God has not blessed America. Victory is not assured. And we can be as evil, even more evil, than those we oppose. War is venal, noisy, frightening, and dirty. The military is a vast bureaucratic machine fueled by hyper-masculine fantasies and arcane and mind-numbing rules. War is always about betrayal—betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians.

    One female veteran of Iraq wrote: “Here we were, leaving the ribbons behind us as we sped up on our way to Hell, probably, where we would pay for the sins these magnetic decals endorsed. They did not have a clue as to what war was like, what it made people see, and what it made them do to each other. I felt as though I didn’t deserve their support, or anyone’s, for what I had done. . . . No one should ever support the people who do such things.”

    War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. From a distance it seems noble. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a bit part in the great drama of history. It promises to give us identities as warriors, patriots, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war-makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits.

    But up close war is a soulless void. War is about barbarity, perversion, and pain. Human decency and tenderness are crushed, and people become objects to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded all combine to spin those in combat into another universe. In this moral void, naïvely blessed by secular and religious institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to moral precepts, becomes stark.


  2. John  July 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Excellent lyrics, video and song in the article above. Why are we permitting the destruction of the minds of young men and women to make them to kill when we can have peace now? Also watch: Edwin Starr – War (What Is It Good For?) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX7V6FAoTLc

  3. John  July 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Excellent lyrics, video and song. The destruction of the minds of young men and women to make them to kill when we can have peace now. Watch: Edwin Starr – War (What Is It Good For?) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX7V6FAoTLc

  4. Samuel  July 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    The true story is that the armies of any particular country use the myths of ethnic or national supremacy hammered into the brains of children by their mamas and papas and then by the schools. Without this foundation, machismo would be useless in making young men into truly insane killing machines for the elite.

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