Belmont Club

The Skein of Time

Remember the war in Libya? It is being fought along the same narrow coastal strip of desert that was once the jousting ground between the Afrika Korps and the British 8th Army.  Although the administration rarely mentions it now, the conflict with the Duck of Death hasn’t gone away. It still simmers as the video after the Read More shows.

One of the most interesting demonstrations of the power of necessity is the enduring influence of military geography.  The same battlefields are contested by opponents centuries, even millenia apart, simply because the ground is crucial. One example is Beaufort Castle in Lebanon. It has been fought over since Biblical times by the Romans, Crusaders, Saladin, the Ottomans,  French 20th century Colonialists, the PLO and the IDF.

In 2007, an Israeli Oscar-nominated movie, Beaufort directed by Joseph Cedar, was released. It related a fictional account of the last weeks of occupation of the Beaufort outpost by the Israeli army.

But it won’t be the last time. If there is one nearly certain thing in this world it is that Beaufort Castle will be a battlefield again. Form follows function. The needs of history are depressingly unchanging. Take gun trucks. In the open spaces of Africa vehicles converted to gun trucks played a prominent role.  These vehicles are called “technicals” after their nomenclature in Somalia. Even in that history rhymes. There are gun trucks in Libya. And there were gun trucks used against Rommel in North Africa.

Libyan Rebel Technical 2011

Technical North Africa 1942

Why is conflict such a constant in human history? Why do human beings create the same engines of destruction over and over again? Is there something in our nature that makes us strive against each other for the earth? Such answers as we have to this question come from poetry, literature or film.

Hold it. Turn right, here. The battlefield is ahead. Don’t argue. I can smell a battlefield. He was out here yesterday. It’s over there. Turn right, damn it. It was here. The battlefield was here!

The Carthaginians defending the city. . . . . .were attacked by three Roman legions. They were brave, but they couldn’t hold. They were massacred. Arab women. . . . . .stripped them of their tunics and their swords and lances. The soldiers lay naked in the sun. . . . . . years ago. I was here.

You don’t believe me? You know what the poet said:

“Through the travail of ages
It’s the pomp and toils of war
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon the star
As if through a glass and darkly
The age-old strife I see
Where I fought in many guises
Many names But always me.”

You know who the poet was?


Patton (1970)
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North

And yet the mystery remains.

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