Belmont Club

The Instant Before

Some of the most detailed combat footage in history was taken not by professional journalists but by soldiers whose job was to carry a camera.  Perhaps one of the most famous examples from the Second World War was footage taken by Jim Bates in  Cologne, Germany showing an M-26 Pershing smash a Panther tank.


Anonymous Syrian rebels have captured remarkable HD footage of the civil war.  This link shows a 32 minute video of Syrian tank raids into Darya depicting various instances of reactive-armored Syrian tanks making forays into the city ruins. There is little evident infantry support for the tanks, nor any apparent purpose to the forays — a fact which the rebels exploit by infiltrating the buildings around the armor to occasionally fire RPGs down on the Syrian tanks. They have little apparent effect. The main guns of the T-72s swivel and smash the buildings in retaliation.

Eventually the video producer tacks on footage of rebels bringing up a big RPG-29 which they cannily use against tanks unprotected by reactive armor. The shooter waits for a signal perhaps from spotters to tell him when the tanks vision devices are looking away before he cooly stands and lets fly.

There follows a fatal ammunition explosion in the Syrian tank, eerily reminiscent of the Panther’s demise at Cologne. In both cases some poor crewman makes it out with unbelievable speed, though it is not clear they survive. It is sad to watch the two very similar dramas played out in the ruins of a dying city, one in Western Europe and the other in the Levant. They are separated by seventy years. But in terms of waste, shattered homes and the images of sudden death — they are still essentially first cousins at seven decades’ remove.


What is different of course is that we know the end to the first story; the comfort of knowing that after the Panther burned in Cologne a new Western Europe would arise from the ashes — guided by men whose names are legend today: Truman, Churchill, de Gaulle. By contrast the conclusion of the troubles of our own age is still unknown. We know no more about the future than the crew of the Panther did the instant before the 90 mm bored through their armor, or the Syrian tankers a split second before the RPG-29 hit. What often happens is not the outcome we fear but very frequently the outcome we didn’t expect.

The danger with congratulating ourselves in escaping one doom is that we very often run into another.

August 29, 1997, came and went. Nothing much happened. Michael Jackson turned 40. There was no Judgment Day. People went to work as they always do. Laughed, complained, watched TV, made love. I wanted to run to through the street yelling to grab them all and say, “Every day from this day on is a gift. Use it well.” Instead, I got drunk. That was 30 years ago. But the dark future which never came still exists for me. And it always will, like the traces of a dream.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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