Defending Ourselves

(I have not written poetry since I was in school – and some may judge that to be a good thing.  In ay case, I hope this rises to mediocre poetry rather than doggerel.  This was inspired by the constant mantra that Israel has “the right to defend itself,” a sentiment that echoes through the ages of warfare.”

 

To the Melian isle the fleet crossed the sea,

An army from Athens with words borne on spears:

“Our empire you’ll join or slaughtered you’ll be;

Though harmless you seem, we still have our fears.”

 

But neutral we’ve been and carry no blame;

No weapons we’ve lifted against any Greek;

Both Spartans and you we’ve treated the same,

And what threat can come from this city so weak?

 

“Oh, we are the strong and act as we will,

And you are the weak and suffer you must;

‘Tis the law of the gods we only fulfill,

And who dares to say the gods are not just?”

 

Defending ourselves, ‘tis surely our right;

That innocents die, well, that’s not our plight.   

 

 

Across the bridged Rhine the Fourth Legion fares,

Searching for Germans, whoever’s at hand,

Marsi or Chatti, Cherusci, who cares?

The foe must be punished for raiding the land.

 

The men must be butchered, the steadings all burned,

The women and babes enslaved and led forth;

Have mercy, great Romans, no fault have we earned;

It wasn’t our tribe, but those to the north.

 

“No difference it makes from where came the crime;

Examples are needed to deter the rest;

Barbarians you are and thus for all time

In guarding the empire this policy’s best.”

 

Defending ourselves, ‘tis surely our right;

That innocents die, well, that’s not our plight.   

 

 

Through Languedoc’s fields came the knights of the Lord,

Seeking the wretched who betrayed the Christ,

The Cathars, the heretics to be put to the sword:

“They scorned the true Church, with the devil they’ve diced.”

 

Béziers at once taken, the crusaders stream in,

Double ten thousand the souls in the town,

And many are Catholics with no trace of sin;

Then who are the true and who damned and struck down?

 

“Slaughter them all, let no one be spared;

No difference it makes for God knows His own;

He’ll sort them all out,” the abbot declared;

“He’ll rescue the true, and they’ll sit at His Throne.”

 

Defending ourselves, ‘tis surely our right;

That innocents die, well, that’s not our plight.   

 

 

The Vistula bridged, the Meuse left behind,

The Dnieper surmounted, the Seine crossed with ease,

By mechanized storm the war now defined,

And legions of grey may march where they please.

 

Rotterdam, Warsaw, broad London in flames,

The cities of Europe become victims of war,

The rubble and corpses that mark the Reich’s gains

From the isle of Britain to the Volga’s far shore.

 

Uncountable graves for an idea to defend,

Yet the pendulum swings and the hordes from the east

Fall on the lost Volk to tear and to rend;

“It’s proper we take our revenge on the beast!”

 

Defending ourselves, ‘tis surely our right;

That innocents die, well, that’s not our plight.   

 

 

The point man goes down, a round through the brain;

Men clutch at the ground but where the gook lair?

It must be that hamlet seen vague through the rain;

Salvation will come with a strike from the air.

 

A village has vanished – and what was its name?

The wounded come crawling from home become bier

And at the tall soldiers they scream out their blame:

Why have you killed us, and why are you here?

 

“We bring you your freedom by crushing the Cong

And eggs are oft broken in this sort of war;

The communists seek to do us both wrong

And they will not stop ‘til they threaten our shore.”

 

Defending ourselves, ‘tis surely our right;

That innocents die, well, that’s not our plight.   

 

 

All silent the death that falls through the night,

The weapons of men become Hand of God

To carve out revenge in blossoms of light,

And women and children are not spared the rod

 

“But we are the righteous against such a foe,

Who dares strike the land where the Chosen abide;

Their missiles rain down on our people below,

Our windows are shattered and good men have died.”

 

“Yes, they’re complicit, they refuse to fly,

Though warnings we spread where the bombing will be,

Hospitals and schools with rockets nearby;

It seems that they value their lives less than we.”

 

Defending ourselves, ‘tis surely our right;

That innocents die, well, that’s not our plight.   

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Stuff from (Not So) Way Back #12: Toasting the Devil – The Tusculum Papacy

When it comes to less than decorous behavior by the Papacy, the Renaissance immediately comes to mind, but in fact the most embarrassing age for the Church came much earlier, during the tenth and eleventh centuries. These years mark the absolute rock bottom for the institution and are to some degree a reflection of the abysmal state of European society in general. The earlier part of this period, roughly the first half of the tenth century, is so wretched that it has been given a formal name, the saeculum obscurum – the dark (or ignoble) age, and has also been referred to as the Pornocracy and the Rule of the Harlots.

The saeculum began with the elevation of Sergius III (904-911) and ended with the deposition of John XII (955-964), who was in fact the grandson of Sergius’ alleged lover, Marozia. There were twelve Popes during this time, all of them either members of or dominated by the powerful Theophylacti family of Tusculum (hence the Tusculum Papacy 904-1058), and particularly active were Theodora, wife of Theophylactus I, and her daughter Marozia. John X (914-928) was the alleged lover of Theodora and was supposedly killed by an outraged Marozia, whose son, allegedly by Sergius, became John XI (931-935) and whose grandson became John XII. The half century after the last of the Pornocracy Popes was dominated by another Roman family, the Crescenti, but the Theophylacti were back with Benedict VIII (1012-1024), formally known as Theophylactus II. He was succeeded by his brother, who as a lay person had to be ordained a bishop before becoming John XIX (1024-1032) and who may have been murdered by the Roman mob. He was followed by his nephew, who was elevated as Benedict IX (1032-1044, 1045, 1047-1048).

Benedict IX is a truly memorable Pope, having had the unique experience of holding the office three times. Installed in 1032, he was driven out of Rome in 1044 by his enemies, who put Sylvester III (1044-1045) on the throne of St. Peter. He returned in 1045, but was convinced to sell the Papacy, only to change his mind and seize the office again in 1047 and be deposed and excommunicated a year later. In an age of dissolute Popes he nevertheless managed to stand out; he was believed to hold orgies in the Lateran Palace and was the first Pope thought to be homosexual. On the other hand, John XII, who was Benedict’s granduncle, had set the bar very high. He was accused, among other things, of turning the Lateran into a brothel, murdering his confessor, calling upon demons when gambling and toasting the health of the devil at the altar.

The current Vatican scandals – pedophilia, homosexual prostitutes for priests, political infighting, a corrupt bank – would hardly be noticed during the Tusculum Papacy, but salvation was at hand for the Church. The Tusculum Papacy came to an end in 1058 with the accession of Nicholas II, one of whose supporters was the reformer Hildebrand of Sovana. In 1073 Hildebrand became Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) and began an age of reform, freeing the Papacy from the Roman nobility by empowering the College of Cardinals as the electors of the Pope and beginning the long struggle to free the Church from the interference of the German Emperor and the French King.