Friday, June 29, 2007

MRCA Tender- RFP cleared for Release

MRCA Contract Update- June 29

Over the past week, theres been a flurry of activity on the MRCA scene. Last week, AK Antony said that the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) would meet and approve the Request for Proposal (RFP) for release within the fortnight. That report was on the 18th. Luckily, the DAC met the deadline. Yesterday, the DAC met in Delhi and cleared the purchase of the 126 fighter jets.

The big news was reported by various newspapers. Unfortunately, its hard to trust most of these reporters (for reasons well known), and so, an official MoD source was needed. That press release is given below.

An Analysis of this news is on the way. The press release by itself is quite detailed, and a lot can be inferred from it. The most important observation is the name "Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft", which suggests that the IAF is no longer looking for a Mig-21 replacement, but is looking to boost the number of medium weight class (Max. Takeoff Wt. of 20-25 tons) aircraft, which do the bulk of "Earth-mover" work in strike roles. That is, in any mission, these aircraft would be the bomb carriers and the core of the formation, while other aircraft, like the LCA and Su-30 would provide air cover. This class, capable of carrying over 6 tons of weapons (9-10 tons
of load, i.e. Weapons + Fuel), is crucial for the IAF, which has been looking to shore up the numbers and replace the Mig-27s and Jaguars that are getting old.

This also means that the MoD is no longer worried about the progress of the LCA project. Reports before would regularly talk about the MRCA being floated due to delays in the LCA project. But, considering the progress of the Tejas, that doesn't seem to be a worry any more.

The MoD Press Release:


The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony has cleared the process for the procurement of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force. During its meeting here today, the DAC debated various issues related to the initial purchase, transfer of technology, licensed production and life time maintenance support for the 126 MMRCA and gave the final go-ahead for the project.

In pursuant to the recent assurance given by the Defence Minister for an early issue of the much awaited Request for Proposal (RFP) for the 126 fighter jets, the Ministry of Defence and Indian Air Force officers have been working overtime to scrutinize all aspects of the RFP. In view of the size and operational importance of the likely purchase, the criteria for selecting the final MMRCA contender from amongst some of the best combat aircraft offered by American, Russian and European companies, has been fine tuned. The RFP would contain a selection model that would involve an exhaustive evaluation process as detailed in the Defence Procurement Procedures — 2006.

The proposals from the likely contenders would first be technically evaluated by a professional team to check for compliance with IAF’s operational requirements and other RFP conditions. Extensive field trials would be carried out to evaluate the performance. Finally, the commercial proposal of the vendors, short-listed after technical and field evaluations, would be examined and compared. The aircraft are likely to be in service for over 40 years. The vendors are required to provide a life time support and performance based warranty for the aircraft. MoD officials have confirmed that great care has been taken to ensure that only determinable factors, which do not lend themselves to any subjectivity, are included in the commercial selection model. The selection would be transparent and fair.

The DAC has approved that a majority of the MMRCA would be produced in India under transfer of technology. The vendor finally selected would also b e required to undertake offset obligations in India. It is expected that the ToT and offset contracts would provide a great technological and economic boost to the indigenous defence industries, which would include DPSUs, RURs and other eligible private sector industries. Foreign vendors would be provided great flexibility in effecting tie-up with Indian partners, for this purpose.

There are three guiding principles for this procurement scheme. First, the operational requirements of IAF should be fully met. Second, the selection process should be competitive, fair and transparent, so that best value for money is realized. Lastly, Indian defence industries should get an opportunity to grow to global scales.

With the decks finally cleared, the RFP is planned to be issued in the near future.

Sitanshu Kar

An earlier report by the Indian Express, dated 18th June is given below.


New Delhi, June 18: The decks have been cleared for India’s biggest ever global defence tender to acquire 126 multi role combat aircraft. Defence Minister A K Antony on Monday said the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) will meet within a fortnight to finalise the tender document.

“The DAC will meet within a fortnight and decide on the RFP. All negotiations are over and now it is a question of formalities,” the Minister told media persons after inaugurating a two-day annual Unified Commander’s Conference.

He indicated that issues like factoring in life-cycle costs and clauses of the offset policy have been resolved by saying that the final Request for Proposals would be issued within “one or two months”.

Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal F H Homi left on Monday for a five-day France visit. He will attend the Paris Air Show that will showcase contenders for the contract like the American F-16 and F/A 18 Super Hornet, the French Rafale, Russian MiG 35 and the Swedish Gripen.

Speaking on the LTTE threat, ... (unrelated issues continued).

More Reports:
(note- links shown here may have been shortened. If you're not able to see, right click and copy link location.)
CNN Money Report
International Herald Tribune Report
Reuters India Report

For more reports, see Google News. A Collection of reports like the ones above can be found here.

Interview with Dr. Atre

Frontier India has an extremely informative interview with Former Scientific Advisor Dr. V.K. Atre, who is uncharacteristically blunt and direct about the level of commitment the Services have shown in DRDO projects, preferring to go in for foreign solutions. Considering that Dr. Atre has rarely given interviews & has never criticized the Armed Forces or media before, this is really a revelation, and a wake-up call.

The former DRDO Chief is clear that DRDO has got a lot of flak that it scarcely deserves- the Sources, Armed Forces, An Ignorant Media, Foreign Vendors and the Import Lobby, all with an axe to grind, an interest to serve, or simply trying to cover their own mistakes.

DRDO-bashing is the easiest thing to do, since it is the focal point of all indigenous weapon systems development. Production & Quality problems are blamed on DRDO, even though it doesn't produce equipment, only develop it. Delays are caused by the services, which delay or mess up Staff Quality requirements (the Redesign of LCA wings, or the Arjun Project), or MoD bureaucrats who sit on files, or push pennies to try and save money, at the expense of destroying national security. All these are conveniently forgotten when journalists blame DRDO for any problem that ails the defence projects. And with an active defence contractor Lobby that will do anything for billion-dollar cheques and an easily-influenced media, its no wonder that the spate of recent anti-DRDO rants have been published.

We must be clear that DRDO is at fault in many cases, and is not perfect. But the fact remains that it has been expected to develop world-class systems for costs that Foreign companies throw monthly parties for. Look at the Trishul- how can anyone expect results for a measly $70 mn. Or the LCA, which has reached the stage its at for just $500 mn. The F-22 Raptor has already spent over $60 Billion, and the JSF another 15 billion. The much maligned Arjun has spent only 315 crores to reach the state its in now. And it is a world-class system comparable with the Abrams (which was a $6 bn project) and the latest Leopard 2s.

Dr. Atre comes out strongly against these criticisms and has presented a strong defence of the DRDO, which has had to navigate through a lot of dirt hurled at it to get crucial projects ready. Frontier India also has a lot of other related articles that together, tell the same sad story of conspiracy and slander against the DRDO, which has had to keep quiet and rely on retired officials to defend it. Please read this extremely well written piece (link:

P.S.: Keep looking out for good news on the Defence projects front. A little birdie (Mr. Chacko Joseph from Frontier actually) tells me that a lot of great news is coming up... will update as it comes out.

Indigenous defence research - looking through DRDO prism

Indian Armed Forces are used to import Defence systems from abroad and use them mostly for training and during operations whenever necessity rises. Most of these systems are in free flow production in their respective countries and sometimes inducted by their Services. These systems, therefore, have got the maturity in terms of engineering, production and maintenance. This provides the comfort zone for the three Services to induct, operationalise and maintain these weapons.

The most important aspect is that these weapons, are not designed keeping Indian environment, tactics, operational doctrines or user’ preferences in mind. They are not customized for the convenience of the Indian Armed Forces. Even then, they are accepted by the Services based on their maturity level. Even in those cases where partial quantities are produced in the country, mostly in Indian Ordnance factories (OFB) and Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs), there is hardly any technology transfer taking place. These items would already have been produced in large quantities in their respective countries and would have reached end of production life for their own use. Many times, the tooling will be transferred to Indian production line accordingly. Though the products are subsequently made in India, most of the raw materials and components still have to come from the parent country and the value addition by Indian Industry is very small, varying from 10% to 30%. Even then, this is a preferred route for the OFB’s and DPSUs as there is no risk for them. They have assured product line and order quantities from the Armed Forces. Most of time, the critical high end system’s technology is not passed to India. It is a form of “Technology Apartheid.” India ends up paying exorbitant prices and foreign exchange.

The international arms market runs with political and monetary diplomacy. The arms majors adopt all tricks of trade to push their wares. India is one of the largest importers of arms in the world, hence these issues imply to India too.

With this background, it is natural that the Indian Armed forces hesitate to accept Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed items as they know that even after DRDO successfully develops, there would be a reasonable time gap before a smooth free flow production gets established by the Indian Industry. There is also pressure from import lobbies and vested interest which cultivate the sensation seeking mass media for defaming Indian indigenous research.

It is to be noted that all countries which develops a complex defence system has gone through the same pains and problems as DRDO before serial production gets established.

Frontier India Defence and Strategic News Service interacted with Dr. VK Atre who has held the position of Scientific Advisor to Minister of Defence. I covered in depth on the DRDO point of view on the state of indigenous Defence Research.

There are 4 state actors when it comes to indigenization of weapons.

1) The Ministry of Defence (MoD)
2) The Armed Forces
3) The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)
4) The Public sector defence production units (DPSU)

There are 3 non state actors which influence the outcomes
1) Foreign Vendors
2) The Mass Media.
3) The Import Lobby

The Ministry of Defence

Ideally the MoD should act as the bridge between the scientific & technical community and the armed forces.

On the role of MoD in indigenization Dr. Atre say’s “Variable. There are occasions when MoD has supported DRDO strongly and there are occasions when they have not. It depends.... (read more)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A flicker of 'Radiance'

President Abdul Kalam in a lecture in 2005 had spoken about his fond desire to see the LCA 'Tejas' ("Radiance") achieve greater heights and international recognition.

And what better way to do this than display our very own bird at the biggest aviation fair in the world- The Paris Air Show, a biennial show held on odd years at Le Bourget Airport in Paris.

It was this desire that Kalam articulated in the following verse, entitled "Soaring Dream", which he wrote in 1990.

Fabulous air show of Paris in motion

My thought too in flight and yearns for my Nation

When will the planes designed in my land

Pierce the sky as lightening in action

And gracefully land as angels in full boom

All to the envy of spellbound spectators

Yes we can !!

When we are united in action and addicted to deeds

Sky can't be limit for my nation in action !!

An ambitious dream it would have been when he wrote it. And impossible it would have seemed in 1999, when the LCA was on the verge of being shut down. Now, those difficulties are far away; the LCA is a reality, and a beautiful and powerful aircraft as well. Seeing it fly on foreign shores wouldn't be a surprise.

A lot of people were hopeful that this would happen this year, especially after the amazing displays at Aero India. Mutterings of the LCA flying were all around. Airshowtrips had a tentative list of aircraft being displayed at Le Bourget this year, and, guess what, the LCA was on it- both Static and Flying display as well. That wasn't confirmation enough, since they themselves stated that it was a tentative list. Even then, the prospects of an LCA flying over foreign shores was mouth watering. India-Defence and Bharat-Rakshak both latched onto this news with gusto and came out with these reports ([1] [2]). Then, the Paris Air Show Official Website released an 'Official' list (download the Excel sheet here...) of aircraft taking part, and I was overjoyed to see the LCA on it- both on static and flying display.

Alongside the LCA would have been our very our very own ALH Dhruv, which made a splash at Farnborough last year, along with the HJT-36 'Sitara' and the Lancer upgrade for the IAF Cheetah helicopters. Unfortunately, this years accident at Aero India ruled out the Sitara, after only one more aircraft was left.

Of Course, considering that the LCA has not yet made a night flight, nor been equipped with drop tanks as yet, there was a tingling sensation in the back of my neck that suggested that this was too good to be true. Mails to both HAL and ADA didn't bring any replies. Apparently, others felt the same tingling. Shiv Aroor spoke to the HAL guys, who denied that the LCA was taking part. If that wasn't enough, the Show organisers released an updated list of aircraft (excel sheet) taking part, which removed the Tejas from the list. Even the site shows the LCA as cancelled. Well, the bubble did finally burst. One wonders why the LCA was cancelled from the show. Well, I'm pretty sure it was cancelled, for the Le Bourget guys could scarcely have made any mistakes in their list.

For those who want to share the dream, heres the screenshot of the previous version, showing the LCA. It shows 2 aircraft taking part- Static Display, and flying Display. =>

When I check out books about the latest aircraft, its painful to see even the chinese aircraft discussed, but not a word about the LCA. Thats probably because its till now been a quiet, local project that has not garnered much attention. Most of the talk has only started after the Aero India showing this year. As for the Chinese aircraft, we have to admit, they do have a larger base than ours. Hell, they have exported their aircraft to other nations (third world or not), and that does earn them some attention.

The Tejas, with its excellent performance and handling characteristics, as well as small size and cost is something that should catch some eyeballs. And, as the flagship venture of our aerospace industry, it must be shown to the world. The best way to do that is at the Air Shows. Lets hope that the LCA does fly next year, at Farnborough. That would certainly be a fitting end to Kalam's dream, and the collective wishes of the nation.

Side note:
The news about the LCA is not all bad or disappointing. Apparently, the reason the LCAs were pulled from the show was because PV-2 and PV-3 are undergoing rigorous sea-level trials at INS Rajali in Arakkonam (Bharat-Rakshak report, India-Defence report). Arakkonam has the country's longest runway (4100 m) and is the second largest naval base in Asia. It is also home to the Navy's Tu-142 'Bear' aircraft.

Apparently, these two aircraft are being put through a gruelling series of tests that would hasten the Initial Operating Clearance for the LCA. Its heartening to see the program steaming ahead as planned. The tests will not only test reliability of the LCA systems under the hot and humid conditions, but will also test low level flight characteristics, as well as maritime navigation.

This is probably the first time that the Tejas is flying outside Bangalore, and given the Maritime security role that the IAF envisages for it initially, these test flights are vital. Given the Navy's commitment to the LCA-N program, that too makes these flights important, since they would help give the mariners an idea of the Tejas capabilities. the IAF had formed a core of pilots and engineers into an "LCA Induction Team", which has really helped the LCA induction along, as well as creation of tactics and maintenance plans for the aircraft engineers.

Side note 2:
Lots of pictures from Paris-2007 can be found at these sites:,, and many many more places. I'll try to add as many links as I can.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Review- Our Man in Havana

Take James Bond, turn him on his head, add a daughter, add a bumbling M, and you get Our Man in Havana. This Classic by Graham Greene is an absolutely hilarious and irreverent look at the classical 'spy thriller' genre that so many have come to love.

Set in late 50s Cuba, at the end of the Batista regime and the beginning of the Cold War (with the MADness), this is the same setting that many other authors used as a setting for more adrenaline soaked stories. This one is different. It is the written equivalent of Dr. Strangelove.

Jim Wormold is a typical travelling englishman who's settled down into a happy blissfully ignorant existance in Havana. He's an almost-divorced vacuum cleaner salesman with a product that doesn't sell (whats the use of a vacuum cleaner in a time of irregular power), a very-catholic daughter who has grown to an expensive age and has a suitor who's the local Police Chief (a feared torturer with a cigar case of human skin). And, he's short on money. So, when he is accosted by a extra-secretive MI6 agent, Hawthorne, and offered money to become a spy, he goes against his inner instincts and accepts.

Not that he has any inclination or prowess at the job. What he does have, though, is a very fertile imagination. And this, he puts to great use, conjuring up agents (at the suggestion of his good friend and drinking partner, Dr. Hasselbacher)- a drunk, jobless pilot, a cabaret stripper with a mother to feed, the Doctor with the Mistress and others. Then, there is the secret base in the woods with very funny looking machines that everyone wants to know about. When London decides that Wormold is so good, he needs help, all hell breaks lose as Jim scrambles to clear the mess. Of course, wherever there is a secretary, there usually is a romance, and thats exactly what happens when Ms. Beatrice meets Wormold.

Till now, the plot is a classic comedy of errors. But Jim's imagination pulls him into murky territory when he passes off vacuum cleaner designs as secret military installations, and the competition starts taking Wormold too seriously. Fatal coincidences unravel into assassination, blackmail and betrayal. The reality of this murky underworld shocks Jim, who till then was blissfully happy fooling the MI6 and using the money to make his daughter happy. By the end of the book, there are no overt laughs, but black, grim humor in every word, as Jim tries to escape his situation and seek revenge at the same time. The ingenious checkers game with Captain Segura, the farcical poisoning scene, and Jim's ineffectual attempt to wreak vengence.

(Right: Wormold (
Alec Guiness) and Segura (Ernie Kovacs) play 'shot glass checkers' in a memorable scene from the 1959 Film)

The first half of the book is slightly slow, but has more laughs. The next part is sad, darkly humorous, and absurd, all at the same time. Overall, its a good mix of satire and black humor. Greene has wrung out all the absurdity and satire that epitomizes the Establishment and Spy World (at a time when most of them were Eton-educated Elites). It's a novel about a Secret Service thats eccentric, ridiculous and lethal. Hawthorne is the epitome of the Establishment - exclusive tie, stone-coloured suit and cold, stiff air. The Chief, removed from everyday realities by his literary imagination, is more concerned with trumping the Americans and Naval Intelligence than verifying his agents' reports.

The language is beautifully evocative. The characters are subdued, but memorable, as in all of Greene's works. Wormold is just trying to live a comfortable life to provide for his feisty daughter. Beatrice is the adventure-loving romantic, Captain Segura carries a perceptive cynicism along with his human skin cigarette case, and Dr. Hasselbacher, the most tragic and compelling of all the characters is a man much like Jim, of uncertain loyalties, sad and gentle, and a past he wanted to get away from.

To only treat Our Man... as a satire would be wrong. The Disturbing fact remains that the scenario described in the book can all too easily occur. Unfortunately, (as the story of Garbo below will show), the threat of faked and inaccurate intelligence is all too real (Iraq would prove this). The lessons for Intelligence is quite clear- verify, verify, verify. Our Man... has a deeper message behind its dark and cynical letters. One that is not lightly ignored.

I hope I haven't given much away. Either way, Our man in Havana is a light but engaging read that has become a classic for readers of satire. If you're one of those who can't sit for too long before a book, this one makes a good introduction to Greene's work, which are more serious, but equally good.

Interestingly, Greene based this book on his experiences as a spy for MI6 during WW2 (As his contemporary, Ian Fleming did as well, with his James Bond series). As they needed more trained spies, someone came up with the idea of training intellectuals, a decision which they regretted (apparently, MI6 decided never to recruit thinkers after the experience with Greene). Trained in using Radio, codes, secret writing (including the 'bird shit'), Greene found the whole experience boring and skull-drudgery. Of course, his travels in Africa (Attempting to run agents into the Vichy colonies from Sierra Leone) and Cuba allowed him to gather some intelligence and a whole lot of writing material (The Power and The Glory).

Garbo: The real Wormold

Another side-story that inspired Greene was that of "Garbo" (Juan Puyol Garcia), who tricked the Abwehr by providing fake (but seemingly credible) information that, like Wormold, was completely invented. He was instrumental in convincing Hitler that the Normandy attack was a feint for an actual one at Pas-de-Calais. The story of Garbo is almost as incredible as Wormold's; and the more one reads about him, the uncanny similarities all fall in place. (Read more at this BBC story)

A Nazi-hating Spaniard, Garcia originally offered his services to the British, who repeatedly turned him down. He next went to the Germans, and offered his services as a double agent. Garbo then set to work, inventing details, intelligence, and even agents- 27 in all. A drunken RAF officer in Glasgow and a Communist-hating War Office linguist were amongst the characters the Spaniard invented (uncannily like the drunk Pilot Raul from the book). His other stories included the existence of a massive arms dump under Chislehurst in south-east London, which the Germans even planned to blow up (again, uncannily similar to Wormold). When a particularly audacious attack was not predicted by him, he explained it off as his agent being ill, and hence, unable to gather intelligence. All this, with only a shipping table, A map of England, and a glossary of Military terms.

Ultimately, his usefulness brought back the British in 1942, who put him into their legendary double cross system. From then on, he fed the Germans with low level intelligence, mixed with his ingenious embellishments. Most of his informations, the Germans would learn any way; but since he would tell them first, it improved his standing dramatically. The Abwehr even revealed some of its spies under him (of course, they would be removed quickly by the MI6). The Abwehr never even suspected him. Indeed,
he was so convincing that the Nazis even awarded him the Iron Cross, with direct approval from Hitler himself (Since only Combatants could recieve the Iron Cross). Puyol became the only person to receive both the MBE and the Iron Cross as well. His amazing story was finally released after 50 years, in 1999. And what a story it is!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Once there was a war

John Steinbeck is one of the greatest writers of the last century, with classics like Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, among others.

He also was a war journalist for the New York Herald Tribune during World War II. Unlike the other reporters though, Steinbeck, like Ernie Pyle, wrote not of the furious campaigns that raged around, nor of the 'glory' of the victories that the Generals achieved. Instead, he wrote about the common soldier- those unrewarded hordes of men who were torn from their homes by the antics of leaders and fought for no reward, no honours, no glory, but only in the belief that their lives saved those of the people back home and around them. Hard hitting, evocative, and clearly able to see things that others couldn't, his stories are a reminder to all of us who thirst for war, what it really is.

A collection of these stories that he filed from the front was published as a book, Once There Was A War (1958). The book follows the soldiers and airmen through their daily lives, from the cramped troopships to England, through the fields of Sicily and the sea, hunting and being hunted by German U-boats. It is an extremely well written journal of what the soldiers lived like, what they felt, and what the war was to them and the common people they liberated. It brings you face to face with the true face of war- no glory or rewards, only death, loneliness and tears. Its a book that I recommend most forcefully.

Below is one of the stories that he filed from a troop carrier to England in 1943:

Somewhere in England, June 24, 1943-

A small USO unit is aboard the troopship, girls and men who are going to entertain troops wherever they may be sent. These are not the big names who go out with blasts of publicity and maintain their radio contracts. These are girls who can sing and dance and look pretty and men who can do magic and pantomimists and tellers of jokes. They have few properties and none of the tricks of light and color which dress up the theatre. But there is something very gallant about them. the theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive. An accordion is the largest piece of property the troupe carries. The evening dresses, crushed in suitcases must be pressed and kept pretty. The spirit must be high. This is trouping the really hard way.

The theater is one of the largest mess halls. Soldiers are packed in, sitting on benches, standing on tables, lying in the doorways. A little platform on one end is the Stage. Tonight, the loudspeaker is out of order, but when it isn't, it blares and distorts voices. The Master of ceremonies gets up and faces his packed audience. He tells a joke- but the audience is made up of men from different parts of the country and each part has its own kind of humor. He tells a New York joke. There is a laugh- but a limited one. The men from South Dakota and Oklahoma do not understand this joke. They laugh late, merely because they want to laugh. He tries another joke and this time, he plays safe. It is an Army joke about MPs. This time, it works. everybody likes a joke about MPs.

A Blues Singer comes on the stage. Without the loudspeaker, she can hardly be heard, for her voice although sweet has no volume. She forces her voice for volume and loses her sweetness, but she is pretty and young and earnest. A girl accordion player comes next. She asks for suggestions. This is to be group singing and the requests are for old songs- "Harvest Moon", "Home on the Range", "When Irish Eyes are Smiling". The men bellow out the words in all pitches. There is no war song for this war. Nothing has come along yet. The show continues- a pantomimist who acts out the physical examination of an inductee and does it so accurately that his audience howls. A magician in traditional tail coat manipulates colored silks.

One of the men in the unit has been afraid. He has not slept since the ship sailed. He is afraid of the ocean and of submarines. He has lain in his bunk, listening for the blast that will kill him. He is probably very brave. He does his act when he is terrified. It is foolish to say he should not be afraid. He is afraid, and that is something he cannot control, but he does his act, and that is something he can control.

Up on the deck in the blackness the colored troops are sprawled. They sit quietly. A great bass voice sings softly a bar of the hymn "When the Saints Go Marching In". A voice says, "Sing it, brother!"

The bass takes it again and a few voices join him. By the time the hymn has reached the fourth bar, an organ of voices is behind it. The voices take on a beat, feeling one another out. The chords begin to form. There is nothing visible. The booming voices come out of the darkness. The men sing sprawled out, lying on their backs. The song becomes huge with authority. This is a war song. This could be THE war song.
Not the sentimental wash about lights coming on again or bluebirds.

The Black deck rolls with sound. One chorus ends and another one starts, "When the Saints Go Marching In". Four times and on the fifth, the voices fade away to a little hum and the deck is silent again. The ship rolls and metal protests against metal. The ship is silent again. Only the shudder of the engine and the whisk of water and the whine of the wind in the wire rigging breaking the silence.

We have not yet a singing Army nor any songs for a singing Army. Synthetic emotions and nostalgias do not take hold because the troops know instinctively that they are synthetic. No one has yet put words and a melody to the real homesickness, the real terror, and the real ferocity of the war.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Final Inspection

The soldier stood and faced God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
Just as brightly as his brass.

"Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My Church have you been true?"

The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
"No, Lord, I guess I ain't.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can't always be a saint.

I've had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I've been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny,
That wasn't mine to keep...
Though I worked a lot of overtime,
When the bills got just too steep.
And I never
passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here, Lord,
It needn't be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't, I'll understand.

There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.

"Step forward now, you soldier,
You've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in Hell."

(by an anonymous soldier)