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NGO_Vleeptron (aka "Bob from Massachusetts") recently featured LIVE on BBC WORLD SERVICE, heard briefly by Gazillions!!!

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Location: Great Boreal Deciduous Hardwood Forest, New England, United States

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12 August 2005

Bob bothers a scholar of Sassoon's World War One poems with some graffiti

Dear Michele Fry,

Thank you very much for the Sassoon website.

I hope you can find use for this image, if not on Sassoonery (though I would be honored), to anyone who might appreciate and post it.

On my Vleeptron blog, I have been "recycling" the poems of the British World War One poets to show that we don't need new English-language poems for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- we already have a huge volume of perfect poems that express everything about senseless war slaughter.

Now I have begun to wear these poems as t-shirts, starting this week with "When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead" by Charles Sorley. The poem and the sad story of how it reached his family in Aberdeen are at

So far no one has asked me to pause so they can read me on the sidewalk, but I am feeling good about making myself available for people to read Sorley's poem. I think my next t-shirt will be "Does It Matter?"

Did you visit the Imperial War Museum's exhibit "Anthem for Doomed Youth"? I came very close to running away from home just to catch it, but couldn't make it. Their website was/is very evocative and moving -- well, heartbreaking is more like it -- and I did manage to purchase the "coffee table" book of the exhibit, and recommend it very highly to you and your readers. (If you should know if the exhibit will "travel" to other museums, particularly to the USA or Canada, PLEASE let me know and post it to your site.)

Two years of courageous headquarters fast typing and excellent spelling as an enlisted conscript / draftee during our Vietnam War have left me very close to despair during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I imagine WWI vets felt the same two decades later. The only possible meaning a senseless blunder slaughter war can have is to teach people -- the government elite which declares war, the people who, in fear or confusion or a jingo fugue, vote their approval of the government elite -- not to do it all over again. Today the evil Kaiser has been replaced by the evil Sadaam Hussein and the evil Osama bin Laden and the evil Taliban -- I note with grotesque dismay they are all Muslims -- but the result will be the same. Schmucks, losers and assholes like I was when I was conscripted (I was 22, the other soldiers called me Old Man) will be killed and maimed by the thousands.

Already the husband of a neighbor has returned from more than a year in Iraq as a soldier water-truck driver fairly sound in body, but with a profound and shattering case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, acronymed PTSD by a grudging military medical bureaucracy. He has a little daughter; the marriage may not survive. You and your readers will readily recognize the more scientific, modern PTSD with the simpler word shellshock. (Friends and sympathizers persuaded the Army to compromise by calling Sassoon's activities the results of shellshock; he seems to have come very close to being shot or hanged.) It is a constant at all times and all modern industrial high-explosive rapid-fire wars that the human nervous system is inadequate to endure and survive them. Your BBC says two out of five of our boys, and I imagine two of five of your lads, are returning home with PTSD.

There is something new under the sun. Depleted uranium is now replacing lead as bullets and artillery shells -- it is harder and more dense -- and so our modern battlefields now have a new source of lethality and toxicity, an increase in troops' intimate exposure to radioactivity and toxic heavy metals. This will soon come back to haunt us in our veterans' hospitals, although the US military vigorously defends the shift to uranium and denies it poses new health risks to the soldiers.

I am trying to use my experience and heart and intellect to find some way to stop these terrible wars. Another thing they will have in common with World War One is that in twenty years, everyone will have forgotten how they began and why we determined we must toss hundreds of thousands of our children into a superheated meatgrinder for several years. So then we can have another; it will then make sense to people to do it again.

I was an enlisted man -- pot scrubber and dishwasher in the mess hall, light occasional construction labor, nighttime guard duty with M-14 rifle, constant dread of orders to "the front" -- and I am a Jew, and so the poems of ghastly beauty of Isaac Rosenberg, and his miserable sickly short life, haunt me particularly. Please visit

for his "Returning, We Hear the Larks," and a little writing I did about it and Rosenberg.

The fantasy and hallucination that Art and Literature might possibly shorten any war are very seductive in wartime; I simply don't know what else to do. The temptation is near overwhelming to move from Virtual Computer Brick Walls and Virtual Black Paint to the currently vacant brick walls of my town. An advantage of advanced age is that I do not have to provide proof of age at the hardware store to purchase spray paint. My wife and I have a loose but sincere understanding that each will bail the other spouse out of jail for a large variety of things we might be caught doing.

I volunteer at a church-alliance emergency winter primitive cot shelter, and though we welcome all guests, most nights resemble a Veterans Reunion, at first Vietnam vets, but then joined by Desert Storm (the first Iraq war) vets. When the shelter starts up again on Halloween (an arbitrary date, the weather is raw, cold and life-threatening by then), I expect we will have our first veterans from these new Asian wars. I am glad I lived through my war -- a schoolmate friend of mine, a funny, smart, adventurous boy did not -- and I hope to live much longer, but for a veteran, there are aspects of living on which are so dismal at the outbreak of each new war. Graves lost a son in World War Two.

I find it odd how universally Neville Chamberlain is condemned and villified, and he seems doomed always to bear this legacy. It is perfectly clear to me he had full and horrifying recent memories of The Great War and strove -- in vain, perhaps bumblingly -- to do everything in his power to prevent another mass slaughter of his young neighbors. He was replaced by the jingoistic, xenophobic, racist architect of the doomed invasion of Galipoli, who will forever be one of the great heroes of (as Studs Terkel called it in his oral history) "The Good War."

There is a haunting body of piano music written in the 1920s for great young pianists who returned home without an arm or hand, and most of the compositions are surprisingly up-beat and optimistic; the composers clearly understood that just because you're missing a hand doesn't mean all you want to play is dirges. A generation of remarkable young British mathematicians was wiped out in France; subsequently the government took steps to keep young mathematicians away from combat in subsequent wars. Turing actually had a youthful penchant toward the military officer's life, but of course spent World War II breaking the German Enigma codes at Bletchley Park. You may be acquainted with his subsequent "thanks of a grateful nation." In technological circles, World War One is known as the Chemists' War, World War II the Physicists' War. Since Archimedes and continuously since the Renaissance, all wars are Mathematicians' Wars.

Please forgive this Virtual Graffiti Artist for compressing and taking liberties with "Does It Matter?" The medium is a very crude one, and worse so on actual brick walls in the nighttime constantly watching for police cars. (This is a college and university town, much like Cambridge, and I wish to contribute to our vigorous community of wall artists.)

Thank you so much for Sassoonery, it is in these vile times an extremely valuable expression and resource. I wish you and all your family and neighbors Safety and Peace, and I wish your lads and lassies Safe Home and very quickly, immediately is my preference.


Bob Merkin

Northampton (not the dumpy shoe factory town) Massachusetts USA


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