Jerry Pournelle

The quote mentioned in my previous post is from an essay by Jerry Pournelle. He’s a lot of things, among them a science fiction writer. What he originally wrote as a preface to a novel was reworked into an essay on war, armies, and men. Here’s the quote I read that lead me to the Birkenhead Drill.

To stand on the firing parapet and expose yourself to danger; to stand and fight a thousand miles from home when you’re all alone and outnumbered and probably beaten; to spit on your hands and lower the pike, to stand fast over the body of Leonidas the King, to be rear guard at Kunu-ri; to stand and be still to the Birkenhead drill; these are not rational acts. They are often merely necessary.

I am going to have to read more of his writing. He wrote the essay I’m quoting in 1983, and these are the closing lines.

In other words, we learn from the latest wars what we might have learned from history. History has never been kind to wealthy republics. We can hope we are an exception.


2 thoughts on “Jerry Pournelle

  1. Heinlein expressed similar sentiments in the address he made to the Midshipmen of the US Naval Academy (his own Alma Mater) in 1973:

    Patriotism – – Moral behavior at the national level. Non sibi sed patria. Nathan Hale's last words: “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Torpedo Squadron 8 making its suicidal attack. Four chaplains standing fast while the water rises around them. Thomas Jefferson saying, “The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots – -” A submarine skipper giving the order “Take her down!” while he himself is still topside. Jonas Ingram standing on the steps of Bancroft Hall and shouting, “The Navy has no place for good losers! The Navy needs tough sons of bitches who can go out there and win!”

    – – From the book Expanded Universe.

  2. Anything by Pournelle and Heinlein – fiction or not – is worth reading and contemplation.

    Fiction is often a more palatable vehicle for truth.

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