Fighting words

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Even as the battle winds down, the words of war linger: the high-minded speeches with their promises and persuasions, the grim dispatches from the field.

The urgency of the hour can turn commanders and journalists into poets. And poetry into politics (see story).

That the violence of the venture should draw out such literary keenness is perhaps no surprise. Churchill's oratory is still recalled today. Wilfred Owen's war poems resonate decades later.

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A more recent example came last month when a commander of the Royal Irish spoke to his regiment as it braced to cross the Kuwaiti border. A mix of ancient history, biblical analogy, and pragmatism, the speech showed a modern warrior's sensibilities. Fighting rhetoric at its most lean.

Lt. Col. Tim Collins told his soldiers:

"I know men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. They live with the mark of Cain upon them. If someone surrenders to you, then remember they have that right in international law, and ensure that one day they go home to their family.

The ones who wish to fight, well, we aim to please. If there are casualties of war, then remember, when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day. Allow them dignity in death. Bury them properly, and mark their graves.

"You will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest, for your deeds will follow you down history. Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood, and the birth of Abraham. Tread lightly there. You will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous, and upright people than the Iraqis. You will be embarrassed by their hospitality, even though they have nothing...."

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