Only the monstrous anger of the guns / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

I get angrier and angrier with each passing Memorial Day here in the United States. Baseball announcers blithely wish each other “Happy Memorial Day!”, car companies attempt to entice me with “low, low APR”, and everyone celebrates the service of active-duty and surviving military personnel. No, Memorial Day is a day of somber remembrance, not to be confused with Veterans Day, and it’s a day — like Remembrance Day in other parts of the world — to honor those murdered by their governments in defense of long-forgotten political agendas. It’s a day that should remind us just how evil and unnecessary war is — not how cool it is.

And yet, there is real heroism in what many men and women in the armed forces accomplish in the face of such horror. I’ve mentioned before how much World War II fascinates me, not least because I grew up surrounded by abandoned bomb shelters in Japan and because my American grandfather served as a medic during the war.

One way I explore that fascination — and learn quite a bit of history in the process — is to research the people, places, and equipment of World War II. This year, I’ve been building for more than a month leading up to Memorial Day, and I have quite a few new builds to share.

The M7 Priest was self-propelled artillery (a “Howitzer Motor Carriage” in WW2 parlance) based on the chassis of the M3 Lee/Grant series of medium tanks.

M7 Priest (1)

My M7 Priest incorporates a 105mm gun that I reverse-engineered from the Brickmania M2A1 Howitzer kit (since I’d built a complete one to tow behind my GMC CCKW).

The Priest has an open top, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the interior right. I built ammunition stowage (by inverting 1×1 bricks and attaching them with the One Ring) and gave the floor corrugated steel plating with printed tiles from Citizen Brick.

M7 Priest (5)

See more photos in my M7 Priest photoset on Flickr.

The GMC CCKW 2.5-ton truck, or “Deuce and a Half,” served in many roles during and after World War II, with numerous variants to support all those roles. Even though I’m quite happy with the other models I’m unveiling in this post, my favorite is definitely this maintenance/recovery version of the CCKW.

GMC CCKW Maintenance/Recovery Truck (1)

The details are all modular, and I can quickly convert this rather complex truck into a number of other variants, including this one with a towable M45 Quadmount anti-aircraft gun.

GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (1) GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (2)

My Willys MB Jeeps also got an upgrade, with two new variants — both with Bantam trailers.

Willys MB Jeep with Bantam Trailer Willys MB Jeep Ambulance with Bantam Trailer

All these non-combat vehicles were making my minifig soldiers feel a little under-powered, so I built them an M5A1 Stuart light tank and an M8 Greyhound armored car.

M5A1 Stuart Light Tank (1) M8 Greyhound Armored Car (1)

Finally, it occurred to me recently just how little the average World War II LEGO model reflects the real-world diversity of the men and women who served in the United States armed forces during World War II. The segregated U.S. Army resisted placing African-Americans in front-line combat roles until fairly late in the war, but the all-black 761st Tank Battalion served with distinction in major engagements like the Battle of the Bulge. I made some minor modifications to my M4A3 Sherman tank, including the addition of a lip that overhangs the wider tracks, thus making this the M4A3E2 variant. While I was at it, I replaced my crew with members of the 761st.

M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" of the 761st (1)

I’m currently working on something for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, or “Nisei Soldiers.” In the meantime, you can see more photos of everything I’ve posted here in my photostream on Flickr.

The title of the post is an excerpt from “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” by Wilfred Owen, an English poet who died in combat one week before the end of World War I. It seems doubtful that I can convince a generation of youth who’ve learned more about war from the “Medal of Honor” video games than from challenging poetry to read Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but it’s worth a try…

30 comments on “Only the monstrous anger of the guns / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

  1. theinvisibleguest

    If today’s youth mostly learn about war from video games, yesterday’s probably learned mostly from movies starring John Wayne, which isn’t all that much better. I think the work of Sassoon and Owen is definitely worthy of more exposure to those who are unfamiliar with it, especially on a day like today. But maybe it could have been highlighted without the trite hand-wringing about “kids these days.” You’ll find people are much more receptive to being educated when you aren’t condescending.

  2. john.whorfin

    Actually Andrew’s statement are spot on and I agree 100%. Yesterday’s youth learned from reading books on the subject and not John Wayne movies. They realized life wasn’t fair and not everyone gets a participation ribbon. The lego models are brilliant and I’m inspired not only by them but the review. Nicely done sir.

  3. Keith Goldman

    “to honor those murdered by their governments in defense of long-forgotten political agendas”. Wow, so anyone who died while serving in the military was murdered by the government? That’s some incendiary rhetoric, can you clarify that thought? Also, I loved planing tank battle on the Atari 2600 and still managed to read the rise and fall of the third Reich. If anything I think video games, in this particular case might actually increase the likely hood that a kid might pick up a book or hit wikipedia to find out more about a specific vehicle or battle. Expecting a 13 year old to seek out early 20th century poets might be a bridge too far.

    Good posting though, great models and reading suggestions.

  4. theinvisibleguest

    John, I guess I was mistaken – I didn’t realize that all the teenage baby boomers spent their weekends at the library in quiet study as opposed to pursuing more frivolous amusements. You hear about the birth of Rock and Roll all the time, but who knew that history was really all the rage?

    Andrew, please excuse my getting a little grumpy, I’m awfully protective of my peers even if they don’t always deserve it. Your models are wonderful and I don’t mean to distract from your contributions.

  5. Andrew Post author

    I figured some inflammatory rhetoric would get a useful discussion going. In reality, yes, most wars are instigated for political reasons that are outside the control of the men and women actually involved on either side. What American would have been willing to go off to fight in Iraq in 1990 if Bush The First hadn’t fanned the flames of patriotism to mask protection of oil interests? Sending soldiers off to die is indeed murder.

    What makes World War II interesting is that the issue is far more complex for a pacifist like me. WW2 forces me to examine my preconceived notions about non-violence and question what would have happened if the world had not stood up to the Axis Powers and said “No, this is not what the civilized world does!”

  6. Daedalus

    So, if Poland had oil, FDR would have just been fanning the flames of patriotism, I suppose.

  7. Daedalus

    You did indeed. I’m trying to suggest that it might just be possible that Desert Storm was slightly more complex than oil alone. (Regional stability and the protection of pro-Western allies and interests in the years immediately following the end of the Cold War, for example.) All war is complex, and all war is wrong, even if some are more justifiable than others.

  8. rabrew

    Andrew, You should try and tone it down a little as you are doing exactly what you blame others for… the using of a holiday to gain or forward your opinion. In reality on Memorial Day you are to spend the morning in reflection of those who have died, this is represented by the flag flying half mast until noon which it is then raised to its full height, this signifies the end of the somber period and then it is time to celebrate the lives and move forward. Further calling governments murderers for sending soldiers into battle, remember that the U.S. has an all volunteer military, is disgusting and does not belong to this type of blog. Keep your politics to your other blogs this is all about LEGO. You should spend some time with Veterans and you would quickly learn that war is far more then just sending kids off to die. How do I know? I have been there. Desert Storm had many different sides to it. By your logic it being all about oil, you forget that a sovereign nation was invaded and looted by their neighbor, Kuwaitis were lined up in the streets and shot. So we are supposed to just let this happen to a close ally and friend of the United States? Would you not try and stop someone form breaking into a neighbor’s home possibly raping and killing your neighbor? Would you not at least call 911 and bring in the police to protect your neighbor or are you going to sit back and say “oh he has a good job and plenty of money to share with the poor and misunderstood youth who is breaking in, so I will sit back and do nothing.” I read your comment this morning and I finally decided I had to reply. I really enjoy this site and get a lot of info from it, and I was shocked when I read your comment. Are all wars good? no. Are all wars bad? no. By the way in addition to having had MY boots on the ground in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi I do know a few things about the people and accusations made. The people were wonderful and a lot of the accusations made were true. You claim to understand WWII which is good, well we had our liberation feeling also, when I was with one of the first convoys to actually enter Kuwait City, we were surrounded by Kuwaitis and we could not move for nearly an hour as they were all coming up to us and thanking us and wanting to shake the hands of an American Soldier their liberator just as those in France, Belgium, Italy the Netherlands, the Philippines and many more countries have done. I also had the privilege of serving in Germany when the border was opened and meeting many East Germans, and Soviets and getting the same type of thankfulness experienced by my fellow soldiers after WWII. Every war has a cost, and politicians need to do their best to avert war, but there are times when combat is needed, and not everyone will agree.
    Please keep up the good work on The Brothers-brick but tone down the politics please.

  9. Arctic Fox

    I for one would like to see more Lego builds and less political rhetoric on this blog.

  10. Arctic Fox

    If I’m remembering correctly, this is the second time recently you’ve used a Lego model as a means of promoting your political agenda. I’m sure I’m not the only one turned off by this.

  11. Ralph

    I don’t agree with Andrew on all the points he raises.

    I’m a bit worried about how some people, in the US in particular, seem to glorify war, because I think war is a terrible thing. However, there are circumstances where a civilized society simply cannot turn the other cheek or ignore a threat to their interests. I am not a pacifist, obviously.

    I do agree that the 1991 Gulf War was primarily about oil. I would like to able to say that it was about liberating people and keeping a ruthless dictator in check, but before the war few people gave a toss about what an utter bastard Hussein was, who used chemical weapons against his own population, or how he previously attacked Iran. In fact, he was seen as useful to keep Iran in check. That said, oil strikes me as a perfectly valid reason. Kuwait’s oil production and the oil fields in Saudi Arabia that Iraq threatened were too important for the US and the rest of the Western World to leave Iraq unchallenged. It was in the interest of the US and its allies to deal with that problem.

    Finally, I don’t quite understand why some people here are so bothered by reading an opinion that they don’t agree with, even if its on a blog that is primarily about LEGO. I think it’s a good thing to read stuff you don’t agree with every once in while! It keeps you thinking.

  12. Magnus

    As a military builder with my own reservations with the post 9/11 uses of the US military, I can relate to the complex and perhaps confusing nature of the fascination with military stuff from a not always pro military POV.

    Can I think Apache helicopters are exciting and cool, while still not at all liking what they are generally used for in practice? I suppose I do hold these two in balance, so I guess the answer is yes. That isn’t to say it doesn’t cause me to spend some time thinking about the paradox from time to time. And it’s no accident that my own building has generally shied away from building direct models of modern military hardware.

    I don’t know what it’s like to be an actual pacifist. But I suppose a fascination with military equipment is no more indicative of support for its application than an intellectual/academic fascination with the Third Reich being indicative of any kind of approval of Hitler.

    It’s complicated stuff, and as a military builder, I’d be hesitant to cast stones at anyone else’s military MOCs because they cover an era I prefer to avoid myself. There are reasons why I won’t build a tan colored MRAP, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think you should if you want to.

    Andrew, I am looking forward to see your representation of the 442nd. My grand uncle served with them in Italy.

  13. mike rutherford

    Your MOCs are a delight. You treat your subjects with all the attention to detail both in the build and in the presentation that they so richly deserve. Your photography in particular is exemplary. And while I don’t endorse the use of non-Lego parts in general, your work forces me to admit, they look really good!

    Your diatribe is quite thought provoking. I put you on par with L Ron. Hubbard and Nevel Chamberlin for relevance. This cognitive gem really caught my eye.

    “honor those murdered by their governments in defense of long-forgotten political agendas”

    This nations war dead are honored murder victims? Like those killed in the holocaust. Hapless victims of war: an endeavor which you categorically classify as “evil and unnecessary.” I wonder, would you support changing the name of Memorial Day to Victims Day? It would be more descriptive by your standards. Today, just as it was on 9/11, every member of your nation’s armed forces is a volunteer. No draftees. No “victims.” My colleagues are men and women who take the job and pursue it to its bitter and brutal conclusion with a level of selflessness and professionalism that I happily compare to that of any force in any war in human history. I am compelled to reject your proclamation regarding the true purpose of Memorial Day.

    I do agree that some do capitalize on the day inappropriately (selling cars, promoting MOCs). And I agree, this is not the reason we celebrate this day. This weekend, I honored this nation’s war dead, I remembered my dead colleagues, and thought on their families who carry on today. I also meditated on how precious I hold my own life, and my own family and on why this nation is absolutely worth the terrible risk of war. The word “victim” didn’t come into it.

    The second half of your “almost thesis” also merits examination. Here are some political agendas that have motivated this nations wars in the past. Tell me which are “long forgotten.”
    1. American Independence and the establishment of the Constitution as the supreme law of this land.
    2. The primacy of the Federal Government over the State Governments.
    3. The unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers.
    4. The destruction of safe havens for terrorists who crash civilian aircraft into U.S. cities.

    Which have you forgotten? Item number 1 is getting pretty old now… but I for my part, I just can’t forget it. I wonder if they forgot item number 2 down south. Nope. I’m pretty sure they think about that one quite a bit, even today. Item 3? I know you don’t’ classify that one as “forgotten”, because as you say: “World War II fascinates me.” I guess that leaves item 4. Whether you think it’s really the oil, or really regional influence, or really pay back… I’m having trouble with the assertion that the motivations for this war are “long forgotten”. Hotly debated perhaps, but not forgotten. Again, I am compelled to reject your proclamation.

    Then there is this priceless observation: “a generation of youth who’ve learned more about war from the “Medal of Honor” video games than from challenging poetry.” This passage illustrates both your carefully cultivated taste for verse and your complete lack of situational understanding. This “generation” was playing computer games when the Twin Towers fell. Then… they put away childish things… and volunteered to pursue what you label an “evil and unnecessary” war. And if it is a younger generation you castigate from the high ground of pacifism, then it is the children of these men and women. They sat and played computer games while they waited for their fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers to return form 10 years of conflict. They learned of war by attending homecomings of loved ones. Funerals of loved ones. By staying up until 0300 in the morning on a school night, for a chance to “Skype with my Dad” for 6 minutes. You are wrong to trivialize any generation’s knowledge of war, and the notion that they would gain a better understanding of it’s tragic nature from some musty book of verse is absurd.

    It should be apparent by this point that I do not agree with your position. I do celebrate your freedom to express it. It is worth noting however, that your freedom to do so was secured by American service members in the pursuit of what you call an “evil and unnecessary” war.

    All who read your words and see your MOCs are enriched. I think your freedom to express yourself is not only important, but even vital to this nation. And while you may devalue the importance of your freedom of expression, I do not. I am glad to count myself amongst those who risk all to protect it.

  14. Andrew Post author

    (I’m in the middle of a workday and don’t have time to give this discussion the attention it deserves, but I do want to thank all those who’ve shared their perspectives and experiences — particularly military builders I respect greatly, like Ralph and Magnus, and active-duty military personnel and veterans, like Mike. Thank you all for civil, thoughtful discourse and willingness to engage on a challenging issue like this, even if — especially if — you don’t agree with me.)

  15. Andrew Post author

    Again, to those who’ve responded substantively and given me constructive and useful feedback about what I’ve written (which as a writer is always welcome), thank you.

    To those who are just driving by to snipe, nobody is holding a gun to your head — if you don’t like what I’ve written and can’t be bothered to respond interestingly or constructively, you can always scroll on. ;-)

    To demonstrate that I do take your feedback seriously, you all may be more interested in what I’ve written today.

  16. bruce n h

    Hey Andrew,

    I think I tend to chime in with long rambling posts several days after a hot thread here has died to a whisper, but oh well, here go some unconnected thoughts.

    First, great MOCs. Second, a huge thanks to Mike and Rabrew above, all of those currently serving and veterans of service, and of course all honor to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

    I certainly agree that it is upsetting that at times Memorial Day seems little more than an excuse for mattress stores to offer discounts. While I see your point that Memorial Day is supposed to be about those who gave their lives, I do think it is also completely valid to also honor all veterans on this day.

    On poetry vs video games, again, I think it is a mixed bag. I’m a couple of years older than you (so YOU can get off MY lawn), and while I may not have had first-person-shooters as a kid, I had green army men in the sandbox and watched GI Joe cartoons, etc, and I suspect you probably did as well. So it’s not such a new phenomenon. Also, I suspect that the poets of the past might be setting their words to music today, and there are still similar sentiments in song. For instance, your (IMO flat wrong, but I’m not going to enter that debate) opening paragraph made me think of the Police song Murder by Numbers. So, sure, I’d love it if more people would read the poets of yesteryear (BTW, I always read Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est to my WMD class), but I’m not completely worried for today’s youth. They do, though, have to stay off my lawn.


  17. Arctic Fox

    If you want to have an interesting discussion about war and pacifism with other military builders that’s great, but perhaps a different setting, such as a flickr group, would be more appropriate. Most people come to this blog to look at Lego creations, not to have political debates.

  18. Ralph

    ^What are you going on about? Just skip the discussion and go look at the pretty pictures if you’re not interested in reading an opinion that doesn’t agree with your own. We’re searching the net just about every day to bring you a new serving of brand-new models.

  19. Arctic Fox

    I have no problem reading opinions that don’t agree with me. I’d just rather not see political posts become a regular thing on TBB.

  20. Ralph

    ^I think that, with something like 20-30 posts per week, two or three political statements by Andrew in as many months is hardly a regular thing.

  21. Andrew Post author

    ^ Indeed. ;-) And those of you who’ve been reading TBB for going on 8 years now should be well aware that I occasionally bring real life into our safe little LEGO harbor.

  22. Keith Goldman

    Come on Becraft, you can’t get too pissy about people having their say, even if it is drive-by style commentary. When you openly solicit opinions after a provocative statement you shouldn’t complain when people don’t line up to pat you on the back. Of course it is your sandbox, but you invite everyone to play.

    Piggy has the conch Becraft…Piggy has the conch.

  23. Andrew Post author

    Thanks for keeping me honest, Mr. Goldman. ;-)

    And speaking of which, I haven’t responded substantively to Mr. Rutherford because I’ve been mulling it over the last couple of days. Mike deserves more than a flippant response.

    Mike, while I don’t necessarily appreciate the sarcasm I’m reading between the lines, you’ve definitely made me think — much like Robert A. Heinlein. And like the academy lecturer in Starship Troopers, I don’t think we’ll ever see eye-to-eye on this issue, but I do especially appreciate your correction about “kids these days.” I stand by my more-nuanced concerns that I expressed in today’s post (play-acting the Third Reich and other hate-speech), but you’re *absolutely* right — teenagers of the 90’s volunteered to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11, and teenagers today have indeed grown up surrounded by the consequences of the last 12 years of continuous war.

    You’re also right to correct me on the values that American service personnel have fought for over the last 240 years — my ancestors fought in every war between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War (after which they became pacifists). When faced with raging nationalism and militarism on a day like Memorial Day, I allowed my frustration to express itself by regurgitating what amounts to the last seven generations of my family’s religiously based pacifism. Reflecting on what I was thinking and feeling on Monday, perhaps it was easier to do that than it is to examine what it was my Union ancestors were fighting for during the Civil War, for example. I over-simplified what I actually think, and that was a disservice to both my own ideas and to those I may have seemed to be casting aspersions on.

    Ultimately, I do believe the world is a far more complex place than either rabid militarism or “pure” pacifism allows. Yes, I stand by having protested both wars in Iraq, and my own Selective Service status (1-AO) never changed as the political winds shifted. Yet, I certainly didn’t take to the streets with a handwritten sign on a stick as the US and its allies defended Kosovo in the 90’s or we took the war to the Taliban after 9/11. In fact, I found myself in the minority in America about drawing down forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan — a “we broke it, we fix it” viewpoint that seems lacking from most of my “liberal” fellow travelers. It’s as if once either war got “hard,” Americans lost their bloodlust and just wanted to pretend the problems (new or pre-existing) in those places didn’t still exist. Sure, many Americans did volunteer to fight in both wars — going in eyes wide open — but the American public as a whole was never asked to make any substantive sacrifices except through the blood of the few.

    Which brings me back to the first paragraph in my original post. Governments are elected by their people. The self-sacrifice of those who’ve chosen to serve in today’s all-volunteer US military is undeniable — repeated tours, call-ups of Reserve units that would never normally serve in front-line combat roles, the trauma of not knowing where and when the enemy would strike (as in the case of betrayal and murder by “friendly” insiders in Afghanistan), abysmal pay, and a public unwilling to give veterans and the families of dead soldiers even the most basic of post-service benefits. What would happen to our collective willingness to send our young men and women into harm’s way if every death resulted in an automatic payment to the family of $1,000,000? I certainly could have chosen my words more wisely (something I tried to do in today’s post), but war is indeed a political act between nations, and I do believe that governments don’t do enough to minimize the very real necessity for armed conflict.

    I’m not going to edit my original text, but hope this helps clarify what I actually think versus what I wrote initially.

    (And for everyone, I’ll repeat what I say whenever I or someone else posts something seemingly or even overtly political here on TBB: LEGO exists in the real world, and I consider LEGO a reasonably serious medium for expressing the truth of the human condition; it’s no less “Art” than other forms of contemporary creative expression. What I hear when people say “Keep politics out of LEGO!” is actually “Keep your politics out of my LEGO!” I’ll let the reader infer the difference in nuance for themselves.)

  24. Arctic Fox

    If you have the time I encourage you to watch Penn & Teller’s show on world peace. A rather interesting take on the subject that you don’t hear very often.

    *Contains language which is probably offensive to some people, you have been warned*

  25. mike rutherford

    Andrew, well said.

    “Ultimately, I do believe the world is a far more complex place than either rabid militarism or “pure” pacifism allows.”

    It was your *absolute* characterization of war that really set the hook in my mouth. But as you state above, war is not really an “Either/Or” question. We might not be able to turn war on or off, but rather we should seek the “dimmer switch.”

    I myself am often appalled by the caviler jingoism that seems to have taken root in our national culture. Casual questions like “why don’t we just send in some troops?” I hear it a lot, and it is more than a little disheartening.

    And of course war is political. Clausewitz said as much:

    “War is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means.”

    And old Karl was no slouch. I bit of a war loving freeko I suppose, but no slouch (and he was published even!). But I think we often stop reading (and thinking) half way through that quote. We ignore the full implications of the “by other means” clause. We call it “business as usual” but we (Americans) don’t think enough on how un-usual war really is. And with only 1% of us engaged in this “by other means” stuff… it often does seem like business as usual to the rest.

    Days like Memorial Day serve to highlight these ironies. To take a morning walk with your children through a military cemetery, and discuss the reason for all those stones… what ever the reasons you discuss… just so long as you discuss them, and draw connections between those stones and our nations place in the world. That is where the value of such a holiday resides.

    I doubt we disagree on that.

    As for the ramifications of cash compensation to families of the fallen, no dollar amount equates to the value of a human life. But U.S. service members are ALL eligible for $500,000 in life insurance, basically for a song. Ok, it’s not $1,000,000 but still… it’s half a million… and that aint chicken feed.

    I think the discussion of weightier topics on TBB where they overlap with Lego is spot on. Lego is a medium of art as well as a channel for communication. TBB celebrates both art and communication.

    So I say rock on!

  26. Andrew Post author

    Mike, this is why I love the LEGO-building community — with a common hobby as a shared point of reference, we can respectfully challenge each other and arrive at a better understanding of the issues (even when those issues are only tangentially related to LEGO) and greater mutual respect. Again, I thank you, sir!

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