February 20, 2009

BILL MOYERS: My friend Parker Palmer speaks of the stripping away of illusion to stand on the firm ground of reality. That's something to keep in mind as America seems heading once again into a foreign adventure that's more slippery slope than terra firma. This very week, President Obama let it be known that he has approved increasing American forces in Afghanistan immediately by nearly 50 percent — at a cost, by the way, of $775,000 per soldier every year according to one recent estimate.

Thinking of the troops who will pay the ultimate price for foreign expeditions like this, I came the other day, quite by chance, on the DVD of one of those classic movies that all policymakers, generals and pundits should see before they point young people toward hell and shout, "Charge." Those of you who hearken back to when our English teachers required us to memorize poetry, will recognize the title of the film immediately. "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was Alfred Lord Tennyson's epic account of the slaughter of an elite British cavalry riding straight into Russian cannon during the Crimean War.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred."

Forty years ago, some upstart British filmmakers turned "The Charge of the Light Brigade" into a gripping, angry and dark-witted account of a stupefying blunder, as the delusions and grandeur of empire dissolved into the blood and guts of brave but doomed warriors. You can only wish our president and his advisers would watch it in the White House theatre as they prepare the surge from which many now living will never return.

I'm Bill Moyers. That's it for the Journal. See you next week.