Opinion. On the Side of Caution by Hal O’Leary

Opinion. On the Side of Caution by Hal O’Leary

Opinion. On the Side of Caution by Hal O’Leary. Happy New Year 2014, Yareah friends. Art is everywhere and up to you!


Fence signs. Photo by Lisa McCarty

We have very few experiences in life, either positive or negative, that do not prove ultimately instructive in terms of the lessons they teach. It is with an accumulation of these past experiences that we determine how we will respond to the vicissitudes we face in a future and most unpredictable life. It was just such an experience during World War II that caused me to reflect on the reckless results of striking out without a clear understanding of a situation or preemptively attacking in response to a falsely perceived or intentionally manufactured threat. Such ill-advised responses or intentions can be found in the conduct of either interpersonal or international relationships, with the most destructive of consequences.

My own experience that I refer to occurred during the war in the battle for Central Europe at a time when we were about to encircle the bulk of the German Wehrmacht in what became known as the Ruhr Pocket, thus marking the end of organized resistance on Germany’s Western Front. Our outfit, Battery C of the 281st FA Battalion, had been billeted in two different buildings separated by a garage which was dug into a hillside. At the rear of the garage were two windows six or seven feet from the floor inside, but at ground level on the outside. One day, one of our less than brilliant officers obsessed with the idea of obtaining perhaps the most prized trophy of the war, a German Luger pistol, took a jeep and driver on an escapade to obtain his prize. Having encountered a German armored car and being fired upon, the two were fortunate to find their way safely back to the outfit on foot, although sans trophy. That night, as corporal of the guard, I, along with two guards, was on duty in the garage when we heard a most terrifying series of screams from one of the buildings. Then, shortly there appeared outside the windows in the rear at ground level, silhouettes of soldiers with rifles moving toward the building from which we heard the screams. One of the guards whispered, “What do we do, Corporal, do we shoot?” My immediate response was, “Hell no, we don’t shoot. If we shoot, they shoot back!” Whether my answer was a wise or cowardly decision, it prevented the possibility that we may have had a major disaster as the result of our traumatized jeep driver’s screaming in his nightmare. If one of us had fired the first shot, it would surely have been returned. The obvious and grateful lesson I learned that night was that ill-considered action can have the most drastic of consequences.

This singular and personal experience has caused me to reflect on the greater tragedy that occurs when an ill-advised or intentional preemptive action is taken by one nation against another. When we think that had Hitler or Tojo stopped to consider more realistically the consequences of having the allies “shoot back,” the whole war in which my rather insignificant experience took place may have been avoided. Can we ever have a world in which all nations might live in peace, a world in which we recognize the evil consequences of shooting first, as opposed to any goal or gain that might be achieved for a select few?

Let me hasten to clarify the fact that in speaking of nations, as the dictionary defines nation (a community of people composed of one or more nationalities with its own territory and government), it is only those individuals within the nation who endorse or support the actions of tyrannical and sociopathic leaders that I hold to account. These individuals are, of course, complicit in whatever crimes are committed in their names. Please note that I speak not of Germany but of Hitler. I speak not of Japan but of Tojo. Such has been the sordid history of mankind with tyrants like Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Tojo leading an unwary and, for the most part, innocent people to disaster.

Since there may be no way to rid the world of such evil ones before they can carry out their crimes, it lies with the people the poet Carl Sandburg referred to as “the Hallelujah Chorus, forever shifting its star soloist,” using their ultimate power of sheer numbers, to curb the excesses of the few. However, lest you think that the peoples of so-called democracies are excluded from becoming psychopathic or sociopathic victims, you have only to view the antics of the United States of America with its supposed “government of the people, by the people and for the people” in its insatiable and preemptive drive to imperialism. Make no mistake. It is not only the individuals that lead, but also the individuals that are prone to follow, who must bear the blame for the insanity that ensues.


It is the hawks of war who never think

Of all the consequences of attack,

And misled folks are pushed beyond the brink.

There is no doubt the victims must fire back.

Of all the consequences of attack,

The death of innocents is most obscene.

There is no doubt the victims must fire back

To answer what could not have been foreseen,

The death of innocents is most obscene.

They are the least of all to be at fault.

To answer what could not have been foreseen,

An eye for eye is always the result.

They are the least of all to be at fault;

The innocents have no dog in the fight.

An eye for eye is always the result,

Denying each and every one his sight.

The innocents have no dog in the fight,

And misled folks are pushed beyond the brink.

Denying each and every one his sight,

It is the hawks of war who never think.

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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