Sunday, September 07, 2014

“How much does it cost to kill a man?”

That was the title of a Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s 1968 television program—he was the master of the green chalk board, looking into the camera with piercing eyes, posing questions which he then answered, and pregnant pauses to let his audience catch up.  Even my parents watched him, after they finally got a TV in the mid-1960s.  (If you’ve ever watched Glenn Beck, I wonder if he watched old tapes of Sheen to develop his style).  You don’t need to be afraid of this Catholic  Bishop—he doesn’t talk dogma or Catholic ceremonial worship.  He emphasizes history and values—and he’s the master of the medium.

In the 1950s, Sheen was firmly anti-Communist—predicted the worst.  And we were at war in 1968, and I wonder if he was having second thoughts—at least about the tactics being used. First he discussed the uselessness of peace treaties—4,568 between WWI and WWII (didn’t supply the source).  In one year before WWII, he said there were 211 peace treaties.  He calculates how often the western world (he doesn’t say western, but those were his examples) has been at war.  Using, I believe, a 500 year time frame (counting back from 1968) he said Great Britain had been in 76 wars, France, 61, and Russia 63. Then he made a startling observation—at least to me--about Russia which made me think of President Obama’s current methods of containment.  He said (paraphrasing here) that the U.S. method of war was to first send in armaments and weapons, then to later send U.S.  troops.  Russia was different, Sheen said, that after sending armaments and weapons it finds dupes in other nations to do their dirty work—they don’t send troops, so it can appear that they are  lovers of peace. Technically, they don’t kill anyone, just their machines.  I assume he was referring to the U.S. struggle with the North Vietnamese who were being funded and weaponized by outside Communist countries like USSR and China—while we and the Vietnamese were losing men, they were just losing machines.

Then he quoted the research (missed the source, but he did give it) of someone who had calculated the cost of killing a man in war (collateral damage to civilians not noted).  For Cain to kill Abel it took nothing but brute force; for Julius Caesar to conquer what is now western Europe was about 75 cents per man; for Napoleon it had increased to $700; in WWI it was $21,000 and WWII, $200,000 per death; and for Vietnam War he estimated it was $1,000,000 an hour.  Then he warned of the earth being destroyed by mistake, and told the story of King Arthur and his son reaching a peace agreement, when one soldier’s sword flashed in the sun, and the opposing sides attacked, killing all but four.

Neither leader trusted the other, so they ordered their knights to attack immediately if anyone pulled their sword. Surrounded by a small band of knights, Arthur and Mordred held their discussion. While they spoke, a snake slithered through the grass and bit a knight on the heel. Acting on reflex, the knight pulled his sword. Both armies saw the flash of the sword. Suddenly, the ranks of knights gave a shout and advanced into battle. For the next several hours, England’s greatest knights slaughtered each other, until only two were left standing.

Maybe Sheen will never make it to sainthood (there is a fight over his body by dueling interests), but he certainly has something to say many years later.

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