The Hellfires of Christmas

Last week, I noted that the US had a perfect excuse for ending its drone strikes that are a long-running violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty because Pakistan had engaged in military action in North Waziristan to kill a number of TTP militants after a TTP suicide attack had killed Pakistani soldiers. The same pivotal town in North Waziristan where last week’s events were centered, Miranshah, made the headlines again on Christmas Day, as Barack Obama and John Brennan could not resist demonstrating to the world that the US is not a peaceful nation. A drone fired two missiles into a home near Miranshah, killing four “militants”. Those killed are widely believed to have been members of the Haqqani network (Pakistan and the Haqqani network do not attack one another the way Pakistan and the TTP do), but there are no reports of senior leaders being involved, so this may well have been a signature strike rather than a strike aimed at a particular high level militant. On Christmas. Pakistan’s government protested the strike as a violation of sovereignty, yet again.

Yes, those targeted by the US in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region are all Muslims who don’t celebrate Christmas, but there has often been a tradition in wars of ceasefires on religious holidays. There was a magical ceasefire on Christmas in World War I. Although the concept was rejected this year, there have been Ramadan ceasefires, both in Afghanistan and even in the skirmishes between Pakistan and the TTP.

Somehow, in thinking on the evil embodied by this act of death and destruction on the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, I came across this terrific post that centers on a particularly apt passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. As pointed out in the post, the passage is spoken by Marc Anthony just after the assassination of Julius Caesar:

Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

The post I linked addresses the famous phrase “Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war” and should be read in its entirety. But the larger passage reads almost as if Shakespeare has foreseen the situation of a long-running period of drone attacks, especially when the drones carry Hellfire missiles. In Pakistan, “dreadful objects so familiar” have resulted in widespread PTSD among the residents who must live under the constant buzz of drones flying overhead.

Marc Anthony speaks of the attacks being out of revenge, and revenge has been a motivator for this and other strikes in Pakistan.

Shakespeare very nearly hit on the Hellfire name. Obama and Brennan would do well, though, to study up on the particular mythological figure that Shakespeare invokes with his mention of who comes “hot from hell”. A quick search gives us this on Ate:

ATE was the spirit (daimona) of delusion, infatuation, blind folly, rash action and reckless impulse who led men down the path to ruin.

How can the rash action and blind folly of repeated drone strikes lead to anything other than ruin for Obama and Brennan? Let us hope that they don’t drag the rest of us down with them.

Update: See Peterr’s comment below for the backstory of this beautiful song commemorating the Christmas ceasefire in World War I:

[youtuber youtube=’’]

32 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    Folk singer John McCutcheon put the story of the WWI Christmas truce into a powerful anti-war song, telling the story from the point of view of an old British soldier remembering that day. I wrote about it a while back at FDL, and the concluding refrain is powerful:

    My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
    Each Christmas come since World War I I’ve learned its lessons well
    That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
    And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

    (The story of how John wrote “Christmas in the Trenches” is here.)

    Click through to that FDL post to hear the whole song — a truly powerful piece — that fits so well with this fine Shakespearean post.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    The assassinator-in-chief visited a military base on the day that celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace, but I doubt that he recited the War Prayer.


    “O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle–be Thou near them! With them –in spirit–we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

    O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with hurricanes of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it–for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

    We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

    by Mark Twain

  3. Michael Murry says:

    @Don Bacon:

    Better Maimed than Marxist
    (an experiment in so-called “free verse”)

    At our U.S. Navy advanced tactical support base,
    on the banks of a muddy brown river,
    not far from the southernmost tip of South Vietnam,
    I injured my right middle finger
    in a pickup volleyball game one Sunday afternoon.

    Having no X-ray equipment at our little infirmary,
    I had to take a helicopter ride north
    to a larger Army base possessing
    better medical equipment and facilities
    to see if I had broken any bones in my hand.

    Walking down a hospital corridor, I passed
    a room full of Vietnamese patients
    who had no arms or legs.
    I experienced a disorienting sense of scale compression,
    unexpectedly witness to already small lives made minuscule in a moment,

    like seeing living dollar bills cut down to the size of postage stamps,
    or sentient silver quarters shrunk to copper pennies.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2012

  4. joanneleon says:

    Fantastic post, Jim.

    Couple of things (think I’ll make two comments). It’s funny that you bring up this subject. Just a short while ago, while trying to answer a question I had about al Nusra and ISIS / ISIL, I came across this in wikipedia:

    The group, whose spiritual advisor and deputy leader was the Palestinian cleric Abu Anas al-Shami, cited various texts from the Qur’an and the Sunnah (traditions) of Muhammad that they perceived to be in support of their tactics. It quoted the prophet Muhammad, who said to the people of Mecca when conquering them: “By the one in whose hand the soul of Muhammad is in, I came to you with slaughter” as narrated in the books of Hadith (traditions), and quoted Muhammad as saying “Whoever slaughters a non-Muslim [at war with Islam, i.e., those perceived to be ‘enemy occupiers’] sincerely for the sake of Allah, Allah will make hellfire prohibited upon him.” Other verses of the Qur’an call Muslims to fight invading non-Muslims and even behead them, such where Allah says in the Qur’an, “When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”[Quran 8:12]

    [Emphasis added]

    I just found that interesting. No doubt translations can vary a lot, so the “hellfire” probably isn’t the only way it’s translated into English, but this, along with what you’ve noted are just very interesting.

  5. joanneleon says:

    No doubt you’ve read the article in NYT about how we’re sending hellfire missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq, and how the CIA will “secretly” providing targeting assistance. (The source is apparently an anonymous Obama admin official leaking secrets again. We’ll be hearing about those espionage charges any minute, natch).

    They claim that the Al Qaeda affiliate is self-financed.

    Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq.
    Using extortion and playing on Sunni grievances against Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government, the Qaeda affiliate is largely self-financing. One Iraqi politician, who asked not to be named to avoid retaliation, said Qaeda militants had even begun to extort money from shopkeepers in Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital.

    I’ve read in the past that al Nusra and ISIS declared some kind of merger. I thought the Saudis and/or Qataris were financing ISIS and al Nusra and arming them. If so, this becomes mind boggling. CIA will be doing targeting of Saudi-backed jihiadis in Iraq but CIA will also be operating a base in Saudi Arabia to target Yemenis? Since we’re still doing drone strikes in Yemen, I am assuming CIA is still operating from that base in SA. Maybe that has changed due to our new troubles with the Saudis.

    But one more thing. Speaking of Christmas bombings. In one paragraph where NYT wants to convince us about how bad ISIS has been in Iraq (and to be clear, I’m not playing that down, just making a point here) they use the fact that there was a Christmas bombing in Baghdad. Perhaps they were aware of the irony in that, and maybe that’s why they added “in Christian areas”, as if it’s okay to blow people up on Christmas in some places.

    Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq. Riding in armed convoys, the group has intimidated towns, assassinated local officials, and in an episode last week, used suicide bombers and hidden explosives to kill the commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers and soldiers as they raided a Qaeda training camp near Rutbah.

    Bombings on Christmas in Christian areas of Baghdad, which killed more than two dozen people, bore the hallmarks of a Qaeda operation.

  6. Michael Murry says:

    From my own experiences in the failed Western crusade to save the Vietnamese from themselves forty years ago, I can imagine how the crusaded-upon Muslims must feel towards their crusading Judeo-Christian “liberators,” something like a hearty and sincere:

    Thanks for Nothing

    Benevolent invader of my land
    How can I thank you for the helping hand?
    Why, had you not come here with awe and shock,
    Reducing my poor home to piles of rock,
    I might have raised my children safe and sound,
    But, thanks to you, I’ve laid them in the ground.

    A wife I had, once too, but now no more.
    She died one day while driving to the store.
    Some nervous mercenaries that you hired
    Screamed something at her once, then aimed and fired.
    The bullet-riddled windshield told the tale:
    That “freed” of life, our women need no veil.

    Your generals have come so many times,
    Yet never have to answer for their crimes.
    Instead, promotion weighs them down with stars
    But never, like enlisted men, the scars
    Resulting from the bungling and sheer waste
    Of thinking last but shooting first in haste.

    On nine-eleven, two-thousand-and-one
    You got a taste of what you’ve often done
    To countries that had never caused you harm
    Yet still, too late, you sounded the alarm
    And whipped yourself into a lather thick
    So you could hurt yourself with your own stick.

    Three thousand on that fateful day you lost.
    Six thousand more you’ve added to the cost
    Since then, which only proves that there or here
    You act the same: in folly, rage, and fear.
    In time, you’ll go back home to where you’re from,
    To fight among yourselves, the deaf and dumb.

    Too bad for all the carnage that you’ve caused
    Who never thought or for a minute paused
    Before afflicting us with your disease:
    A plague of bankrupt bullies, fascist fleas,
    Who, both hands outward stretched to beg a loan,
    Continue “helping” us to shrink and groan.

    You talk to pat yourselves upon the back.
    Your actions only scream of what you lack:
    The insight and intelligence to see
    How much you’ve harmed yourself as well as me.
    But just the same I’ll thank you to go home
    Before you earn the fate that toppled Rome.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2009

    How I wish some genuine journalist would ask President “Terror Tuesday” Obama, just once to his amoral ghoulish face:

    “Given the world’s record you and your predecessor have established for bombing Muslim wedding parties, funeral services, and baby-naming ceremonies, how many negligent homicides do you get to claim as “collateral damage” before you must restrict yourself to only the murders you actually intend to commit?”

    The hellfires of Christmas indeed.

  7. Teddy says:

    I wonder if the drone pilots enjoyed a cup of eggnog or wassail before providing their carrion reason to groan. Or were Xtianist servicemembers excused from blotting their conscience on their Holy Day?

  8. Jim White says:

    @Michael Murry: Thanks for sharing what you have written with us. It is so tragic that our country keeps visiting this destruction both upon our own and upon the world at large.

    Wishing you whatever peace you can find in these troubled times.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    I find it difficult to believe the story that the U.S. is helping to defend an ally of Iran (i.e. Iraq) from insurgents, when it is doing just the opposite next door in Syria. Okay, I find it impossible to believe. Hagel and Kerry have been to Saudi Arabia recently, and I suspect that they talked about something while they were there. Something to the north.

    After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. supported Islamic radicals.

  10. TarheelDem says:

    @joanneleon: My response to this news is that the sooner the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report is leaked the better. (Any Senators brave enough to do that?) Because:

    John Brennan’s CIA = loose cannon = oh scheiss!

    They are whacking the hornets nest to keep their budgets. No doubt about it.

  11. TarheelDem says:

    @Don Bacon: The words “flopping around” come to mind as do the words “How do I explain this to the folks at home?” Just because the US and an “ally” consult doesn’t always mean they agree. I think that Kerry is pretty clear what it means if he allows the Iran talks to collapse. The US allowed/encourage Saudi Arabia/Gulf States to try to topple Assad. Those states used jihadis to do that; now they have allied to the jihadis that are the stated enemy of the US and entrenched in the Iraq-Syria border region. American strategic arrogance exposed once again as hubris. The US in a self-created bind. It’s national interest is in re-establishing Assad’s ability to control his country in order for Malaki to control his. But re-inserting US agents or surrogates in order to do this or giving Malaki, Assad, or both drone capabilities is going to be counterproductive. The irregular units always come back to bite bigtime. It’s about time to use our secret weapon. Fly George W. Bush to Ramadi and let him go out to hold hands with the guys in the field like he did with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He knows A-Rabs, doesn’t he?

  12. Don Bacon says:


    The US isn’t in any bind so long as it can promote instability, and also promote the downfall of Iran and its allies. The former allows a continued US influence and promotes (record) arms sales, the latter has been US policy for fifty years.

    To the extent that radicals can promote these US policies, they will be, and have been, encouraged to do so. With both Assad and Maliki being Iran allies, and thus enemies of both the US and Saudi Arabia, the US strategy is clear, Hellfire missiles notwithstanding.

    I understand the Hellfire air-to-ground missiles are used by Iraq to destroy al-Qaeda camps. Iraq has used up all their stock of Hellfires destroying AQ camps, we’re told, and needs more missiles to destroy more AQ camps. Iraq probably learned this warfare technique by reading about how successful the US has been with Hellfires. –heh — Watch out, wedding parties.

  13. Michael Murry says:

    @Don Bacon:

    Hello, Don. From this side of the pond, I have many pleasant memories of past exchanges on many topics in other discussion venues. And thanks to you especially for many incomparable Smedley Butler observations. I sincerely hope that you have found the peace and love in your life that I have found in mine. It took me many decades to make it home from America, but I finally made it. Many happy wishes to all in this forum who contribute regularly to our collective sanity. As Gandhi said of the four stages of revolutionary change: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Keep up the good work, everyone. It helps.

  14. scribe says:

    The bit about the people below suffering from PTSD from the constant circling of drones above reminds me of a story my landlady in Germany told me about her own experience.

    She was in her early 30s with a young son at home and a husband on the Eastern Front during WWII. She lived with her parents in their gasthaus in a small village about 20 miles outside a major city. The gasthaus was a relatively large building in a tiny village and the village was on the edge of a large forested area. And it all lined up with the direction British bombers would take, coming from Britain to bomb that major city. So, it was a landmark.

    When a raid was coming – the British always at bombed night – they would dispatch pathfinders in advance of the raid. The pathfinders – piloted by the most skilled crews – would go to a selected landmark beyond the target, start circling, and start dropping parachute flares. The bombers would line up on the flares – a pillar of fire, so to speak – to find the target.

    They used my landlady’s family’s gasthaus as such a landmark. Again and again. And the family would be huddled in the basement bombshelter waiting for a flare to land on their house and set it alight or for bombs to fall. For hours on end. Listening to this pathfinder circle and circle some more.

    As she told it, one night, the German night fighter interceptors from a nearby airfield finally shot down the pathfinder. They heard the air battle and the crash. The pathfinder pilot parachuted safely to the ground. No one ever admitted to being there but, in the way of small towns, everyone knew what happened.

    He surrendered and was promptly hacked to death with farm tools.

    Forty years on, she still shuddered in the telling. Not about the pilot’s fate. That was related with some level of grim “justice was done” satisfaction. Rather, it was about the plane circling and circling and never knowing if or when their number would come up.

    Let slip the dogs of war, indeed. The thing is, as Snowden aptly and accurately noted, the USG has already lost. This is just making rubble bounce to, as someone upthread noted, justify their future budgets.

  15. P J Evans says:

    I’ll believe it. After ten or fifteen minutes of police helicopter circling in my neighborhood, I’m ready to go out and shoot at it. But somehow, the only complaints the FAA ever gets are about news choppers, which are generally much higher up and far less audible.

  16. Michael Murry says:

    In 2001, A handful of unarmed, and fanatically clever Saudi Arabians hijacked four American planes and flew them into three American buildings, killing some 3,000 people. The U.S. government — all three branches — responded by attacking the U.S. Constitution and looting the U.S. treasury while sending more than 6,000 Americans to their deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan on the pretense of depriving these countries that we did not fear of weapons they did not possess in retaliation for an attack upon us in which they did not participate.

    In 2014, according to all indications, the U.S. government — all three branches — plans on continuing this ruinous insanity as far into the indefinite future as possible. Happy New Year, my fellow proles.

  17. thatvisionthing says:

    Jim, your Shakespeare quote reminds me of piece I read about Christopher Fry’s 1949 play The Lady’s Not for Burning, which takes place, like now, in a time of war and witch hunts.

    The play is set in a “small market-town” called Cool Clary around 1400, at a time when witches were still being burnt and a war in Flanders was still recent. The action centers around a dual problem which presents itself in the home of Hebble Tyson, an officious and by-the-book Mayor of the town; this problem is that at one and the same time a young woman comes to his house for shelter, being designated a witch by the townspeople, and in an at first unrelated case, a man, Thomas Mendip, comes in requesting to be hanged…

    “I’ve been unidentifiably
    Floundering in Flanders for the past seven years,
    Prising open ribs to let men go
    On the indefinite leave which needs no pass.
    And now all roads are uncommonly flat, and all hair
    Stands on end.”

  18. thatvisionthing says:

    @Jim White: Earl of Huntingdon posted a comment with link worth following re Christmas in the Trenches here:

    The radio interview of McCutcheon is now at

    John McCutcheon: The truce lasted for just that particular night, but it was quite widespread and repeated itself in some battlefields, and the kind of battlefield discipline broke down when people would simply intentionally shoot over one another’s heads. It’s a very well documented fact that they had to move troops around because they simply wouldn’t fight against this particular company that was across the No Man’s Land from them. It repeated itself several times over the years of World War I.

    Interestingly enough, I have found in the years since I wrote this song that the story resonates through many different conflicts. I’ve had people who were veterans of World War II, many, many veterans of the Vietnamese conflict that came up to me and said, “You know, I found myself in a situation not dissimilar,” but sometimes it was, “I was separated from my company and I met a VC regular out in the jungle and we were about to shoot one another and realized how dumb that would be, and that we were both hungry and lost, and shared what we had and went away.

    I think the power in the story – I didn’t make the story up, I simply wrote the song – is the fact that it does break down anonymity. And the final line of the song in some respects says it all.

  19. bloodypitchfork says:

    @Don Bacon:quote:”All these attacks on personal liberties wouldn’t work without the active collusion of government judges and government lawyers. They are the scum of the earth.”unquote

    Scum is an insult to scum the world over. They’re a putrescence mass, a walking vomit. Spineless little worms deserving nothing but the profoundest contempt. A stench, a revulsion. Bleating fools…curdled staggering mutant dwarfs smeared richly with the effluvia and offal accompanying their alleged birth into this world. Insensate, blinking calves, meaningful to nobody, abandoned by the puke-drooling, giggling beasts who sired them and then killed themselves in recognition of what they had done. The time has come to rid the planet of these wretched, vulgar little maggots. Every last one of them.

  20. Bay State Librul says:

    A “brilliant pebble”

    A code name for a small computerized heat-seeking missile that was supposed to intercept and destroy enemy missiles

    Will the NSA issue now head for the Supremos to weigh in?

  21. Richard says:

    I will cheering when the first drone smashes into Obama’s children’s bedroom so that he can feel the same pain that parents feel in all the countries that sonofabitch is bombing right now. As as for Obama himself, his generals, his congress, and all the troops who became war criminals (by the legal standard the U.S. prosecuted Nazi war criminals) the moment they first crossed the border into Iraq and so many other countries that never attacked us — the guillotine is too good for them.

  22. thatvisionthing says:

    @Bay State Librul: No, seriously? Pebbles? Because one of the funniest diaries I ever read on Daily Kos was The Emperor’s New Pebbles, where the diarist recounted the summer of 1989 when he inadvertently joined the household of an SDI physicist working for the Pentagon, who tried to explain the Star Wars missile defense project to him:

    Next thing I knew, my host had brought home a video tape ‘draft’ of the modeling output the team was putting together for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was just images, no details or print, so it really didn’t tell you much on its own (so I’m guessing not really classified… I hope). Anyway, it was this elaborate series of lines that started at the bottom of the screen, shot upwards and created a chicken-wire netting across the screen. Granted, it was rudimentary enough that even the video games of the time looked pretty advanced in comparison, but, hey, government budget.

    My host spent a good forty-five minutes geeking out to no end about how the pebbles’ trajectory worked in relation to the earth and stuff about the equator and how to shoot them into the sky. (Me: really big guns? Him: no, but we asked anyway just to see if they’d let us have our own bazookas.)

    That video was the first working visual model of tiny pebbles. A series of tiny satellites would rotate the earth and when a missile entered the low-earth orbit (LEO) ring, the nearest pebbles would… My host shrugged.

    “Would what,” I asked.

    “Jump it,” my host said. He switched to geek-speak, which I already knew from my own father was clear sign of geek non-lying; rather than lie, a geek tries to hedge or cover. “A missile doesn’t arm itself until X point, after it’s completed its arc and begun to decrease elevation. The tiny pebbles get to it before then.”

    “And then what?”

    “Dead missile.”

    “Okay, but how?”

    “Oh, look, I finished my beer. Boy, I’m thirsty!”

    Really, read the whole thing. Not much sticks to my brain, but this did. And the comments:

    I heard the same story- ’88?? (8+ / 0-)

    at a two night GrDead show, from some guys from Oak Ridge labs, during one of those afternoon deep truthy conversations…

    “we took it to a certain stage, then we blew it up”.

    “then what happened?”

    “they gave us more money, and we blew it up again”.

    “how long can you keep that gig going?”

    “as long as they keep throwing money at it”….

    Non-lying geek-speak and deep truthiness, and perpetual fabulous funding by perpetually failing fabulously upward. Just keep tossing pebbles.

    (Must have fabulous enemies!)

    (Thinking of Pentagon now as enemy maintenance)

  23. thatvisionthing says:

    @Richard: Side diary I found when I was looking for above – Ronald Reagan introducing Star Wars to us:

    “The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor. We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression — to preserve freedom and peace. …”

    brilliant words, tossed to the air like pebbles to light the world

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