Jun 24, 2010

Randall Jarrell, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner." Arrogance, continued.

Big water in better days.

Hamlet says, “What a piece of work is a man.” I go back and forth between seeing a slab of meat hanging in a butcher shop—that’s a man—and more positive images—say, the artist if he’s striving for honest as well as elegant utterances, or the martyr if his cause is just (MLK or Gandhi, to be obvious).

Where do Tony Wayward, and the Enron boys, and other sociopaths among our elite, present and past, fit into “what a piece of work” man is? On the Great Chain of Being, what link do they occupy? What link do they think they occupy?

In an effort not to be arrogant about arrogance, I try once more to imagine myself in charge of an operation that could inflict the damage BP is doing. Here is my translation:

“On my watch, the lads have had more violations than any other oil company (which are not known for the choir boys among them). I ignored warnings from my underlings about imminent danger. At each stage of the explosion's aftermath, I lie and evade. I deliver sanitized bromides of regret to the millions of little guys on the Gulf, waiting for me to make it all (sound) better.

“That’s enough to make even a slick, hardened sociopath tired. I need to get away, so I'm off to a sailing thingy, with our kind of people, safely across a sea into which my machinery hasn’t yet defecated. But I’m really not a bad sort, not an arrogant bloke. With my boyish face, I'm rather liked in the circles I choose.”

So can I see myself as that guy, as Tony Wayward? I honestly cannot, and if that sounds sanctimonious, so be it. Maybe it means I sit in safe havens, lacking the stuff of leadership in a major enterprise, which by definition risks both nature and humanity by the thousands of units. Maybe I’m a short-necked gander with no honk.

But no, I cannot see myself as that Tony-guy. And no, I don't have anything like envy for his daring or his life of luxury. (Or his absence of conscience, diligence, compassion). I don't want to be an empty suit when I grow up. Or is it a vacancy of soul we're trying to measure here?

Maybe we should all write lists of whom and what we cannot imagine being or doing, both the positive and negative models. Tony is not in my list of ways I can see myself. I'm sure it's my fault.

A World War II air combat poem might seem an unlikely companion to the above, but when I think of arrogance, I envision people who think of others as servants or objects. How would some of the high rollers in industry esteem this speaker, a mere ball turret gunner, dead, who hung in the belly of his bomber, exposed to enemy fighter planes in his transparent bubble? Are those the chunks of flesh the high roller sees when he regards the people and animals of the Gulf Coast? Wash 'em out with a hose.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner - Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More



Anonymous said...

Your piece is perfect as it stands, Mr. Banjo. Beautiful essay.

Who we won't be, should be, might be, will be, and most probably are.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I agree with AH.

When was arrogance born? Why is it more abundant?

The poem's last line haunts me.

I am glad you are not an arrogant bastard. It would be hard to like you.

Banjo52 said...

AH, thank you. Don't know if I'll every get to that project, but it could be interesting, couldn't it.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, just saw your visit. Thank you. Love your last little paragraph. I don't recall being called arrogant, but neither do I recall being called rich, and there might be a correlation . . . . Is that a possible response to your second paragraph?

I suppose the poem is sensationalistic and preachy, but I've always liked it. Where else do you get that much in 5 lines? And how could one argue with what it's saying--except maybe to say that bits of flesh owned by the State are not ALL we are? But big powers like the State or The Corporation can sure make us feel small and irrelevant, eh? (There I go, speaking Canadian again).

By the way, I think I've read that ball turret gunners had the highest mortality rate of any kind of military combat in WWII. If not, it was something close to that. I've tried to imagine the feeling and experience, the hanging there in the sky, firing a pop gun, nowhere to duck, much less hide. Then I tried not to imagine it.

Brenda's Arizona said...

The Sentimental Journey, a B-17, is retired at the old air base 1 mile from our home. It has a ball turret. The gunner has to be in most helpless position when 'encased'. I have learned so much from just doing 'walkabouts' and asking questions. And you know what? When a WWII veteran tells you the fact (how a gunner sat, how his knees were tucked against his chest, how he stayed in this fetal position for hours as he swung around - he himself an obvious helpless target), you shiver. You can't undo the scene in your head. You can't unsee what you just saw.

And you know the gunner had to either be so arrogant he thought the rules of war didn't apply to him or he was so un-arrogant that he thought it was his job, the right thing to do.

I can't unsee this poem; I can't unsee a gunner's position. I can't unsee his remains being hosed out.

And can anyone unsee Tony Hayward's arrogance?

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, eloquent. As always, the devil's in the details. Well said!

And there's another post for us all: what is it that we cannot "unsee," both the good and the bad? I'll wait till everyone else has written 20 times on it.

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