Best Defense

The art of war: These are the impressions we keep with us many decades later

Images far more powerful than a photo can render.




By Keith Nightingale
Best Defense art and combat critic

French painters invented images with mottled forms as a unique art. Truth is in the mind’s eye more than the image portrayed. And hence, so much stronger.

Images far more powerful than a photo can render.

Truth lies within the impression more than the precise details.

This is an artistic form. Grunts do the same in forming their own personal internal canvas.

Collecting the aspects of an image through experience. A personal palette of collection for the soul.

No fame or fortune for the result. Just impressions. Lasting forever.

Private museum walls for the mind.

The sounds, smells, and sights. Never before. Never since.

Great. Amazing. Incredible. Awful.

Beauty and the beast. In the mind’s eye.

Each different. Each the same for us all.

Highly personal. The artist’s touch.

Lights-distant glows, close, far, circles, spirals. Quick and lasting.

Streams, spouts, flashes, fires, and streaks. Different canvas each day.

The windmills of the mind. Fantasies and facts. The mind numbs, clouds and clarifies. Personal choice. Pick what you like. It is what artists do.

Once there, it never departs. A personal canvas. Never to be traded or sold.

Each of us has distinct tastes which affects the outcome of the product.

Sounds, sights, and smells from the same palette of the mind. Unique to each which creates a highly personal picture.

The smells of the soldier studio. Sharp, acrid, discernible, definable, unforgettable.

People, things, and objects have unique identities known to all. Some are sweet as the trailing waft of a passing ao dai. Others more intense as the object burning and bubbling to your front. Everything else is in between.

The coursing tendrils of a newly formed crater’s lip. The exhaust from a 105 breech. The blue residue of the passing cyclo. The wet damp of a morning village fire. The product of the morning shit burner detail. The dark sweep of the exiting Phantom as it claims the deeper blue. The collective dank wet sweat steaming from the night defensive positions. Vietnamese cigarettes in the deep green. Persistent CS.

A full palette to choose.

Instantly recognizable to all who have viewed the work. Once sensed, never forgotten.

A masterpiece of the mind. Or not. But forever lasting.

The sounds etched for eternity. Common to some. Uncommon to others. Not a choice but a chance experience. Individual artistic exposures. But truly not a choice of selection as they are embedded in the mind. The palette of the mind’s eye is yours alone.

The flip and pop of a grenade spoon. The seating of a cartridge. A mortar coursing through the limbs overhead. The deep exhaust of a track as it lurches through the jungle. The hurried breathing moving back to the perimeter under fire. The deafening squelch squawk in the middle of the night in a very lonely, scary place. The unmistakable Whop Whop Whop of your constant movement conveyance. The comforting deep and distant sound of artillery support when you desperately need it. The slow rhythmic hiss of the tiny pink bubbles squeezing through the plastic battery bag seal taped across the chest.

Comforting communications under the greatest of stress. Different accents and tones but your language. Friends to the death. Proven frequently.

Part of the personal palette is choice. Much is not. It just comes naturally to the mind.

Sights are the artist’s vision. They provide perspective, scope and the imagery of intent. They use the rest of the palette’s panoply to convey the intended message.

Like all art — good and bad — it is too personal.

Each artist provides an individual canvas filled with personal objects. Yet it is the common experience that is the core of each image. The result is a work that while individual, is shared and understood by all.

Art is not always understood by others. It is too personal.

But utterly and deeply honest.

As is all great art.

Col. (Ret.) Keith Nightingale commanded four infantry companies, three battalions, and two brigades. These units included two tours in Vietnam, the Grenada invasion, and several classified counterterrorist operations including the Iran rescue attempt. He was a founding member of the 1-75th Rangers as well as one of the original members of what is now Joint Special Operations Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. Col. (Ret.) Nightingale has written numerous articles regarding the Infantry in both Vietnam and the Desert Wars. He is a member of the Ranger Hall of Fame.   

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1
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