We went to see Her Majesty's Royal Highland Regiment at the Citadel Field House one early autumn evening. Do you remember? We went together, you with your Scots ancestry and I with my fondness for all things male.
The band was rousing and disciplined, but it was the pipe and drum corps we came to hear and see. And we weren't disappointed. After a warm-up by the band, and with no pause, the pipers marched onto the field house floor, applause mounting. One might almost say they flowed onto the floor; they did not so much march as move like oil to the hum and moan of the bagpipes, haunted by the drummers' muffled cadence.
The corps and their instruments seemed the very essence of manliness: the cockiness of their strut, the Celtic kilts with elaborate ermine codpieces, the bare and knotty knees, the peacock showiness of flowing shoulder tartans, the unyielding drone of the pipes. And they epitomized centuries of going to war, their uniforms binding together those of a kind to intimidate the adversary--vulture feathers like streaks of blood in black, bobbing head gear, leopard skins slung across drummers' shoulders. How well trained! How beautifully controlled! What awe they would inspire in battle!
Ah, the ancient art of war. The fragile spirit of solitary man girded and inflamed by the pomp and pageantry of the larger troop, wound like a coiled spring. Intense, potential power, intent upon victory! Thus seemed those glorious pipers as they strutted in file across the field house floor.
And then a horrible imagining came upon me. I saw MODERN WAR, abomination of desolation, overtake this magnificent manhood. I saw IT (unimpressed by spectacle, or skill, or courage even…unseeing…unfeeling…uncaring…unknowing) blow a hole in the field house floor, ripping apart the pageant. Remnants of men flew through the air, kilts akimbo, uncontrolled, grace and order gone, beyond all symbology or retrieval. And I knew at once, as I know still, that war is no more mere sport for men.[This was published in the College of Charleston's literary magazine, Miscellany, in 1983]