Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I am the enemy you killed, my friend

This year I want to think of the many different types of people who contributed to stemming the tide of imperialism and Nazism. And also, let's not forget those who refused to take part in war, which is a very brave decision also.

Black veterans, Asian veterans, LGBT veterans, the poets and writers and artists, medical personnel, conscientious objectors, Bevan Boys, Land Girls, Lumber Jills, the Little Ships that went to Dunkirk, and other groups who get forgotten in the general remembrance. And what about those who fought on the other side, whose memorials just say they lost their lives, not that they laid down their lives for their country.
When so many have been slaughtered,
Let us mourn with tears of sorrow,
And treat victory like a funeral.
~ Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, 31
What about all the refugees and civilian casualties? What about all those who were shot for desertion, or died of disease, or from "friendly fire" or accidents? Did they lay down their lives for their country, or did their country lay down their lives without thought of the cost? Let us not treat victory as anything other than a funeral, because the fact that war ever came to seem like the only way to solve a conflict is a cause for mourning. Yes, we must resist oppression and persecution, but let us study peace-mongering ways to do it.
Strange Meeting ~ Wilfred Owen

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,-
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said that other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also, I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."


Rachael Lancelot Eldritch-Böersen said...

"Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."

Yvonne said...

Yes indeed. I quoted from that poem last year.

Joe said...

My mum's dad was a miner, so as a reserved occupation he couldn't sign up, but a few years ago looking through a book on mining in Western Scotland there was a pic of young lads, Bevin Boys being trained by a few of the older, senior miners. And standing there grinning a big cheesy smile watching over them is my papa. Odd to see him standing there young, strong, at first I mistook him for his oldest son, my uncle, until I looked at the date. I only knew him as an old man broken by work in the pits (probably less safe than front line war work); the miners took the slogan 'dig for victory' to a literal end