lundi, mai 31, 2010

One great lie

This past weekend I spent part of Saturday swimming in the past -- a past more than ninety years gone. Wrestling with the right tone for a Memorial Day homily, I took a time capsule back to read the World War I poets.

Start out with Rupert Brooke's "The Great Lover" -- and you may end up in some pretty sad places. Wilfrid Owen, maybe the finest of the British World War I poets, dead seven days before the war ended. The gorgeous poet Brooke died earlier, of an infected mosquito bite, in 1915. And then there was Siegfried Sassoon, who survived to write about the horrors of war, as did his fellow countryman Robert Graves.

But let's not even talk of poets. Let's try to remember a whole generation of young men and many women lost in England, France -- and Germany. Hatred sowed in the Balkans and bitter fruits in places like Italy.

As a teen who read the writing of novelists like R.F. Delderfield, and saw the BBC adaption of the life of the anti-war activist Vera Brittain (adapted from her book "Testament of Youth"), I became intrigued and horrified by the context in which War War I took place.

But it doesn't have to be that war -- choose your war.

It seems a bit traitrous to say that, in this nation in which so many glorify the patriotism of the hand-folded over the shirt, the pledge recited as it has been since childhood, that I am anti-war.

That dooesn't mean I'm a total pacifist.

In my judgment, which does not need to be yours, there have been, with the recent exception of World War II, very few where the potential for evil on the other side outweighed the terrible cost in terms of human lives.

Even now, in Iraq, families are torn asunder because a citizen with an incendiary device decides to blow themselves up and take as many innocent lives with them as possible.

And yet we continue, those of us who have never experienced it, to exalt it -- the brother and sisterhood of the trenches. Patriotism is cheap unless and until one is truly ready and able to serve -- not to send others.

But do we give the same honor to our veterans once they are back with wounds that show -- and wounds the naked eye can't see? Do we give them counseling and access to medicine and the good care they need to readjust to civilian life?

When we talk about the ecstasy of combat, it might be well to recall the words with which Owen ends one of his most famous poems, titled Dulce and Et Decorum Est:

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 zest1 To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.

It is no honor to our veterans to tell ourselves that terrible untruth.

Let us tell the truth about how awful war can be -- and then weigh whether the fighting is worth the agony.

2 commentaires:

dadshouse a dit…

Great points. I think vets don't get enough respect. Many of us don't like war, but I'm grateful for those who serve and protect us.

BigLittleWolf a dit…

Important words. To most, Memorial Day is about the start of summer. I remember my grandfather, who fought in the Pacific in WWII, and thankfully, returned home unharmed, treating Memorial Day and Veteran's Day with the respect and honor which are due.

Even as children - we knew to do so. Somehow, somewhere, too many, unless in military families now, have forgotten.