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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dulce et Decorum Est - 2009

War is Hell
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (Observation in a letter, 1864)

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month.

Once, every schoolchild knew this story, and all society stood for a minute of silence to observe Armistice Day.

Soldiers have died to defend us all since ancient times, but most can never speak of the emotions, the horror and the rewards of their service. Poets have done that eloquently for them. The words of poets on the honour and the horror of service in a war have been excised from the curriculum of our children. Support the Troops; If You Can Read This, Thank a Veteran; Be All That You Can Be; Remember Pearl Harbor! (and the Maine, and the Holocaust, and 9-11, and on and on..) - poetry has given way to sloganeering. Our emotions are stunted by the lack of noble words.

In 'The Soldier', Rupert Brooke writes of the emotion, the noble elevation felt as a man (then) enlists in a great cause for his nation (Brooke) Yet even though he was killed in World War I, you can feel that he didn't think it would happen to him. He died of blood poisoning after a wound at the age of 28.

In the 'Charge of the Light Brigade', Tennyson tries to put a good face on a disaster in command, but still, he captures the ethic of the fighting man - "Theirs was not to question why".

In 'The Man He Killed', Thomas Hardy wrote of the senseless slaughter of war, the respect that one fighting man owed to another - 'Had he and I but met at Some old ancient inn...'.

'Woodbine Willy', actually a chaplain, Revd. Geoffrey Kenedy MC, CF, wrote in 'The Spirit' about the only thing a soldier can do when he has faced that situation - 'Carry On..'

John McCrae wrote the most famous of war poems, 'In Flanders Fields', warning 'If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep'. He died of pneumonia in the field, at the age of 46.

Wilfred Owen, in his poem that the title of this post was taken from, speaks of the 'old Lie' - that the Death of a soldier, an 'ardent child', can be 'Good and Sweet to Die for your Country'. He died of machine gun fire at the age of 25.

But the poet of the survivors is Rudyard Kipling. Any VietNam vet can identify with his words about 'Tommy Atkins' (the British G.I. Joe) and the way he is treated by society, "For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'...But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot!"

It amazes Porcupine that these poems are thought to 'glorify' war. They catch it at its worst, and describe it how it is. But in all of them is an understanding of country, of service, and of sacrifice. Today, let us read the words, and honour the contibution of all our service men and women, and give them the thoughts and thanks that they deserve.

Special Note for 2009 - Let us all remember the soldiers and families at Ft. Hood in our prayers

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