Anecdotal reflections on
Wilfred Owen, "Dulce et Decorum Est"
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."
Taken from Harry Rusche's "Lost Poets of the Great War" Wilfred Owen page, Emory University.
This happened somewhere in the Pacific theater, possibly on Iwo Jima.You bury what you find, and they found a foot, with a Marine boot on it, a serial number on its tongue. They buried it in a proper grave with proper honors. Then came orders to exhume the foot. Its owner was in a Saipan hospital, still alive. The conduct of war has a firm set of rules: you can't bury the same soldier twice.
I turned in the black ditch, loathing the storm;
A rocket fizzed and burned with blanching flare,
And lit the face of what had been a form
Floundering in mirk. He stood before me there;
I say that He was Christ; stiff in the glare,
And leaning forward from His burdening task,
Both arms supporting it; His eyes on mine
Stared from the woeful head that seemed a mask
Of mortal pain in Hell's unholy shine.
No thorny crown, only a woollen cap
He wore--an English soldier, white and strong,
Who loved his time like any simple chap,
Good days of work and sport and homely song;
Now he has learned that nights are very long,
And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.
But to the end, unjudging, he'll endure
Horror and pain, not uncontent to die
That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.
He faced me, reeling in his weariness,
Shouldering his load of planks, so hard to bear.
I say that He was Christ, who wrought to bless
All groping things with freedom bright as air,
And with His mercy washed and made them fair.
Then the flame sank, and all grew black as pitch,
While we began to struggle along the ditch;
And someone flung his burden in the muck,
Mumbling: 'O Christ Almighty, now I'm stuck!'
Taken from William J. Bean's Siegfried Sassoon website. Poem © Columbia University
During the question period, I used the following story to respond to a repetition of the cant that war can never produce a good result. I don't remember the source of the story, so I repeat it (as nearly as possible) as I told it on September 11, 2002.Just War is an unpopular position. It's ambiguous and messy, and you never know whether you're doing the right thing.
A philosopher was defending Just War to a meeting somewhere in New England, and having a rough time of it, when an old man stood up in the back. The old man said, I have been playing with a major symphony orchestra for the past fifty years and I have heard a lot of beautiful music in my life. I want to tell you about the most beautiful music I have ever heard.
Oh, great, thought our philosopher. Here we go again...
The most beautiful music I have ever heard, said the old man, was the sound of American tanks approaching the concentration camp where I was being held as a boy, because it meant that I would live to grow up.
The story, told by the original author, is at the bottom of this web page.
Copyright © 2003 by Daniel J. Berger. This work may be copied without limit if its use is to be for non-profit educational purposes. Such copies may be by any method, present or future. The author requests only that this statement accompany all such copies. All rights to publication for profit are retained by the author.