We are getting close to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I - next year... It is, I think, the defining moment in modern history - even WWII plays as a kind of sequel - bigger, more horrible, though also, maybe, more "successful" in remaking the world in a slightly better form. In some places. Kinda, sorta… I imagine, next year, I will try to follow along with it, as I have been doing with the Civil War's 150th anniversary - it is, I think, to modern Europe what the Civil War is to the United States.
And now - on this day, again, we should remember the end of the first one: the bad war - the war to end all wars, that spawned a dozen more wars. We should remember, and think about what war is.
I will turn it over to Wilfred Owen. Here, first, his most famous poem - Dulce et Decorum Est (here, with annotations):
And here is Kenneth Branagh reading Anthem for Doomed Youth:
Dulce Et Decorum Est
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 disappointed shells that dropped 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 floundering 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.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
BY WILFRED OWEN
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.