Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Guns Fall Silent

Ninety-four years ago today the guns fell silent after four long years of relentless killing.
I've spoken about this before. I still believe that the U.S. has done this day a disservice.

There is certainly a time and place to render respect to those who have served a nation under arms - although I would further add that when those who have served have done so not to defend against genuine threats to the nation's safety but to advance national interests abroad the relationship changes - but that this day should be reserved for those who were subsumed in the abyss of death that was the Great War.

And the thought occurred to me this Remembrance Sunday; I find it rather sad that we "celebrate" this day with armed soldiers and military pomp.

Although the day is about men who served and died as soldiers, the men who died would very likely have wanted us to remember not the illusion of power and glory that led them to those deaths, but the reality of suffering and pain that were the chiaroscuro that often made those deaths a welcome release.

After nearly one hundred years it is hard to be sure, but I would bet that many of those dead men would rather have us lay down those weapons and approach their monuments in sorrow and regret that we will pick them up again.
Instead of pomp and the sword they might want us to bring to them a running lake, a flock of sheep, and one who sings her child to sleep.

But the reality is that the hell of Sulva Bay (and Verdun, and Passchendaele, and the Somme, and Chemin des Dames, and the Argonne, and Tannenberg, and the Isonzo, and Caporetto, and all the other nameless places where millions of young men suffered and died - and millions more women and children starved and bled and vomited their lives out from typhus and cholera and influenza) never touched this country.

So we don't really understand this day, and what it means to the nations that do and those of their sons and daughters that suffered.


gruff said...

Wilfred Owen
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.

rangeragainstwar said...

well said,

Lisa said...


I will always defer to your immense military and historical knowledge, but aren't the poppies more appropriate for Memorial Day? This day is not for the dead, but the living (said knowing that death is indwelling in life.)

Your sentiment that the living veterans may have something more to tell us beyond glory is certainly valid, though, as Wilfred Owen et. al. have done.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

It is hard to know how to "celebrate" this day. But yes, Wilfred Owen said it well enough for me.

And at some point, I will watch a Welsh language film on my is called "Heddwyn" and portrays a Welshman, a poet, sent to that war. It is lyrical and heartbreaking.

Cathartic weeping might just do it for me.

FDChief said...

Lisa: For the U.S. this day is almost completely unconnected with any sort of historical association. That's a feature, not a bug; Memorial Day was originally "Decoration Day", when the living decorated the graves of the Civil War dead. The present Veterans Day is a sort of generic "Support the Troops" day where it has any sort of meaning whatsoever - which I'd observe in these days of nearly-universal avoidance of military service is very small and superficial.

But the Europeans and the British in particular retain the connection between the Eleventh of November and the great killing of the Great War. The poppies and the works of men like Owen and Sassoon still strike deep in the collective memories of the people whose sons died in job lots at Loos and the Somme.

Hence the poppies, and the point of my post.

FDChief said...

gruff, and Labrys; For these, much thanks, for it is bitter cold and I am sick at heart...

Anonymous said... misery of heart-sickness has company, believe me.