Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dulce et decorum est

Today -- Veterans' Day, or Armistice or Remembrance Day -- is a good day to think about the horrors of war, to thank not only those who sacrificed their lives and loved ones, but those who sacrificed their innocence and happiness. If you know a veteran, thank them, especially an older veteran. Thank the World War II vets who saw such awful things, but came home to a country ready and anxious to move on. The men and women who saw and had to do things they'll never forget, but had to live as though they had. Thank the Vietnam vets for all they went through, especially when they returned home. Thank them for enduring the awful treatment from their own country's citizens, because their terrible experience taught our country it's possible to oppose a war without punishing the innocents who get sent to fight it. Our current veterans and their families are supported and taken care of, and it's because of the shame we feel over the treatment of our past soldiers.

Don't think of today as just a day to buy a cheap sofa. Instead, the Wounded Warrior Project is a great charity that provides help and support for our injured soldiers, and helping them is a way to help veterans. Find a local organization, a shelter or soup kitchen that cares for homeless vets -- and they're not just Vietnam veterans.

This poem by Wilfred Owen is the antithesis to Rupert Brooke's famous poem "The Soldier" and John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" and one I read every November 11. Maybe one day we'll learn.

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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines 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 flound'ring 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.
8 October 1917 - March, 1918

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