Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Don't Go.

What is battle? It is glory. It is a man charging for the enemy screaming, MK16 in hand, bayonet leading the charge, string quartet baying in the background. It is a milky nostalgia in the here and now, it is a sense of purpose and divine providence.

What is battle? It is men in suits and military garb, in a room, with a big screen on the wall full of red dots and tactical layouts. The men pinch their chins between thumb and forefinger, muttering to a neighbor at the big round table. It is the president, cuffs rolled up, sincere in his leadership, facilitating a discussion of choices, of timing, of targets, of statistical analyses of collateral damage.

What is battle? It is a recruiting officer dressed up in finery of navy blue with a white hat. Through parking lots he trawls for prospective soldiers, bearing concert tickets and college scholarships, all authoritative manner and brotherliness.

What is battle? It is manufacturing plants full of mothers and fathers, cranking out military boots and bullets and shining up missiles for later use in the war for freedom, for justice, for the American way, for comic book archetypes of good guys against bad guys.

What is battle? It is an entire nation pulling together and rationing their moments of pleasure for the betterment of mankind.


What is battle? It is your intestines spilling out of your body and a last whimper for your mother (short amimation)

And now the famous anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen, written in 1917:

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.

*It is Sweet and Proper (to die for one's country.)

(And if you would like to hear it read by Mike Malloy, this is definitely worth hearing.)