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Two popular and long-established collections of  war poetry of the
First World War

Minds at War
A comprehensive
anthology of poetry of the First World War. All the greatest war poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and war poems of over 70 other notable poets. All set in the context of the poets' lives and historical records. With historic photographs and cartoons.  Edited by David Roberts.
 400 pages £15-99 (UK)



Out in the Dark
Anthology of
First World War poetry recommended for students and the general reader.
19 poems by
Wilfred Owen
, 27 by Siegfried Sassoon and over 90 more war poems by 45 significant poets including women writers. Contextual information and basic notes on many poems. Illustrated.  Edited by David Roberts.
185 pages - £10-99 (UK)



Falklands War Poetry cover

The War Poetry Website War poems 2008

For details of poems and poets on this page please see below:

Comments on war and peace issues, March 2008

Palestine/Israel - March 2008

The situation in the Gaza Strip has been distressing for decades. Things took a massive turn for the worse when Israel, supported by the EU and others, decided to subvert the democratically elected government. 
Life in Gaza this Christmas is now quite beyond belief. See the report below and a bitter but tragically significant poem for Christmas by Felicity Currie.
Now, Israel has invaded Gaza which they have kept under seige for many months. Many men women and children in this desperate population have been killed. Aid organisations say the plight of the people is more desperate than at any other time in the last forty years. 
The EU is committed to giving some relief to the Palestinians but is greatly involved in supporting Israel through an "association" agreement. The UK cannot act to put pressure on Israel by imposing trade sanctions because we are part of the EU and this part of our foreign policy is decided by the EU. I have written about this in my book on the EU and on my new EU website in the foreign policy section.
D. A. Roberts
(www.EUnow.eu )
This plea is addressed to members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign but clearly non-members can help too.

A plea from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

End the siege of Gaza – End Israeli occupation

PSC calls on its members and branches to take urgent steps to highlight the crisis in Gaza.

The siege being imposed on Palestinians is making life a living hell in Gaza. The World Food Programme has said that food imports only cover 41 per cent of demand. Palestinians are suffering from hunger and malnutrition, and those seriously ill are being prevented from accessing essential medical treatment outside Gaza by Israel sealing the borders. Israel is cutting fuel and electricity supplies, and 210,000 people are able to access drinking water for only 1-2 hours a day. Over 40 Gazans have died as a direct result of being denied medical treatment by the Israeli authorities. Twenty per cent of essential drugs and 31 per cent of essential medical supplies are no longer available inside Gaza .

The Israeli, EU, US and British governments are systematically attempting to overturn the results of the last Palestinian parliamentary elections, declared free and fair by the international community. This siege is punishing Palestinians for simply exercising their right to choose their own representatives.

But an even greater assault is on the horizon, with senior Israeli figures making clear that if their policy of imposing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza does not succeed in ensuring that Palestinians submit to the will of the state of Israel , they are preparing for massive military action inside Gaza .

 We therefore ask members to write to your MPs urging the British government to immediately:

  • Demand the Israeli government lift the siege and ends all collective punishment imposed on the civilian population of Gaza
  • Demand the EU restores funding to Gaza
  • Respect Palestinian democracy and engage with elected Palestinian representatives
  • Ensure Israel release the Palestinian elected representatives it has abducted and imprisoned
  • Support the suspension of the EU/Israel trade agreement until Israel ends its occupation.

 

Poems and poets on this page

Niall Campbell - Pray to Allah
Owen Griffiths - Lest we forget
Nigel Bruen - a Falklands war poem - Casualties
Anonymous - The Warrior's Code of Honor
Adham Smart - My Little Soldier
Cody McEwan - Shepherd
Brian Cowan - The Last Veteran, Soliloquy on Dieppe
Phuoc Tan Diep - Lights Out, Some foreign field
Alan Barker - Hope, Visiting the dead, Forgiveness 
Anne Baring - Kosovo 1999 


A remembrance poem.
Background information follows the poem.

Lest We Forget
What do we forget when we remember
What are the stories left untold
What do we think each November
As we march down that glory road
As we march down that gory road

One hundred million
Don’t come home from war
Another eight hundred million
Who lived to bear its scar
Who lived to bear its scar

Lest we forget
What they were dying for
Lest we forget
What they were killing for
Lest we forget
What the hell it was for
 
What do we forget when we remember…

Owen Griffiths

Owen Griffiths is an Associate Professor of History at a university in Canada. His area of study is especially
modern East Asia (Japan and China mainly).
He writes: " I have never been to war but both grandfathers (both British) fought in WWI and my father fought with the RAF in Europe and Asia in WWII. My mother worked in a mortar shell factory and a pig farm in England during WWII. My parents immigrated to Canada after the war in 1949, among the many who passed through Pier 21 in Halifax (Canada's Ellis Island). My father was a navigator on the Argus for the RCAF so I lived on air bases in Canada until I was 10. 

Professionally, I currently have two main research fields: One, examines how Japanese society from the 1890s to the 1930s became increasingly militarized by analyzing the stories written for children in mainstream print media. The other argues for a reorientation of our systems and tropes of remembrance to include killing and dying on all sides in the hopes of constructing more honest and accurate representations of war as universal tragedy and as a common ground of human inhumanity."


Falklands war 1982

Casualties

Background to poem

This poem was written shortly after the event it describes and is by Nigel Bruen who was the commander of a team of eighteen Royal Navy bomb disposal divers who were the most highly decorated unit in the Falklands conflict.
He explains, "It was written after the horrific night of 8/6/82 when the casualties from Bluff Cove flooded into the hospital at Red Beach from one direction and those from HMS Plymouth came from another. My diving team were fully employed looking after the wounded and other survivors, nursing and helping the surgeons in the operating theatre. A sailor from the Plymouth grabbed the attention and admiration of the Team: although badly wounded himself, he was greatly concerned for his 'oppo', wounded in the head, next to him."

Casualties

The stretchered sailor, by his friend
Whose hand he clasped and willed his pain to mend,
In whispers to a medic, raised
Imploring eyes whose sparkle, morphine-glazed,
Said, "Help my oppo, please, not me;
He's hurting bad, and worse - he cannot see."

Commander N A `Bernie´Bruen MBE DSC WKhM


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THE WARRIOR'S CODE OF HONOR

From an American soldier who wishes to remain anonymous.

Writer's Note:

As a combat veteran wounded in one of America's wars, I offer to speak for those who cannot. Were the mouths of my fallen front-line friends not stopped with dust, they would testify that life revolves around honor. In war, it is understood that you give your word of honor to do your duty -- that is -- stand and fight instead of running away and deserting your friends. When you keep your word despite desperately desiring to flee the screaming hell all around, you earn honor.

Earning honor under fire changes who you are. The blast furnace of battle burns away impurities encrusting your soul. The white-hot forge of combat hammers you into a hardened, purified warrior willing to die rather than break your word to friends -- your honor. Unbeknownst to civilians, some things are worth dying for.

This work attempts to describe the world as seen thru the eyes of a combat veteran.  It is a world virtually unknown to the public because few veterans talk about it.  This is unfortunate since people who are trying to understand, and make contact with combat veterans, are kept in the dark.

I offer these poor, inadequate words - bought not taught - in the hope that they may shed some small light on why combat veterans are like they are.

It is my life desire that this tortured work, despite it's many defects, may yet still provide some tiny sliver of understanding which may blossom into tolerance - nay, acceptance - of a Warrior's perhaps unconventional way of being due to combat-damaged emotions  from  doing his duty under fire.

THE WARRIOR'S CODE OF HONOR

Combat is scary but exciting.
You never feel so alive as when being shot at without result.
You never feel so triumphant as when shooting back -- with result.
You never feel love so pure as that burned into your heart by friends willing to die to keep their word to you. And they do.
The biggest sadness of your life is to see friends falling. 
The biggest surprise of your life is to survive the war. 
Although still alive on the outside, you are dead inside -- shot thru the heart with nonsensical guilt for living while friends died. 
The biggest lie of your life torments you that you could have done something more, different, to save them. 
Their faces are the tombstones in your weeping eyes, their souls shine the true camaraderie you search for the rest of your life but never find.

You come home but a grim ghost of he who so lightheartedly went off to war. 
But home no longer exists. 
That world shattered like a mirror the first time you were shot at. 
You live a different world now. 
You always will.

Your world is about waking up night after night silently screaming, back in battle.
Your world is about your best friend bleeding to death in your arms, howling in pain for you to kill him.
Your world is about shooting so many enemies the gun turns red and jams, letting the enemy grab you.
Your world is about struggling hand-to-hand for one more breath of life.
You never speak of your world. 
Those who have seen combat do not talk about it. 
Those who talk about it have not seen combat.

The hurricane winds of war have hurled you as far away as Mars, and you can never go back home again, not really. 
After your terrifying - but thrilling dance with death, your old world of babies, backyards and ballgames seems deadly dull.   
People you knew before the war try to make contact with you. 
It is useless. 
Words fall like bricks between you. 

Serving with warriors who died proving their word has made pre-war friends seem too untested to be trusted - thus they are now mere acquaintances. 
Earning honor under fire has made you alone, a stranger in your own home town. 

The only time you are not alone is when with another combat veteran.  Only he understands that keeping your word, your honor, whilst standing face to face with death gives meaning and purpose to life.  Only he understands that spending a mere 24 hours in the broad, sunlit uplands of battle-proven honor is more satisfying to a man than spending a whole lifetime in safe, comfortably numb civilian life.

Although you walk thru life alone, you are not lonely. 
You have a constant companion from combat -- Death. 
It stands close behind, a little to the left. 
Death whispers in your ear: "Nothing matters outside my touch, and I have not touched you...YET!"

Death never leaves you -- it is your best friend, your most trusted advisor, your wisest teacher.
Death teaches you that every day above ground is a fine day.
Death teaches you to feel fortunate on good days, and bad days...well, they do not exist.
Death teaches you that merely seeing one more sunrise is enough to fill your cup of life to the brim -- pressed down and running over!

Down thru the dusty centuries it has always been thus. 
It always will be, for what is seared into a man's soul who stands face to face with death never changes.

Dedicated to absent friends in unmarked graves.

A Purple Heart Medal recipient who made a promise to remain an unknown soldier.

Member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).

Life Member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

www.militarycodeofhonor.com

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From Adham Smart

I'm Adham Smart from South East London. I wrote this poem about a soldier in Afghanistan when I heard the news on the radio that the MoD was testing out new drugs to make soldiers stay awake for days on end. This gave me a serious case of the creeps, and I had to write this:

My Little Soldier

High in the hills of Kandahar
a soldier sits in anguished wait.
He knows not what his troubles are-
no mind with which to contemplate.

His eyes are brightest bloodshot pink.
His nostrils flare like furnace bellows.
His greasy hair has a fetid stink.
The ground is foul with green and
yellow.

Alone he sits in fitful calm-
his eardrums have long since imploded.
No point in reading the soldier's palm-
his life-line has long since
eroded.

His hands are still like scenes of death.
They mask the raging spasms
within.
He draws one heavy, strangled
breath-
His lungs are weary and
paper-thin.

The soldier's face is streaked
with tears.
Day and night they wet his cheeks.
Insomniac year after year.
He has not closed his eyes in
weeks.

In one rare moment of clear
thought
he ends his life in a spurt of
red,
and as he sprawls across the floor
the crown of thorns slips off his
head.

Adham Smart

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From Cody McEwan.

I am a U.S. army infantryman, who has spent time in Mosul, and Baghdad.

Shepherd

I found out that not only was the light off,
But it was also broken.
No money for kerosene.
No money for nothin'.
Built my house out of grease cans in the middle of the dump
with the grazing sheep and burning garbage.
I only eat rice and corn chips. It's all I can afford.
I look around for useful things
that other people have thrown away.
I build and make use.
It used to stink here and everywhere
but now I hardly notice.
I long for the once peaceful country under iron fisted security.
Unity.
Nothin' but cigarettes and death these days.
Chaos.
Sometimes when it's real hot I can smell the bodies
cooking under the trash piles.
I wonder who they are.
Who did they love?
In the winter the floor turns to mud and it's frigid.
My kids are skinny.
My wife is dying.
She's very sick.
I need help, but there is no humanity within a thousand miles of here.
Sometimes thieves come at night and steal my chickens.
Sometimes it seems like our god never loved any of us at all.
Maybe he eats pain like a Sunday snack.
Maybe he keeps all the good feelings for himself.
Or Maybe somewhere in heaven there is a clean little pond
with birds and fish and sheep that reflects a healthier happier me;
with long black hair and a full beard and deep brown eyes
that smile in eternity.
Little, smiling children in the river,
Where we wash our clothes,
Where the sewage flows and their little ribs stick out,
Hugging tuberculosis lungs
all black
from breathing the fire from the tires.

Cody McEwan


Brian Cowan
(Canada)

The Last Veteran

I am the last.
There's no one left but me,
Of all of us who fought your wars who you no longer see,
I am the last.
The rest have gone before,
Sudden on some battlefield on someone else's shore,
In hospice or in prison camps or time's unending bore,
I am the last,
With no one left for tears,
To mourn my loss as I have mourned those losses through the years,
Of quiet heroes, friend and foe, with the courage to believe
Peace is born of sacrifice, affording none reprieve.
I am the last.
And you may think it well,
To gloat upon my passing as I shuffle into hell,
Taking comfort and assurance from the ending of my time,
That war, forever banished by the passing of my kind,
Will leave you to your cherished peace with none to pay the bill,
Foolishly believing it a simple act of will.
For arrogance beguiles all those who supplicate the plough.
O foolish men of foolish peace,
I am the last,
For now.

Brian Cowan

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Soliloquy on Dieppe

We were just a bunch of young guys
Off to fight in freedom`s name.
We were just a bunch of young guys
Who saw adventure in the game.
Leaving friends and homes and lovers
When we thought we had it all,
We were just a bunch of young guys,
Who answered duty`s call.

We were just a bunch of young guys
On sea and land and air.
We were just a bunch of young guys,
Comrades forged in war.
Unquestioning and trusting,
We did our duty well.
We were just a bunch of young guys,
Who charged the gates of hell.

We were just a bunch of young guys
And questions still remain.
We were just a bunch of young guys,
Was our sacrifice in vain?
Someday when there are answers
Men will shake their heads and say,
We were just a bunch of young guys.

Brian Cowan


From Phuoc-Tan Diep

Phuoc-Tan is a Vietnamese refugee - a 'boat person'. His family arrived in the UK in 1978. He particularly wants to say he is thankful for every day of life. His desire is to wake people up to some of the deeper questions:

life and death,

love and sacrifice,

war and freedom.

http://ptdiep.wordpress.com/

Here are 2 war poems I have written. The second is a prose poem.

I have published them previously in a free e-book (and on Ink Sweat & Tears) called Lights out & other poems @ http://stores.lulu.com/Diep

Lights out

'Lights out, lights off,'
we flee our beds,
downstairs, down there
helter-skelter, into the shelter
hidden from bombs
dropped by fathers in uniform
with similar smiles to Santa Claus.

Spotlights touch those planes above,
fingers too thin to catch the bullets
and bombs that fall like sand
and stones that clatter on children's heads,
bent over, pushed down by shaking hands
of mothers crying with hopes they wish could shield their
children's bodies
when the blast sends waves of sound
so loud it deafens the ground,
which quakes and groans and moans,
and breaks the house,
bursting it open, spilling its guts
all down the street.

There's the broken leg
from granddad's table.

There's the kettle
bursting and boiling too quick to whistle.

There's mom's laundry
never again in need of ironing
having found its final form
as singed confetti thrown
towards those planes
which fly so close, almost engaged,
but free to break for home,

which may not exist,
when they get back
if our fathers' presents are handed out
to foreign children, just like me.

My ears! My ears!
They bleed and ring with deafness
lodged too deep to think.
Its been so long the blood has dried
and died, so long the skin
has fallen off and blown away,
pieces of dust unmissed, unseen
blown over sea to find a field
where people plant and pray for life
to burst from seeds, then march back home
to bare houses where light
is scarce and mothers screech,
'Lights out, lights off,
no need for light when you're asleep.'

Late at night I hear mom ask,
'To kill, to die, are we better off?'
but she should know better,
the ground's too deep
for dad to hear her cry.

Phuoc-Tan Diep

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Some foreign field

A can of Canada Dry ginger ale lies exposed, torn in half.
A tramp sniffs it for booze.  It smells of fruit
fermenting in wet packs.  His boots are rotten, toecaps
lifting off dirt-encrusted feet.  He looks like he has
marched a long way, from a far off bunker in some foreign
field to this hidden place under a leafy bush in St. James
Park.

The green map of Canada expands, reflected in sodium
street lights, mixing with leaves and covering him with
lines of longitude and latitude, like a thin wire cage.

Now the soldiers lack stealth as they march, feet tapping
on thin aluminium.  He can almost hear their communiqués,
the Morse code of tiny feet.  The tramp shuffles deeper
under the bush, allowing shadows to hide him from enemy
eyes.  Police sirens keep him on the edge of sleep.

Soft grass sighs as it is crushed under the running feet
of a young boy, too young for cigarettes.  He coughs up
smoke in great mustard swirls.  He looks around, eyes
hidden under his cap with U2's Achtung Baby emblazoned on
it.  He flicks the glowing tip, sparks flaring bright, and
lobs it like a grenade, into the ginger ale can.  He
flees.

Soldier ants rush out over No Man's Land and flattened
poppies into their trenches.

There is two minutes silence.

The boom-boom of nightclubs shudder leaves, raining them
down like shrapnel on the tramp.  He flinches, retreating
further into the ambush of sleep.

Phuoc-Tan Diep


Military meeting with local leaders in Iraq
UK soldier, Niall Campbell explains what prompted this poem.

"After a very long provincial council meeting, with no air conditioning, very hot and the discussions rambled on.  Looking out of the window for release, across a fairly depressing scene, I thought about all the issues they were trying to solve.   Seemingly insurmountable."

 And the council’s talking still

And the council’s talking still. 

While your education’s failing

And your teachers cannot teach,

While the classrooms have no tables

Praise to Allah for your speech.

 

While the power cuts are crippling

And the workers cannot earn,

While insurgents still attack you

Pray to Allah it’s not your turn

 

While the fields are left to rot

And the farmers herd their sheep,

While the irrigation’s broken

Pray to Allah for your keep.

 

While the hospitals are crumbling

And the doctors fight to save,

While the children lie there dying

Pray to Allah it’s not your grave.

 

While sewage spills on the street

And infection slowly spreads,

While disease and illness cripple

Thank Allah you’re not dead.

 

While the council’s still debating

Where decisions are never made,

While the parties reconsider

Pray to Allah you get paid.

 

While your country staggers

Down the democratic path

The terrorists are winning

Pray to Allah it won’t last.

 

And the council’s talking still

And the council’s talking still.

Niall Campbell
February 2008


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"January 2010.
Niall has provided these notes about his background

"I am still serving in the Army. My background has been Scottish infantry, now for over 34 years,which my wife considers is far too long.  I have written verse about miltary matters off an on for the last 20 years, mainly from the soldiers perspective or general comment about campaigns I have taken part in." 

 


Alan Barker introduces his poems
 

The poems reflect my deep feelings and interest in what was the most brutal war of the 20th Century. I have read many books on the subject, have avidly read the War Poets work and have visited the Western Front twice in an attempt to try to make sense of it all. So far, this has eluded me.

To the memory of Sgt J W ‘Will’ Streets, 12th York and Lancaster Regiment (Sheffield City Battalion.) killed at Serre, on the Somme, 1st July 1916. 

Will Streets was a War Poet, tragically killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and this poem was written after reading a letter he sent home to his family prior to his untimely death. The last lines are taken from Sgt ‘Will’ Streets letter home in 1916, which inspired this poem.  

HOPE

I, in this trench, can see him still, a lark in all his ecstasy.                        
And know that through God’s grace I will, remain in peace. At liberty
to sit and watch the bird o’erhead. To sense delight in all he sings.     
So listening, ache for those abed at home, who sleep. A thousand things                            
that come to mind as I dream on, unburdened as the bird above.
Whilst here below, a different song, has displaced honour, trust and love.
The coldness of the early morn is shattered by the daily strafe
of shells. Which leave men mangled, torn, no trench too deep, no funkhole
safe enough to keep the fire-storm out, the minds unfettered by the din.
Of Death’s triumphal, gleeful shout, blood harvest to his grasp drawn in.
We stooping, crouch, like burdened beasts, the years turned bitter by man’s
hate. This world has seen a myriad feasts. Despoiled whilst Hell’s doomed
armies wait.
Yet, pale, amongst this earthly toil, ’midst all this horror, pain and strife.
A cornflower buds on sanguine soil. Sweet flowers of the trenches.
You bring me back to life. 
                 
Alan Barker

May 2007
 

VISITING THE DEAD

High on the Somme, by Delville Wood,                        
in tangled undergrowth we stood. And stared.
At Mills bombs from so long ago,
and rusted shells we did not know. Nor dared.
To pick them up lest handling should
disturb the peace of Delville Wood. Souls bared.
But gazed with saddened eyes instead,
at rolling fields where untold dead.  Lay unprepared.
And realised all that was good.
Had ended here, at Delville Wood.

Alan Barker

March 2002
 

FORGIVENESS

Forgive me all my tears, my mind is weary.
For those I loved, now gone into the night.
Freed of all their earthly fears. And dreary.
Whose passing marked the drawing down of light.
Forgive me my response, my heart is sore.
Youth’s needless sacrifice, to right a wrong.
And life? I loved it once, ‘til clouds of war.
When Spring meant warmth. And flowers.
And sweet birdsong.

Alan Barker

December 2005

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Anne Baring

Anne Baring points out that although this poem was inspired by events in Kosovo it is really a comment on all wars. She would welcome the opportunity to have this included in an anthology.

Anne has a website www.annebaring.com

 

KOSOVO EASTER 1999 

Listen to the Good News, they said… 

Then, over the mountain pass, deep in snow,
we watched those who had lost all except life
stumble towards hope, carrying infants, dragging children,
old people wrapped in plastic like loaves of bread,
so they could be pulled more easily over the icy surface.
A woman tall and cragged as an oak leads a line of survivors.
Some can walk no further in the heavy snow and die where they fall.
A young girl holds her mother in her arms as life ebbs from her body.

This time we saw the face of barbarism.
This time we saw them: people like us, in clothes like ours,
arriving in shock, avoiding the mined land, trudging the last miles
along the rail track to the frontier;
faces contorted with grief,
women, men, children weeping uncontrollably,
having lost everything save each other.

Day after day we saw a human flood pouring across frontiers:
lines of wagons, carts, tractors, trailers, a horse, a donkey;
the old in wheelbarrows, and people walking, walking,
soaked in icy rain through days and nights of anguish,
carrying the old and young so dear to them.
We saw bewildered people forced onto trains
trying to hold families together, women giving birth alone
driven trembling with their new-born
into the maw of that suffocating mass.

Helplessly we wept with them, seared by their suffering,
longing to help, to put our arms around them, comfort, warm them;
but we could only send money, food, love, and hope
that they would reach shelter from that relentless rain.

There was no time to gather children gone to play with friends,
no time to warn others, no time to feed the animals, milk the cows,
or say goodbye to the dear land, home for centuries.
There was no time to gather provisions for the journey:
milk for babies, food for toddlers, shoes, nappies, warm clothing.
Women made knife-sharp choices - what to take, what to leave -
choices to make the difference between life and death
for those too young to know what was happening.

Women who had seen husbands, sons, fathers
shot before their eyes, kneeling, hands clasped behind heads,
knowing they had only seconds to remember everything they loved,
to treasure the precious life that would soon, so soon
seep into the ground.

Listen to the Good News, they said…
Can this be happening still?

This time we saw the face of barbarism. Men obeying orders.
They took the young girls away out of the cars, out of the trailers.
Everyone knew what would happen. Girls too young to imagine
the coming thrusts tearing their soft skin,
the rank smell of masked men crazed with blood lust,
and hatred for the innocent girl, mother of tomorrow's enemy.
Some they shot, some returned to the convoy
hours or days after the rape.
How could they hope to find their families, comfort for soul and body
in that mêlée of desperate humanity?
What solace could they find among people
for whom rape is defilement, a shame to be hidden?
How could this further pain be endured
by those who had already known annihilation?

If I had seen my daughter taken,
her still fragile body shrinking with fear,
her eyes pleading for help I could not give,
my heart flayed by feeling,
my scream would sound through centuries.
Even now I hear it torn from my gut
for those young lives blighted
by the encounter with beasts.

Century by century men have tracked each other
through greening forests blessed with birdsong.
Intent on killing, could they see or hear the marvel?
Could they stop in wonder at the sound?

How does a man become a predator,
able to kill, rape, mutilate?
Surely it is time to ask. Surely it is time to enquire.
Surely it is time to search for answers.
All this has happened so many times before.
Is it the old herd instinct that binds together the men of a tribe?
Is it the territorial instinct that attacks the stranger?
Is it the memory of the primordial clan bonded together in the hunt?

Is it the warrior ethos passed from father to son?
Or the secret vengeance of mothers who have lost their sons?
Is it the brutality endured by children who grow up to brutalise others,
avenging impotence with omnipotence?
Or is it the hatred nurtured by priests who,
century by century, have called in God's name
for the extermination of those they demonised, anathematised,
banished from the circle of God's love?

"Malignant Aggression" Fromm called it.
Malignant is a strong word, an appropriate word
for the kind of barbarism we have seen and heard.
Men are trained to obey orders reflexively, without thinking.
Obedience to tribal leaders, military leaders, religious leaders,
has conditioned them to obey the call to kill,
fearing shame, rejection, numbed to the pain of the other.

"To be a man I have to kill. To be a patriot I have to kill.
I wear a mask to inspire terror. I wear a mask to hide from myself.
I do not know that I am mad. My orders are to kill, rape, destroy:
My orders are to kill because the others are a different race.
My orders are to kill because the others profess a different belief.
My orders are to kill because the others are the enemy.
Killing is easy - as easy as saying 'Good Morning'."

What does it feel like to be this man? Does he ever ask himself:
"What am I doing as I raise my gun to murder my brother?
What am I doing as I violate and mutilate his body?
What am I doing as I force my body
into the violently trembling body of his wife or his daughter?
What am I doing as I kick the head of a decapitated man
around the yard of his home while his children vomit?
What am I doing as I shoot the young child at his grandfather's knee?
What am I doing as I slowly sever
the ear of my brother and throw it to a dog to eat?
What am I doing as I destroy his home?
What am I doing as I rob him of all he has left?
What am I doing as I tear him from all he holds dear?
What am I doing as I allow hatred to corrode my soul?"
I cannot escape the guilt of what I have done.
I have obeyed orders; I have lost my soul."

And what of the men who shrink from barbarity
yet must kill or be killed for that is the law of the tribe?
And what of the conscripts, who cannot endure the killing?
And deserters on trial for their lives, they cannot forget the eyes
of those they murdered, pleading for life;
the rigid bodies of girls taken away to be raped,
homes burnt to bone, orphaned children screaming for fathers, mothers;
the eyes of the dying, the eyes of those
who, like themselves, knew fear for the first time.

And what of the mothers who see the life
they have loved and nourished and
cherished through hours, days,
years of growth destroyed in a second
by a bullet, a knife, a bomb? For nothing.

Can this be happening still?

In the camps thousands crowd together
in the mud, the faecal stench,
struggling for a patch of earth, a tent, water,
blankets to survive the freezing night.
Mothers searching, searching for a child
lost on the journey who sobs somewhere,
lost, alone.

Some children cannot speak of what they have witnessed.
They draw pictures to tell the story of what
they have learned from us who, in spite of saviours,
religions, belief in redemption,
higher standards of living,
endlessly re-enact the habits of the past.
We have taught them hatred, cruelty, fear.
A father asks his son what he will do when he meets the enemy.
The boy, loving his father, hesitates, uncertain.
He cannot imagine the answer expected: "You will kill him."
That is the legacy of father to son in a warrior culture:
the soul's innocence and trust raped by indoctrination.

Why is this happening still?

And the bombs rained down night after night upon the "enemy":
the "intelligent" missiles aimed to destroy the infrastructure
of the military machine, hurled from planes
painted with images of scythe-wielding death
and the word "Apocalypse".
How appropriate that word. Missiles
tipped with depleted uranium,
radioactive ceramic designed to bring slow death years later;
Missiles targeting oil refineries, bridges, communications.
"You cannot have war without casualties."
Immaculate objective words - remote from the experience
of being in the path of a missile: a lion leaping upon you,
no time to prepare for extinction.

We cannot yet see our shadow.
We cannot yet see that the continued invention
of ever more terrible weapons perpetuates war.
We cannot yet see that the proliferation of demonic
agents of death ultimately invites our own destruction.

The people of the world ache for deliverance
from belligerent, psychopathic leaders,
from servitude to the ancient belief
that there are only two alternatives:
power or powerlessness; victory, defeat.

And the dead? Prisoners between dimensions
the dead ache for release from the cycle of vengeance
so they do not have to return to ancestral soil to repeat
the bloody pattern of sacrifice, the hatred between peoples who
could have been reconciled centuries ago,
but for their leaders, but for their priests,
but for their inability to renounce the evil
of killing the other who is also the brother.

Listen to the Good News, they said…

How foolish we are to believe that we are redeemed.
Surely we must accomplish our own redemption
by renouncing the illusion that some of us
are closer to God than others.
Surely we must redeem Christ from the crucifixion
continually re-enacted in the rape of our sister,
the murder of our brother, before we speak of redemption,
before we speak of the Good News,
before we, the dead, can hope for resurrection.

© Anne Baring 1999

 

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