We Are All War Memorials


Aftermath

“Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.”

– by Siegfried Sassoon

_________

Like so many other Americans since Vietnam, modern Jingoism has made me weary of nationalism in general. This sentiment is not one of anti-patriotism or even anti-war sentiment, but one that makes vigilant effort to consider the costs of war so grave as to be entered into it at the exclusion of all alternatives.

This spring I was devastated to learn that an old high school friend of mine was killed in action. We hadn’t been close in years, but the man was a compassionate light that brought infectious joy into any room he entered. I spent weeks under a dark cloud after I heard the news, trying to understand all that happened. We never do. We, our very lives, are memorials to wars.

We should keep that in mind on Memorial Day and every day.

_________

“Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.”

I hear some people pursuing the reflection on the tragic “point” of Memorial Day almost to the exclusion of all celebration. I think grief is a very appropriate emotion today, but I think we should create a tone of celebration. We celebrate the lives lived and the gift given by the fallen, the success of their efforts, and the monumental lives and families build on the foundations they have provided.

_________

“Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?'”

Sassoon asked this after WWI, and shortly his question was answered. We should be turning our grief to sober-mindedness and our celebration to continued action, asking the same question and turning it to wisdom in alleviating further war.

_________
Further Reading

World War Develops Great Art

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

Wendell Berry On Children And The Cold War

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