“War Is Delightful To Those Who Have Not Experienced It.”

Erasmus of Rotterdam
15th/16th century Dutch humanist and theologian

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The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corpse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O’er the grave where our hero we buried.

We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light
And the lanthorn dimly burning.

No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest
With his martial cloak around him.

Few and short were the prayers we said,
And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,
And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

We thought, as we hollow’d his narrow bed
And smooth’d down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head,
And we far away on the billow!

Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone,
And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him–
But little he’ll reck, if they let him sleep on
In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

But half of our heavy task was done
When the clock struck the hour for retiring;
And we heard the distant and random gun
The foe was sullenly firing.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
But we left him alone with his glory.

Charles Wolfe (Peninsular War)

Sir John Moore
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Every year here, Banned Book Week is “celebrated” at my library and to commemorate this event, I usually read one of my favourite novels of all time, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. This is a novel, released just as World War II was beginning, that tells the story of a World War I soldier physically destroyed by an artillery shell but left with a complete mind. It was sensationally, and brilliantly, recreated by Metallica as their song “One” and used footage from the 1971 movie in the video.

Dalton Trumbo was, most famously, one of the “Hollywood Ten”, blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee of Senator McCarthy. But this was not necessarily the reason that the book has been banned all over the country. It is more of a case that this novel deals with the reality of war as seen by combatants: stark and without heroism. And the plight of John Bonham (not the Led Zeppelin drummer) is suddenly very relevant given the current state of modern battlefield trauma care resulting in the survival of horrifically wounded combatants who would previously died on the field of battle.

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Drummer Hodge

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined – just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew –
Fresh from his Wessex home –
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge forever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellation reign
His stars eternally.

Thomas Hardy (Boer War)

Boer War

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If there is anything that was promised by Barack Obama, it was the end of the Iraq war and then the end of the war in Afghanistan: something that that has just about come to pass. From personal observation, family observations and recollections, historical study, and even economic study, it is pretty obvious that all one war does is set the table for the next war.

There have been family members fighting in the Napoleonic, Crimean, Boer, Spanish-American, WWI and WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq I and II, and the Afghanistan war. This does not even begin to include “police actions” in places like Aden, Kenya, Panama and Somalia.

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Anthem For The Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
– Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
– The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen (World War I – “The Great War”

somme

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Hell, there was a Neuville who landed with William the Conqueror and fought against the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. And in all probability, given the rather cantankerous nature of the Scottish (or at that time Pictish) side of the family, there were ancestors stripping naked and painting themselves blue in order to terrify Fred the Roman and convince him to fuck off back over Hadrian’s Wall into the known world.

I come from a family that is much entwined in the military of both the US and the UK. My sister has even been decorated for bravery for actions in Iraq as has her USMC husband. My grandfathers were both awarded medals for conspicuous gallantry in World War II. My great-grandfather won medals at the Somme and the Marne. I consider myself to be pro-military but anti-war. The next generation is already in the navy and looking to go get some.

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Suicide In The Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Siegfried Sassoon (World War I – “The War To End All Wars”)

marne

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I have no doubt that if I had stayed in the UK, I would have ignored the wishes of my mother to go to London School of Economics in order to become a Capitalist Pig and would have enlisted in the army: probably the paras, since there is a lot of family history there. And if possible, I would have gone into 7 SAS as well. This is another regiment with family members defending the crown, doing great deeds (and some rather dark deeds too ‒ it is the SAS after all) and bleeding for Queen and Country. I would have fought in the Falklands alongside several other boys who I went to high school with.

But talking to the people who have been there, and done that, so to speak, there is nothing heroic about war other than surviving it intact in mind, body and spirit. And from listening to my great granddad, granddads, godfather, brother-in-law, sister, best friend, etc. nobody can return with all three intact.
Something has to be sacrificed. Something is sacrificed.

There is no greater good in a war: even stopping someone like Hitler. Genocide can happen anywhere, at anytime, and using military force is just like stepping on a balloon. It disappears from one place and emerges somewhere else. Humans, en masse, lack humanity.

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How To Kill

Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches.

Keith Douglas (World War II ‒ the war after “The War To End All Wars”

dday

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Wars create martyrs, who create myths, which lead to further wars. Events in Iraq will linger for fifty to one hundred years: minimum. A castrated Iraq has led to an invigorated Iran. An invigorated Iran is leading to an even more paranoid Israel. A paranoid Israel is even more intolerant of the nations around it. The nations around Israel are seeing themselves as threatened. Iran is using that threat to galvanize an Islamic awakening. An Islamic awakening makes Israel even more paranoid ……..

And in the middle of this seething cauldron of paranoia, hatred and religious intolerance are the US and British forces. The best place for them to be is anywhere but in middle of a religious, nationalist and tribal whirlpool. This is an area that was racked with wars when Genesis was being recorded (not the eponymous album, but the first book of the Old Testament) on clay tablets. Nothing much has changed in the intervening millennia.

And probably, several millennia into the future (should humans survive so long), there will still be wars fought in that area. It is the cradle of civilization. Civilization equates to governments. Governments raise armies to protect themselves. Armies need to be “entertained” so that, like a fighting pit bull, they do not turn on their handlers (think Rome’s Praetorian Guard). This has been a pattern since Assyria ruled the world…..

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No Heroes

There were no heroes here
Amongst the men who tramped through
Rutted, quaking moor,
Or crawled, cat-silent,
Over skittering scree
To prove the way.

No heroes fought the blazing fires
Which sucked the very blood from
Ship and man alike.
Or braved knife cold
Without a thought
To save a life.

No heroes they, but ones who loved
Sweet life and children’s laugh,
And dreamt of home
When war allowed.
They were but men.

David Morgan (Falkland Islands)

port stanley

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Throughout the years, war has been glamorized. It was glamorized by many of its biggest detractors as a self-protective device. The soldiers who fought the battles told the stories in a self-deprecating and self-effacing manner in order to obscure what the sights, and sounds, and smells of war did to them. And in doing so, they have perpetuated the myths that “there is a certain nobility in war”. But authors like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon stood up and gave the soldiers another voice: and theirs is a voice that needs to be heard and heeded.

The same great-grandfather who told amazing tales of charging across no-man’s land also cried himself to sleep for the next fifty years. My grandfather who survived Dunquerque and Sicily and Normandy died at a relatively young age from the way that training troops to go and die ravaged his psyche. My brother-in-law has spent three tours in Iraq and has PTSD and even my sister is not sure of quite what he has seen and done. My godfather walks around armed to the teeth in England (legally) because he has so many bounties on his head as a result of the things (very bad things) he did in Northern Ireland for the SAS.

There is no glory in these things. There is honor in upholding an oath to defend and protect either the Constitution or the Crown. But that honor should not be taken advantage of by a self-serving government.

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Kill Me A Son

God looked down and said
Kill me a son
But when one son was dead
The killing wasn’t done

The killing went on
And more sons came
Some said it was wrong
But more were still slain

Why did we make war?
To that place in the East
WMDs for sure
The devil’s had his feast

Gregory Robert Samuels (Iraq)

iraq

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