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Posted By: on: 11/12/2000 10:48:21 EST
Subject: RE: Veterans' Day, 2000

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While this is technically off topic for this group, it nevertheless is appropriate to remember the true meaning of this day. So, with some indulgence, here goes...

The clocks finished chiming upon the last stroke of the hour. As they stopped chiming, the sounds of the guns sputtered out and silence fell across the war-torn landscape of Western Europe. At 11:00 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the savage butchery of the Great War, the War to End All Wars, ended. As the armistice took hold, the butcher's bill for World War I came due. Tens of millions of good young men died a hideous death, or had their lives forever ruined, for no apparent reason. Great expanses of Western Europe were forever rendered uninhabitable. Obscure places no one had ever heard of became burned in the world's collective consciousness, places with names like Passchendale, Ypres, Belleau Wood, Chateau Thierry, the Somme and the Marne. An entire generation of the flower of Europe was, in a four year period, largely eradicated.

One of those brave young men was Lt. Wilfred Owen. English poet. From early youth he wrote poetry, much of it at first inspired by religion. He became increasingly disapproving of the role of the church in society, and sympathetic to the plight of the poor. In 1913, he went to France and taught English there until 1915. Owen made the difficult decision to enlist in the army and fight in World War I (1914-1918). He entered the war in January 1917 and fought as an officer in the Battle of the Somme but was hospitalized for shell shock that May. In the hospital he met Siegfried Sassoon, a poet and novelist whose grim antiwar works were in harmony with Owen's concerns. Under Sassoon's care and tutelage, Owen began producing the best work of his short career; his poems are suffused with the horror of battle, and yet finely structured and innovative. Owen's use of half-rhyme (pairing words which do not quite rhyme) gives his poetry a dissonant, disturbing quality that amplifies his themes. He died one year after returning to battle and one week before the war ended in 1918. Owen was awarded the Military Cross for serving in the war with distinction. Full recognition as a highly esteemed poet came after Owen's death.

Lt. Owen was a gifted warrior-poet who left behind touching and moving reminders of the reasons why war is so brutal, so unforgiving. In the spirit of Veteran's Day, I offer a couple of examples.

Dulce et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen, 1918

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 gas-shells dropping softly 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
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.

Anthem for Doomed Youth
Wilfred Owen, 1917

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries 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.

Strange Meeting
Wilfred Owen, 1918

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the fluies made moan.
"Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now ...

On this Veteran's Day, let us take a moment to remember the sacrifices of those brave men who gave the last full measure of their devotion, as Abraham Lincoln said another November a lifetime earlier. Let us particularly remember the service and sacrifice of those millions of brave good men who gave of themselves to give us the country we live in today.


Eric Wittenberg

That day Wilfred Owen's brother was on a ship. At about 11:00 that day. He came into his cabin and discovered a very welcome, but strange sight. His brother Wilfred was sitting bolt upright in a chair and staring at him. "Wilfred!" cried the brother, "How did you get here? I say is the war over?" Before he finished his sentence Wilfred had vanished. True story.

Addison Hart

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