Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

War Poets

Tonight the news was filled with new fighting in
Afghanistan. I thought on my drive home about how difficult it would be to be among those on the front lines. When I was in
college, I became quite taken with Wilfrid Owen, the WW I
poet who died after his poetry had evolved from the valor and
honor genre into a more realistic interpretation of what
happens in battle. I never was comfortable with the
knock on him that W.B. Yeats made, to the effect that poetry
about the suffering of war was not "real" poetry. To me,
"real poetry" is poetry which absorbs and transmutes
even the grimmest situation. I've come to particularly
appreciate the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon. He, too, started the
war with one set of ideals, and ended with another. But
unlike Owen, he survived the war. He lived to see fascism
rear its head; he lived to understand why another war became necessary, if not at all appealing. I recently read R.F. Delderfeld's novel about a WWI English vet who is "saved" by becoming a rural public (we would say private) school headmaster. One of the characters in that book observes that the battle against fascism was much easier to take--less folderol about nobility of conflict, more a recognition that this was a fight for a way of life. I hate to see any war, any time, but
this war is one in which we have no illusions--we fight for a
way of living which is the only way we can imagine. All recent movies on war, from Saving Private Ryan onward, recognize that
the battlefield is a living hell, not a walking John Wayne movie.
It is without illusions we send our troops to fight; the WTC showed us what our alternatives are. We won't need war poets to tell us that war is a horror. We just need to support our
troops in the field. This will not occur by stifling free speech--we cannot become what we are fighting against. It will occur because each one of us realizes that each person working for us overseas is enduring greater or lesser hells for the sake of a way of living we can't imagine leaving behind. We're not yet six months from the horror of 9/11, and yet we've all moved back to a kind of normalcy. But I can't forget that people are fighting for that normalcy. I wish they didn't have to. But they do. Here it's not attending war movies, or arguing on Sunday news debate programs, or putting aggressive bumper stickers on our cars, that will make the difference. It's just recognizing that our diverse beliefs and lifestyles are part of who we are, and that our common call is to treat each other with worth and dignity, even if we
must, against our nature, take up arms to defend the right to do so. I don't have any profound thoughts about this war, or military strategy, or what next, or the future. I just know
we have folks in the field, and I hope that casualties are as light as can possibly be.

I was one of the very brief generation never called upon to even register for a draft.
Tags: poetry

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