Dulce et Decorum

Music” is the tab under which I often ponder the meanings of some of the songs which tend to come to mind and are not easily shaken loose. Today is no exception.

Over the past two mornings, Kasabian has been featured as the first conscious thoughts.

“Empire” has become one of several favorites by the band, and the chorus repeats with the same determined shout:

Stop!
I said it’s happening again!
We’re all wasting away!
We’re all wasting away!

The video, for any fan of history, is as intriguing as it is addicting: a clear nod to the futility of conflict, the squandering of youth and innocence, and the audacity of taking the unpopular stand – all set to a fictional half-hearted advance during the Crimean War (the first one, from 1853 to 1856, but more on this later).

Yet, today, I noted the quote on the end card of the video:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
(It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.)

Since is the day before Veteran’s day, I thought I would share the inspiration for the video’s theme and that particular quote in hopes that it will foster some serious thought about the perspectives those who have seen conflict might share…

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,
Obscene as cancer, 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.

Wilfred Owen

I have written often about how my own experiences and academic pursuits have left me conflicted on the topic of conflict:

As much as my studies and writings have really depressed the hell out of me at times, I still understand and appreciate the motivations and justifications for conflict – not every person or society is fully prepared to allow another to live in peaceful bliss

Yet, we find ourselves at the precipice of another regional conflict drawing global influence in what will more than likely cascade from another sloppy proxy war into another global conflict – the Second Crimean War into the Third World War.

Historians everywhere are cringing; if they are not, they are crappy curators of the vital lessons of the past. It is happening again, and we are wasting away thinking that if we pretend it can’t happen is a viable course of action (or inaction).

Even my determination to remain viciously optimistic has limits. A recent observation which has been festering in my mind for the last few years is simple and brutal:

The next conflict isn’t going to be won by capable leaders; it will be lost by whomever fucks up the most… The next existential challenge will be imaginary and reward those who profit the most… And the next holocaust will be that of intelligence, common sense, and reality.

Back to the music from this morning… this time “Where Did All the Love Go?”

Can’t see the signs
Of a real change comin’
Take another sip
From your hobo’s wine
Get yourself a million miles
From the concrete jungle


This is a time
Full of fear full of anger
A hero’s exchange for a telephone line
Whatever happened to the
Youth of this generation?
‘Coz you still ain’t right

Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
[I bet you can’t see it]
Where did all the love go?
Now I don’t know why
Oh why

Good question, but the answer is quite simple and not that difficult to get to:

It is still there – it never left.

Veteran’s day, for some, is a chance to take advantage of discounts, sales, and a free meal. For me, it marks the 9th year since my last flight, and a day for reflection as to what it all meant, what it means today, and what meaning I might be able to give it for the next generation.

Back in 2019, I captured an observation Dave made in his podcast:

You better make sure that the reason we’re sacrificing even one life mean something, and if it doesn’t… then don’t do it.

Dave Bowman, “One Day of Many,” (26:22)

This is what we offer – our perspectives, our concerns, and our cautions that we really do NOT want our kids to have to be in the situations we were once in – whether it was desperately tending to the wounded from a roadside IED in Iraq or manning the fire control station on a ballistic missile submarine in the later days of the Cold War. Yet, however much we want our kids not have to answer such calls to duty, we will do everything we can to prepare them for such a possibility… because we truly know and appreciate what is at stake.

Do you?

My challenge to you, dear reader, is to do exactly that: READ. Follow the convenient breadcrumb trail I have left you, listen to Dave’s words, or find other veterans who have turned to some form of chronicling their experiences as a means to mend the wounds the average person might never fully see.

Grab some coffee and spend some time during Veteran’s day understanding what we have to tell you – it may become relevant sooner than we would like.

Our bird21Mar2005, Bagram, Afghanistan (Source: author’s collection)
Lots of words (and even more profanity) 27Jan2007, FOB Speicher, Iraq (Source: author’s collection)

Or it may not.

7Apr2010, Mosul, Iraq (Source: author’s collection)

Who knows?

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3 thoughts on “Dulce et Decorum

  1. Mike –

    Thank you for this. Owen’s poem is the most important one to come out of the First World War. He was killed in action on November 4, 1918.

    For those who wish to listen to a reading of Owen’s poem, here is Kenneth Branagh reciting it:

    One of the most powerful post-war poems, about remembering the experience of war, was written by Siegfried Sassoon. He wrote this after an afternoon of sharing memories about the war with a fellow soldier-poet. This is such an exquisite work, with his masterful phrases: “All but the actual wetness of the flare-lit rain”; “while the uncouth Event begins to lour less near”; “on its own helmet hears the tinkling drops of rain”; and “I’ll go with you, then, Since you must play this game of ghosts. . . . ” Joe Simpson, a British mountain climber, wrote a moving memoir of climbing mountains with friends who subsequently died on the mountains. He borrowed Sassoon’s phrase, and titled his book, “This Game of Ghosts.”

    To One Who Was with Me in the War by Siegfried Sassoon https://www.poetrynook.com/poet/siegfried-sassoon It was too long ago — that Company which we served with . . . We call it back in visual fragments, you and I, Who seem, ourselves, like relics casually preserved with Our mindfulness of old bombardments when the sky With blundering din blinked cavernous. Yet a sense of power Invades us when, recapturing an ungodly hour Of ante-zero crisis, in one thought we’ve met To stand in some redoubt of Time, — to share again All but the actual wetness of the flare-lit rain, All but the living presences who haunt us yet With gloom-patrolling eyes. Remembering, we forget Much that was monstrous, much that clogged our souls with clay When hours were guides who led us by the longest way — And when the worst had been endured could still disclose Another worst to thwart us . . . We forget our fear . . . And, while the uncouth Event begins to lour less near, Discern the mad magnificence whose storm-light throws Wild shadows on these after-thoughts that send your brain Back beyond Peace, exploring sunken ruinous roads. Your brain, with files of flitting forms hump-backed with loads, On its own helmet hears the tinkling drops of rain, — Follows to an end some night-relief, and strangely sees The quiet no-man’s-land of daybreak, jagg’d with trees That loom like giant Germans . . . I’ll go with you, then, Since you must play this game of ghosts. At listening-posts We’ll peer across dim craters; joke with jaded men Whose names we’ve long forgotten (Stoop low there; it’s the place The sniper enfilades.) Round the next bay you’ll meet A drenched platoon-commander; chilled, he drums his feet On squelching duck-boards; winds his wrist-watch; turns his head, And shows you how you looked, — your ten-years-vanished face, Hoping the War will end next week. . . . What’s that you said?

    Published May 22, 1926

    Jim

    Liked by 1 person

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