Sunday, November 10, 2013


Armistice Day, France
 Armistice Day, USA

Some of those I've known who've worked most dedicated to end all war, are veterans of combat.  I think particularly of two ex-Vietnam helicopter pilots - their ceaseless efforts as draft counselors in Lansing, Michigan, trying to keep others out of the conflict they'd just witnessed. 

World War 1 was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.”  At it’s end, Armistice Day November 11 was celebrated as a remembrance of those who died in that war, and the horror of that war.  One who didn’t survive that war, but wrote eloquently, critically, and truthfully about it was Wilfred Owen, British officer and poet.   After being hospitalized for concussion and shell-shock on the frontlines {Sommes, France} during the first months of 1917, he returned to lead troops, earning a medal of honor a year later.

A mentor writer, Siegfried Sassoon [who also criticized the war] had encouraged him to get back on the horse of war—it would be good for his writing.  Back in the thick of trench warfare he corresponds, ‘You said it would be a good thing for my poetry if I went back. That is my consolation for feeling a fool. …This is what the shells scream at me every time: "Haven't you got the wits to keep out of this?"’  He soldiered on, loyal to the men under his command, his medal being awarded for overwhelming an enemy machine gunner and turning the weapon against the Germans, killing an unspecified number.  A month later, still out in front of his soldiers, he was killed by a sniper, one week before the first Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.

e’d known well that war is hell.  His poems are evidence.  Beyond this knowledge and his belief, he persisted in war.  After his first months at the front his faith deepened through the gruesome experience -- "I am more and more a Christian. . . Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed: but do not kill." Letter to his mother, May 1917.
Yet in April 1918, “Talking to his brother whilst home on leave he said that he wanted to return to the front line.’I know I shall be killed. But it's the only place I can make my protest from.’" 

In October, 1918 he writes to his mom, “I lost all my earthly faculties, and I fought like an angel . . . I captured a German Machine Gun and scores of prisoners . . . I only shot one man with my revolver . . . My nerves are in perfect order.”
There is a war of dichotomies going on.  What he’d seen and felt in combat had led to this poem. 

Anthem for Doomed Youth

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 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 good-byes.
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.
Is there no hope to arrest the doom, halt the march of war?  The fact that Armistice Day has been renamed Veterans Day, after a Second World War, is a bad omen.  An unending preemptive line of dead soldiers and civilians to commemorate.  PTSD is an epidemic, even with drone warfare.  A veteran dies every day in the U.S. from suicide, more from its other effects.  No one tabulates the PTSD suffering in the countries where wars are fought.  The peace is not yet won by war—will never be.
St. Martin of Tours divides his cloak for a beggar, who turns out to be Christ in a dream. Martin resigns his commission.
Today is Martin of Tours' feast day, and Veterans Day.  He told his Roman commander sometime after 300 AD,  "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ....I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight."

I learned of Wifred Owen’s struggle from a two-man play I saw years ago, “Not About Heroes”.  He was caught, as we all are in some way, in the battle between the world’s vision of heroism, and God’s—revealed in His Son Jesus.  Wilfred saw clearly that pride is the real battlefield, and that people will be more judged by what they do, than what they say.  He writes, "I hate washy pacifists."  And he writes---

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Poetry available from -  And more -There are 27 of his finest war poems in Minds at War and 19 in Out in the Dark. Both anthologies contain additional information, comment, and extracts from his letters. 

All quotes are available from this article -
More references--



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