6 April 2017

The old lie

I lay in my bed last night, sobbing my eyes out, as I watched the ghastly video of the children of Syria dying as the result of chemical warfare.

I read the articles, trying to get my head around who was responsible. And I realised it didn't matter. Whether it was government forces or rebel forces - we are all responsible.

The west gassed the children they sent to fight during the first world war.

It was ugly then. It is ugly now.

Source: The New York Times
Wilfred Owen, a soldier and a poet, fought in the first world war. I read the poem below when I was about 13 or 14, and it has always stuck with me, his words painting a scene and an experience so vividly, so viscerally, I could see it in my minds eye, feel the panic, sense the terror.

And last night, I watched it not in my minds eye but on the screen of my phone.

Humankind's ability to inflict the unimaginable on itself continues - one hundred years after the war to end all wars.

The old lie -Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. - it is sweet and honourable to die for one's country - is still bullshit.

*********

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.

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