On Imperishable Honor and Glory

On Imperishable Honor and Glory

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Korea 1950. Photo by Al Chang/AP

The world's leading war maker marks another Memorial Day, ostensibly a day of prayer for peace that too often betrays those "not fallen but pushed" in our ceaseless wars. Among others, Howard Zinn long cited the day's "hypocritical patriotism" and urged, "Let us not set out on the same old drunken ride to death." Fiercely echoing him long before was Mark Twain and Siegfried Sassoon; later have been the veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Perhaps the most anguished call "for these who die like cattle" came from World War One's Wilfred Owen, killed a week before the Armistice. In his "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "Dulce et Decorum Est," thought to have been written between  October 1917 and March 1918, Owen savagely took on the "old lie" that, in the Latin source, "It is sweet and right to die for your country."

 DULCE ET DECORUM EST

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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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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