Pro Patria Mori: The Old Lie

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As the witless, narcissistic Bone-Spurs-In Chief blathers on about the day - "Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today....Nice!" - let's remember the reality - our wars' tangled and often misconstrued history, their untenable and yes ongoing  cost, and the corrosive than-you-for-your-service myths that help create them. Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was killed in action in the British Army's trenches in France exactly a week before the end of the First World War; his mother reportedly received the telegram of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells rang. In contrast to earlier patriotic hymns to the glory of war, Owen wrote of its horrors, its senseless carnage, its men marching bootless, "blood-shod," lame, blind, drunk with fatigue as gas shells drop around them. His searing "Dulce Et Decorum Est" on one young soldier's poison gas death - "guttering, choking, drowning" -  still speaks volumes.
 
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.

Note:  Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

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British gas casualties: The blind leading the blind. Getty Images

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