Posts tagged Dulce Et Decorum Est

Two Sonnets for Memorial Day

(To Jessie Pope,[1] etc.)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge
Till on the haunting fires 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 disappointed shells 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 floundering like a man in fire or in lime.—
Dim, through 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 distant glory
The old lie: DULCE ET DECORUM EST
PRO PATRIA MORI
.[2]

—Wilfred Owen (Oct. 1917).

The poet, Wilfred Owen began work on this poem in October 1917 while on leave in England. This is his best known poem. He never completed it for publication, because a year later he was dead. On November 4, 1918 he was killed on the front in a meaningless battle for the Sambre–Oise Canal seven days before the warring governments finalized the Armistice.

11:02am. 67 years. 74,000 souls.

Sixty-seven years ago today:

Here's Harry S. Truman, looking awfully proud of his damn self.

Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945.

We won the race of discovery against the Germans….

In his radio address on August 9, Truman described Hiroshima, a port city of some 255,000 people, a military base, and then said, That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. The bomb was dropped on the city center, far away from military installations. About 85% of the people killed in Hiroshima were civilians — about 120,000 of the 140,000 men, women and children killed. The atomic bombing incinerated nine-tenths of the city, and it killed more than half of the entire population.

Meanwhile, on the very same day that President Harry Truman recorded this message, without warning, before the Japanese government’s war council had even had a chance to meet to discuss the possibility of surrender, at 11:02am, on August 9, 1945, bombadier Captain Kermit Beahan, as part of the United States Army Air Forces, acting on Truman’s orders, dropped a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki, an industrial center and seaside resort town. At the time it was one of the largest ports in Japan, with about 240,000 people. The bomb and its immediate after-effects destroyed the city, and killed about a third of the people living in Nagasaki, some 74,000 men, women and children, dead.

In Nagasaki, like in Hiroshima, on a bright morning in August, with a sudden flash, brighter than the sun, a city was converted into a scene of hell. The sky went dark, buildings were thrown into the ground, and everything began to burn. People staggered through the ruins, with their eyes blinded, with their clothing burned off their bodies, with their own skin and faces burned off in the heat. Everyone was desperate for water, because they were burning, because everything was unbearably hot. They begged soldiers for water from their canteens; they drowned themselves in cisterns. Later, black rain began to fall from the darkened sky. They thought it was a deliverance. They tried to catch the black rain on their tongues, or they caught it and drank it out of cups. But they didn’t know that the rain was fallout. They didn’t know that it was full of radiation and as they drank it it was burning them away from the inside. All told, between these two deliberate atomic bombings of civilian centers, about 210,000 people were killed — vaporized or carbonized by the heat, crushed to death in the shockwave, burned to death, killed quickly or slowly by radiation poisoning and infections and cancers eating their bodies alive.

What else is there to say on a day like today?

See also:

The audio clip above is from a recording of President Harry S. Truman’s radio report on the Potsdam conference, recorded by CBS on August 9, 1945 in the White House. The song linked to above is a recording of Oppenheimer (1997), by the British composer Jocelyn Pook. The voice that you hear at the beginning is Robert Oppenheimer, in an interview many years after the war, talking about his thoughts at the Trinity test, the first explosion of an atomic bomb in the history of the world, on July 16th, 1945.

Military targets

The news has been full of headlines about the United States killing Osama bin Laden. I don’t have anything in particular to add to what’s already been said on that. But what you may have missed in the rush is that last weekend they actually went for a twofer and tried to kill Muammar Gadhafi too. They didn’t manage to do that, but they did kill his 29 year old son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi. They did this by having NATO war-planes fire two missiles into a family home. This is what all the news stories talk about.[1] They also killed three of his grandchildren. This is almost never put in the headlines and almost always tacked on as a single sentence with an Also, by the way…. It took about half an hour of searching, but the one story I found with anything to say about the grandchildren — the majority of the victims of this strike — is this article by Richard Boudreaux from the Wall Street Journal. Two of the grandchildren they killed were toddlers, a two-year-old girl, and a two-year-old boy. The other was a baby girl only 5 months old.

Libyan officials called the airstrikes an assassination attempt on Col. Gadhafi, who they said was in the compound but escaped harm, and an attack on a residential neighborhood of Tripoli. The leader’s 29-year-old son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, was reported killed while hosting a family gathering. Two of his nieces, aged 5 months and 2 years; a 2-year-old nephew, and an adult friend also died in the blasts, the officials said.

— Richard Boudreaux, Gadhafi Strikes Port After Kin Killed, in the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2011

Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, Commander of NATO’s Military Operations, Said In A Statement that All NATO’s are military in nature. He said that NATO is fulfilling its U.N. mandate to stop and prevent attacks against civilians with precision and care. He said that We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of this ongoing conflict.

Here is the military target that Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard had blown up with a missile.

Neighbors said the bombed compound, across town from the Libyan leader’s main residential complex at Bab al-Aziziya, has belonged to the Gadhafi family for decades. Saif al-Arab, the sixth of the colonel’s seven sons, lived there, but it was also used by his parents and other relatives, neighbors said. Its walled grounds encompass two residences; two other buildings, one used as a den and the other as a kitchen; and an empty stable.

Two missiles struck the compound, one stopping the kitchen clock 45 seconds after 8:08 p.m. Several pots of food—pasta, rice, fish, stuffed peppers—had been cooking on an electric stove.

— Richard Boudreaux, Gadhafi Strikes Port After Kin Killed, in the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2011

The target was a family home in a residential neighborhood. One member of the family happens to be a thug and a mass murderer, and if he died, it’d be as righteous a kill as any in this world. But 2 year olds and babies being set down to dinner have nothing to do with that. But they, not he were the ones who died, in the infinite precision of blowing up houses with air-to-surface missiles, so that NATO could fulfil its U.N. mandate to stop and prevent systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas.

They said that was a precision strike against a known command and control building. They said that they intend to step up strikes against broadcasting facilities and command centers in the capital. They are so sorry, they regret so much, and they are going to do it again, and again, and again.

Somewhere out there, at the bottom of the chain of command, there is a soldier from America or Europe who pulled the trigger and fired a missile into a house full of people on the off chance that it might kill a politically-significant target. He killed a baby and two toddlers instead. He must be so proud.

When he comes back home, people will clap him on the back and tell him Thank you for your service and those of us who suggest that there is nothing noble or courageous about shooting missiles into residential neighborhoods and murdering babies will be told what a bunch of naifs, or ingrates, or wretches we are if we blame those who were just following orders, instead of supporting the troops.

Meanwhile, at the top of the chain of command, there is an immensely powerful gang of generals and heads of state, calling the shots and signing off on the plans to launch missiles on mission after mission like this one, knowing perfectly well that these kinds of aerial assaults, the policy and the tactics that they have chosen to prosecute their chosen wars, constantly and predictably mean killing many times more civilians, families, and children than people allegedly targeted by the mission. They call for this over and over again, in the off chance that one day the massacre will also manage to kill off somebody who matters. All so that that Progressive President Barack Obama can give a press conference and pound a podium and say My fellow Americans to announce another landmark triumph for Justice and American Forces. Those of us who mention all the friends and kinfolks and babies and bystanders they killed in this cynical policy of massacres are accused of being sensationalists, perhaps not even engaged in adult conversation. Those of us who say that governments shouldn’t be launching this kind of aerial assault, given how many innocents it inevitably kills, will be told that we just don’t care enough to try and stop a repressive regime from slaughtering Libyan civilians.

It took me a while to write about this because everything about it it makes me so angry, and so miserable.

See also:

65 years. 240,000 souls.

Here's Harry S. Truman, looking awfully proud of his damn self.

We won the race of discovery against the Germans….

Sixty-five years ago today:

Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945.

Truman described Hiroshima, a port city of some 300,000 people, a military base, and then said, That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. About 85% of the people killed in Hiroshima were civilians — about 140,000 people, more than half of all the people living in the city. Meanwhile, on the same day that President Harry Truman recorded this message, at 11:02am, on August 9, 1945, the United States Army Air Forces, acting on Truman’s orders, dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, an industrial center and seaside resort town. About 240,000 people were killed, all told, by these two deliberate atomic bombings of civilian centers.

What else is there to say on a day like today?

See also:

The audio clip above is from a recording of President Harry S. Truman’s radio report on the Potsdam conference, recorded by CBS on August 9, 1945 in the White House. The song linked to above is a recording of Oppenheimer (1997), by the British composer Jocelyn Pook. The voice that you hear at the beginning is Robert Oppenheimer, in an interview many years after the war, talking about his thoughts at the Trinity test, the first explosion of an atomic bomb in the history of the world, on July 16th, 1945.