The Less Memorialized Side of War – Friday’s Thought


 

SargentJohn Singer Sargent’s painting Gassed hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London; the canvas is over seven feet high and twenty feet long.

This impressive painting depicts soldiers blinded by gas being led in lines back to the hospital tents and the dressing stations; the men lie on the ground all about the tents waiting for treatment.

The following poem Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen is famous for its depiction of the less noble side of the sacrifice our soldiers make and while I believe it is important to honor and respect those who have fought and those who still fight for our country it would be wrong to ignore the terrible price and awful humanity of war itself.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen

w owen

Wilfred Owen 1893 – 1918

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 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 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.

51 thoughts on “The Less Memorialized Side of War – Friday’s Thought

  1. Thank you Jenni for this. I too would like to see the cessation of war but not at the expense of self defense, even if that defense leads us out of our countries. If our politicians knew they had to personally fight, they would be quicker to try alternate methods beofre commiting to war. There was a controversial American film maker who pointed out that very few of the congressmen’s and politicians’ children fought in modern American wars. The film maker waylaid the politicians in the street and asked them on camera why this was so. They willingly sent the poor and black and young to fight, but not the sons and daughters of the rich or politically affiliated. The numbers were stunning. The film was commercially released (this was many years ago) and it was very amusing to watch the bastards squirm. Guess that soldiers losing their lives were not personal enough to reconsider war. We need to make war personal to politicians to get a better decision making process implemented.

    Thank you again for your post Jenni and may AZNAC Day continue to remind all of the perils of war and the honor of those who fought..

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    • I believe that some things need to be fought and died for and if necessary I would but I think it has become to easy an option. Like the film maker you mentioned I too doubt the haste to go to war if the children of the decision makers were the majority of those in the firing line.

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    • I think it’s because of it’s brutal honesty in capturing the very human side of battle, not the medals and marches [which have their place] but the people who were there and what they saw and felt.

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  2. One of the most powerful anti-war poems ever–it’s been a while since I last read it! I didn’t though the Sargent painting though. Thank you for this post and your post on AZNAC Day. Many of the problems and situations facing veterans that you wrote about happen here in the US, too–the horrors of war, of course, are universal.

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    • Sadly true and so very shameful that so many who come home are often as lost as if they had died in battle.

      I saw the painting when I was in the UK and it isn’t possible to describe the impact in a photo of it.

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  3. The Australians were used by the British Generals as test subjects. Let’s send a division of men over the top and see what happens.. Gallipoli….

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    • Yes it probably looked like a fine idea drinking tea in a well appointed ministry office and perusing a map with little flags represent whole companies of soldiers. It was a little different in reality however.

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      • It was terrible… Time check 5:46 am Friday morning… The Australian soldiers were fodder for the British. I know you are hound but did your grandfathers fight in World War One? Or great grandfathers?

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      • Time Check 10.50pm Friday night.

        My grandfather on my mothers side fought in WWI and WWII as he lied about his age for WWI. He went back to PNG a year after the war to help with rebuilding for some of the locals and reclaiming land that had been held by the Japanese and finding some Australians who had been held captive and died unclaimed. Mum say’s that all her mother would tell here was that when he returned from that trip the nightmares that had slowed down after WWII roared back and it was not long after that he killed himself. Mum was a late life baby as her mother was around 40 when she was born – not sure how much older her dad was but she was 3 when he died. My great grandfather on my fathers side fought but his father had a lung condition and wasn’t eligible to enlist but that was before they came to Australia.

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      • What is PNG… What a great story… So was he held captive by the Japanese… I love those stories.. I try to ask old soldier about things like that….excellent…

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      • Papua New Guinea is PNG – think Kakoda Trail [they made a movie out of it] As a rule soldiers don’t like to talk about their experience unless drunk and those that do were generally not there just repeating what they heard.

        I don’t know if that is a general truth but it is what I have observed and I don’t blame them – some things no on wants to remember and some of what they saw in PNG was pretty horrific and not something to be excited about especially the scouts being skinned alive and hung by their ankles for the rest of their company to find.

        The natives from PNG were pretty cool – on more than one occasion they drove the Japanese into taking a route through the swamp. The Australian troops just surrounded it to prevent [kill] any enemy combatants trying to flee the quicksand, crocodiles and piranha.

        I don’t know if he was a captive or not but he was sent back after to go over the land that had been held by the Japanese and where some of the internment camps where.

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      • Wow… I know a lot about those battles… So he committed suicide. The ghosts couldn’t be tamed.. There is so much history which will be lost. Have you in your travels been to PNG? It sounds so distant but close for you. Port Marsbury? Is the capital of PNG. Did your great grandfather fight in Gallipoli? That was a nightmare.. Any stories

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      • Don’t know too much re WWI re my family.

        Yes I’ve been to PNG – for awhile there they were having a coup every time you turned around but despite that it is very lovely though you can not drink the water.

        When I was in boarding school the daughter of the Prime minister of PNG was a boarder there too [in Australia] and he mother and father were taken prisoner by those who took power, it was weeks before she knew what was happening to them.

        My mother has been putting together some material as have I about her father. Things collected from friends, newspaper articles, war record etc. I’m doing a story on him on June 14 [his birthday] and I’ve got time to scan some pics and make a video track to go along with the story. Also a lot about my grandmother [his wife] as well.

        You never answered the question re the meaning of Hound?

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      • I didn’t get what you meant by hound.. I thought you had mis texted me. Hound? I just read your post about Anzac Day… The Australians went over the top in Gallipoli with just a swagger stick.. The Turks would yell, “Go back. We don’t want to kill anymore of you!” And they kept coming… The British Generals kept sending wave after wave… The heat was terrible…

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      • Oh it was when you said I know you are a hound … in Oz that mean something rather nasty – so just a cross cultural misunderstanding.

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      • I know you are hound but did your grandfathers fight in World War One? Or great grandfathers? – that’s what I was talking about – your original comment.

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      • I still don’t get what you mean by hound… Of mixed race? My father was Mexican and my mother English decent… No… Get this:) we were talking about PNG and I happened to turn on the history channel and they are showing an episode of World At War and they are talking about PNG.. What are the chances… Find out everything you can about your grandfather… Post it

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      • will do and yes wow freaky co-incidence re TV.

        NOW – focus here please!!! I didn’t write hound or ask YOU DID so let’s follow here:

        When YOU put ‘I know you are a hound’ in your original comment to my post I wanted to know what you meant because here it means calling someone a Bitch or a Mongrel [basically male or female version of asshole] so I was curious as to what you meant to say that’s all no big mystery in it.

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      • Wow that’s totally not what I meant:) On this little iPhone I can’t go and see what I originally asked but I didn’t mean that… Hound as in searching for things of history…. Wow… Not the other meaning… A history hound is one thing… Hound in your term isn’t used like that here…

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      • Yeah I was thinking Wizard of Oz? Hound… I didn’t get the context.. United States English is so different believe it or not… Hound in no way means bi’ch… Hound might mean at worse a person of mixed race… But even then that might be older English not used today… I love how the English language can be so different yet it’s the same…

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      • A history hound here means someone who looks into ancestors and important things and how it relates to today… Hardly an insult… Here a “dog” isn’t an insult and it’s usually refers to men who are filled with testosterone and are with many partners… Bit’h had no “hound” word associated with it..

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      • Now it’s 11:45pm here on a Friday night… Have a nice Saturday thought I think it’s 5 there…

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      • Very close it is 4.50pm Saturday arvo and I’ve just finished basting the the pork for roasting. I like those dinners once the prep is done it’s just a matter of in the oven and set the time so I can baste it every 40 mins. Now I can have some time to catch up on my blog.

        Hope you get some sleep.

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  4. Beautiful post Jenni. I always said, no one wants peace more than a soldier. I also believe that as long as mankind walks the planet, we will seek power, wealth, and conflict. It’s not that ignorance of history will cause a repeat of history. We simply continue to think the outcome will always be as we envision it and so we repeat it willfully.

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    • I really want to argue with you but – BIG SIGH – can’t unless we have a greater shift in human consciousness than I can ever envisage having war will still be used as a tool for gain.

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      • I think I would like very much to be wrong in this case. I suppose my 32 years of military indoctrination makes me a bit cynical. That doesn’t stop me from appreciating with all my heart, those that would prefer peace over all else.

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      • That I can understand and sympathize with – it’s hard at times to see hope for a species so determined to wield death as means of gain but still there are those who work hard to help others and give back rather than take. So I do my best to concentrate on that but without forgetting the threat of the other.

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  5. Thanks Jenni for posting such a thoughtful piece, especially since Anzac Day seems to be growing in popularity. Now Abbott is spending money ‘celebrating war’, (it seems to me), surely the money could go to a more useful project.

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    • Yes how about to the pensions of those who have already worked and sacrificed. I’m pretty sure they prefer hot water to fighter planes and with the rise in the cost of energy due to our government blind denial of solar and wind energy choosing a cold shower to save money is a real issue for some pensioners.

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    • It is and will continue to something difficult to bear until humanity stops looking at war and death as a means of conflict resolution or gain. There are time when it is important to stand and fight but so often the reason our soldiers are sent into war zones in whatever capacity it is for the gain of those stay behind in safety and comfort.

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      • “but so often the reason our soldiers are sent into war zones in whatever capacity it is for the gain of those stay behind in safety and comfort.”

        BRAVO. I could not have said it better.

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