Saturday, November 11, 2006

Of Weeping and War

In Australia, 11 November is Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I. I listened to the bugle playing the Last Post and found myself thinking about military parades and ceremonies, and especially Anzac Day. There are the veterans marching past, the flags waving, the bands playing, people clapping and calling "Good on you!". And an apparently crazy woman near the front of the crowd, weeping helplessly. That crazy woman would be me.

I am embarrassed. I hate weeping in public. I feel so stupid. But sometimes there is a veteran who looks directly at me, and I see in his eyes that he understands.

I find military parades and ceremonies so unbearably sad. Over the years, I have seen the old World War I veterans struggling along, their dwindling numbers as they got fewer and fewer by the year catching at my throat. Australia's last World War I veteran died this year. Even the Korean War veterans are now looking very much older, seemingly only a few steps away from old age. Then the younger Vietnam veterans. When I was a teenager, they were still relatively young men, distinguishing themselves by a group of bikers roaring along at the end, their very presence an act of defiance to a largely ungrateful nation. But now, they are growing older and slower and newly respectable, looking more and more like their predecessors.

But what I really hate is seeing the young cadets - so gangly and skinny and pimply, so young that they look barely old enough to leave their mothers. They look so vulnerable in their faith in their country. They look like old pictures of the Big Dude when he went to Vietnam. To me, they look like cannon fodder and I have to shut my eyes.

I think its seeing them all march by, one after another, that hurts the most. The endless parade of men, generation after generation somehow caught up in war. The way that humans lament the cost every time, and yet somehow there is always another war to fight in. The monstrous waste.

I think my hatred of war gets stronger every year and it is sharpened by having a son and knowing that it is possible he might have to fight in one. I look at his beautiful, strong limbs, his clear and innocent eyes, and the thought that his body might be shattered and his faith broken by war brings tears to my eyes.

My mind knows that wars are inevitable. But my heart just can't accept it.

Now, Mu Ling has Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth, about World War I, on her blog today. I'm glad someone else is feeling a bit like me, so I know I'm not just crazy and gloomy and sad, while everyone else is bursting with patriotic fervour.

So, I will put one of my own "favourite" war poems here - by an Australian poet named Bruce Dawe. It was written about Vietnam, but it also makes me think of Iraq and those very young men.


All day, day after day, they’re bringing them home,
they’re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing them home,
they’re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys,
they’re zipping them in green plastic bags,
they’re tagging them now in Saigon, in the mortuary coolness
they’re giving them names, they’re rolling them out of
the deep-freeze lockers – on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut
the noble jets are whining like hounds.
they are bringing them home
– curly-heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms
– they’re high, now, high and higher, over the land, the steaming chow mein,
their shadows are tracing the blue curve of the Pacific
with sorrowful quick fingers, heading south, heading east,
home, home, home - and the coasts swing upward, the old ridiculous curvatures
of earth, the knuckled hills, the mangrove swamps, the desert emptiness. . .
in their sterile housing they tilt towards these like skiers
– taxiing in, on the long runways, the howl of their homecoming rises
surrounding them like their last moments (the mash, the splendour)
then fading at length as they move
on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset
raise muzzles in mute salute,
and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs
telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree
and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry
– they’re bringing them home, now, too late, too early.


Blogger LePhare said...

My mind always goes back to W.W.I on this day, as I try to wrestle with what was in the minds of men when that whistle blew on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. 60,000 casualties on that day alone...... and the battle, the first of three in that area, went on for months.

What ever conflict there has been in the modern world, the vast majority have been solved by talking and not with the gun. We still haven't learnt to talk first before we pick up the gun.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Mu Ling said...

Emily, thank you for sharing this. I'm weeping too.

8:15 AM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Thanks you all.

Love to all you all, and espec to BD and my pal Stan F.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Summer Rose said...

What a touching post, I still have classmates that I have no idea where they are. One contacted me a little over a year ago, another had missed a 10 year class reunion.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

It is so horribly sad. Here we are wearing our poppies but the prevalence is less and less each year.

It is so very sad to see the veterans and to try and understand what they've been through - we'll never know however hard we try.

And sadder still are those that lie beneath all the crosses and in unmarked graves all over the world.

I hope and pray Emily that your son never has to make the kind of sacrifice so many have had to make.

Holding you close.

8:14 PM  
Blogger FTN said...

I recently saw some old pictures of my Dad when he was in Vietnam. He was probably 19 or 20 but he looked like he had barely hit puberty. Skinny, gangly. It's strange to think about people so YOUNG going off to war.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

That's the jarring thing, isn't it - it's young men who go off to war. Photos of my dad from WWII show a much different, younger man than I ever knew. (FTN, please say you were just kidding about your dad being in Vietnam. . .)

7:50 AM  

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