Monday, November 12, 2007

Dulce et Decorum Est

As one who was raised in a pacifist home, and grew up in a church tradition of non-violence, I have always struggled with Veterans' Day. I give full due to those in our country, and in Canada and the UK who fought in World War I and II and secured freedom for all the free world.

But I do not celebrate that soldiers have to go into war.

In our travels, we have had occasion to visit two of the Allied cemeteries in Europe. We visited the Normandy beaches in France ten years ago, and were so struck by the desolate rugged beaches that the Allies stormed on D-Day. Then, on a rainy afternoon we stood in the cemetery near the D-Day beaches and saw the rows and rows of crosses, or Stars of David. It is impossible not to be awed at the incredible sacrifice such a cemetery represents.

Two years ago, we visited Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Much of our visit in Luxembourg took us to places that were prominent in the Battle of the Bulge. Then we went to two cemeteries--first the Allies' cemetery, and then the German cemetery.

What a contrast. The Allies' cemetery (which is where General Patton is buried who was killed in a road accident just after the close of the war) looks similar to the D-Day cemeteries with long rows of white crosses. The German cemetery is more somber, with heavy crosses each with two or three soldiers buried. And they all died for "king and country."

Some of the most powerful poetry I have ever read comes out of war experiences. The title of the blog "Dulce et Decorum Est" is derived from
Wilfred Owen's eponymous poem. His view of war is very cynical, as he recalls a gassing of soldiers event.

Here is Rupert Brooke's poignant sonnet "The Soldier."
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke died in 1915--ironically, he was on his way to fight in the battle of Gallipoli, one of those awful battles of World War I, when he died having contracted septic pneumonia.


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Donna, As a pacifist, I share your mixed feelings about military adventures. I honour the sacrifice of those who answer the call and when I see veterans 60 years on crying trying to recall the experiences and comrades I know the price they have paid is the loss of part of their soul (humanity).

On the other hand, I judge very harshly those who send men and women off to war for, what mostly turns out to be economic advantage for some.

In the WW I the Canadians were often sacrificed for sensless battles. I guess we and the Newfoundlanders were just the "colonials". In WW II, it happened again at Dieppe, the test case for D Day.

In war Canadian soldiers have always fought herioically. It was the Canadians that landed at Juno Beach on D Day.

Canada takes the most pleasure in having been the troops to liberate the Netherlands. (The Royal Family has spent the war in Canada.)To this day the Dutch teach their school children what the Canadians did for them. Canadian Veterans visiting Holland are lavished with praise and affection by young and old alike.

Ruth said...

I abhor war and do not enjoy the glorification of battle. There are times when defence of a country is essential as was the case for Britain and other countries in Europe in the Great Wars. What a profound effect those wars had on civilian and military populations. We need to celebrate peace and remember those who gave their lives for peace. I would like to see the sites in Europe that you saw.

Climenheise said...

I have said often enough that I am uncomfortable with calling myself a pacifist. Pacifism has ideological roots somewhat removed from own own commitment to the way of peace as taught by Jesus. But I certainly share your discomfort with Remembrance Day (here in Canada). I honour those who live out their commitment to their country, willing to give their lives if necessary. Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan are among these. I also recognize that war in general is rarely pursued for the reasons or with the restraint that Augustine noted must exist within a just war. On Sunday I was preaching in North Dakota in a congregation where most would support the U.S. military. I don't raise the question on such occasions: these debates require a relationship within which each can understand the other. I am quite certain that I would find much that is admirable in their view of Veterans' Day, even while holding a sharply opposed position.

All of this reminds me of a contact I had in Langdon, North Dakota about eight years ago. After I had preached in a church there, one of the congregation approached me and observed that he also had lived in Rhodesia of old. Turns out he was a mercenary who fought for Smith's Army against ZIPRA and ZANLA in the 1970s. Seems like a good fellow now, so that my inner tension continues whenever we think of peace and of war.

KGMom said...

Philip--oh, I so agree on your assertion of judging harshly those who send men & women off to war for "the wrong reasons" (my words).

Ruth--I agree that there have been times in history, even recent history, when in defence of a country war was necessary.

Daryl--I guess I use pacifism interchangeably with non-violence, maybe incorrectly. Goodness, what an interesting contact that must have been, encountering someone who had been a mercenary in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Don't get me started on today's mercenaries (althought they deny the term)--Blackwater and other such companies in Iraq.

To all--clearly, this is a subject that causes anguish. I have used Augustine's definition of just war in my classes--and it is amazing how quickly some of my students respond that--oh, yes, this current U.S. war in Iraq is just. I think we would all agree that World War II met the just war criteria--or at least the Allies' involvement in it.

Pam said...

A very sensitive subject, indeed, one of very mixed feelings. I am a nonviolent individual but understand the need for defense.

Personally, I do not believe that the war in Iraq is a just war, among others, but admire without question the men and women willing to lay their lives on the line for any war.