Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 
Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle 
Can patter out their hasty orisons. 
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, 
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; 
And bugles calling for them from sad shires. 
What candles may be held to speed them all? 
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes 
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes. 
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; 
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 
 — Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth 

We call it Veterans Day now, but I prefer the old names.

Here's a story from the Great War. Can't vouch for its truth or remember where I read it. Maybe it means something.

Before the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the French and British forces pounded the German lines with artillery fire for eight days. The theory, soon to be disproved, was that it would decimate the enemy even before the attack.

Eight days. Shells whizzed and detonated. The guns were reloaded. On and on it went, making one hell of a racket.

As zero hour, 7:30 am, approached the firing stopped. For a few minutes, before the deadliest single day of battle in history, quiet reigned.

In those minutes, all the armies in the field could hear birds singing.



David said...

Here's a passage is from F Scott Fitzgerald's novel Tender is the Night. The time is about 10 years after the end of the First World War. The setting is the battlefield of the Somme.
Rosemary waited tensely for Dick to continue.

“See that little stream—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”

“Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,” said Abe. “And in Morocco—”

“That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”

“General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.”

“No, he didn’t—he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.”

“You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,” said Abe.

“All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,” Dick mourned persistently.

Martin B said...

Veteran's Day - Armistice Day - should be observed as a day of mourning for western civilization. For it was WWI, and it's delayed second act, WWII, which marked the beginning of the end of christian european civilization. The two world wars were so traumatic that it caused a collective nervous breakdown in our culture, which we may never get over.

DP111 said...

A couple of essays worth reading

The quarrel

Faith & freedom