Speed glum heroes up the line to death

My grandfather fought a war, but he despised war and all the arms dealers, profiteers and politicians who engineer it. See my 2009 Remembrance Day post about his landing in Normandy, France on D-Day here.

Today I just wanted to post two of my favourite war poems. They are anti-war poems by poets who had also been soldiers, one in each of the World Wars. One English, one American. For more such poems, see here.


Base details
Siegfried Sassoon

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. “Poor young chap,”
I’d say—”I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.”
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.

Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
Randall Jarrell

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Here’s a description of a ball turret gunner:

It is hard to imagine a worse place to go to war in then the ball turret position of the B-17 Flying Fortress. Isolated from the rest of the ten man crew, the ball turret was extremely cramped quarters and required a man with a slight build. In almost every case, there was not enough room for the ball turret gunner to wear a parachute… When the RAF first evaluated the B-17 they considered it impossible for a man to remain in the ball turret for an entire mission but 8th AF ball turret gunners routinely spent 10-12 hours in the ball while over enemy territory.

The ball turret was a cold place. The poem’s line “until my wet fur froze” is to the fur-lined jacket and hood the gunner would have worn against the cold. Obviously it’s also an animal reference too, since the poem seems to want to evoke the unprotected, vulnerable physicality of the gunner. “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.”

There are scores of video versions of this poem. One version, animated from photo of Jarrell’s face:

Today I believe my grandfather would have agreed with this:

We can defeat terrorism; the first step is to stop participating in it.
—Noam Chomsky

Scarcity of resources, climate change, the income gap worldwide and other pressures are all going to create the kind of instability that will produce constant low-level warfare. We’re seeing it already. We better be ready to resist it.

Those who manufacture the F-18s we will all pay for, meanwhile, are stashing away their dough in the Caymans.

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