In an excellent piece last week, Eamonn McCann quoted Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est”. It’s a protest poem that was written in the trenches after Captain Owen read, in a London newspaper, verses full of popular patriotism.
Owen finished his poem with the lines: “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.” (It is a sweet and fitting thing to die for one’s country.)
There’s nothing sweet or fitting about it. It’s a tragic thing to die for your country. Owen’s condemnation of, “The old lie” came as a shock to the patriotic poets at home.
Those unfortunate enough to have experienced conflict know there’s nothing sweet or glamorous about it.
The rise of jingoism associated with remembrance and the extended period of poppy wearing, enforced by the poppy fascists, is dangerous.
We also see disturbing examples of the same sort of appeal to unthinking sentiment in comments about Afghanistan. Certain politicians or “armchair generals,” as they should be called, find it hard to resist patriotic bluster when it’s likely to have popular appeal.
And, just last week on the Jeremy Kyle Show, Jeremy got a terrific cheer when he referred to, “young men out fighting for this country in Afghanistan”. (Honestly, his show just happened to be on in the background!)
Deaths in Afghanistan are particularly shocking.
It would be difficult to imagine a more futile waste of life.
The lesson of the Iraq war is that it’s too easy for politicians to be seduced by the false attractions of war. It’s clear that Tony Blair wanted a war to add to his so-called legacy.
After all, didn’t Mrs Thatcher have the triumphant Falklands War on her CV?
It would be good if every boy and girl were to read Owen’s poem. It’s forever imprinted in my psyche. That’s partly because I had to read it aloud in my English class at Coleraine ‘Inst’ and suffered the humiliation of having my ignorant pronunciation of the Latin corrected by my English master. “It’s not French, Hamill, it’s Latin,” he said. Ouch!