The Poetry and Bombast of War

  Iraq War

If all you know of Brian Turner is the “Hurt Locker,” you are missing some other good work, like 2000 pounds, and R & R.  And, there’s “Stick Soldiers” from veteran Hugh Martin. There’s more from him too, and more from others.  Every war generates its own poetry.

“I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” [Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense]  

There is something about the shape and texture of poetry which sharpens the images, enhances the sounds, and highlights the sensory aspects of an experience beyond prose.

A prose version of Henry V’s  speech on the eve of St. Crispin’s Day?  “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”  Hardly.    “Come Up From The Fields, Father… there’s a letter from our Pete, and come to the front door Mother, there’s a letter from thy dear son.” Few but Walt Whitman could let us know both so harshly, and gently, that the handwriting is not their son’s.

“Why don’t we just [bomb]? We know where ISIS is. What’s the harm of bombing [ISIS] at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?” [Bill Kristol]

Whitman’s war begat the era of automatic weapons, and Siegfried Sassoon captured its fury in staccato; “Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear, They leave their trenches, going over the top, While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists, And hope, with furtive eyes, and grappling fists, Flounders in the mud. O Jesus make it stop.”

Wilfred Owen added to the imagery of World War I, “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….” 

“I think that it requires additional U.S. troops, not ground combat units, but it is going to require some more special forces. It is going to require some more forward air controllers.” [Senator John McCain, 8/31/14]

World War II added the skies to the battlefields, and John Magee let us “slip the surly bonds of Earth, and dance the skies on laughter silvered wings.  However, the battles on earth still beat with Sassoon’s fury: “Bring it into action, spin those trails around? There’s grunts up the sharp end, screaming out for rounds.”

“The homeland is threatened by the presence of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. To change that threat, we have to have a sustained air campaign in Syria and Iraq. We need to go on offense.” [Senator Lindsey Graham]

As if to prove poetry lends shape – MacAvoy Lane describes one experience in Vietnam: “When the M-16 rifle had a stoppage, Once could feel enemy eyes. Climbing. His. Bones. Like. Ivy.”

And we return to:  “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 goodbyes.  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.” [Owen]

All it takes is a thought from Brian Turner to bring us up to date:

I have a lover with hair that falls

like autumn leaves on my skin.

Water that rolls in smooth and cool

as anesthesia. Birds that carry

all my bullets into the barrel of the sun.  [R&R]

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