Remembrance Day and Lessons Forgotten

On this Remembrance Day 99 years later, recall that some 750,000 British soldiers, marines, and sailors were killed in WWI; nearly 400,000 more in WWII.

The most heralded British war poets, emerging in 1915, were not practitioners of armchair verse. They were officers, and men, at the front in the trenches. Over four years their tone changed from lofty patriotic apologetics, to stark portraits of everyday horrors, and instant death within arm’s reach.

Rupert Brooke, perhaps the literary dandy prototype, product of Rugby and Cambridge, before his death in 1915 while an officer for the Royal Navy, penned the typical overwrought elegy, exhorting gallantry, elevating the supreme sacrifice as a handmaiden to duty, and fealty in his “Soldier”:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s
some corner of a foreign field
That is forever 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…

 

Wilfred Owen, whose literary education was more hand hewn than Brooke’s, but who was a more gifted writer, was an infantry officer that suffered multiple near fatal concussions from artillery shell blasts, finally was killed four days before the Armistice in 1918, after being awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

Owen’s immediate taste and smell of the unvarnished wretchedness, and raw terror of battle is front-and-center in his “Dulce et Decorum Est”, drafted in 1917, published posthumously in 1920:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, 

And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. 

 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling 

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, 

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling 

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, 

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 

 

In all my dreams before my helpless sight, 

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

 

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace 

Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— 

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 

To children ardent for some desperate glory, 

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est 

Pro patria mori.

 

Note: Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

Source: Poems (Viking Press, 1921)

Nearly thirty years later, the American sometime poet but mostly literary critic Randall Jarrell, who served in the WWII US Army Air Corps based in Britain, seized the summit of the genre in a terse five stanza Caravaggio style declaration, revealing the brutal clarity of war, and the men summoned to fight, and perish, alone and undignified in his “Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner”:

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.

It has been one hundred years since American soldiers were sent to France. Like Great Britain, the only other steadfast bastion of civil liberties since the late 18th century, America sought to confine its necessary military campaigns to foreign lands in preserving a constitutional democratic republic, and a constitutional monarchy, sparing America’s continent, and Britain’s island.

The sum of Great Britain’s sacrifice is staggering. Death in the trenches, amongst the icy waters of Scapa Flow, and Dunkirk. All to protect an island from the ravages of dark, and Godless ideologies.

Who remembers those sacrifices? Who remembers Winston Churchill’s speech in 1940 to the House of Commons, right after the ignominy of the evacuation from Dunkirk:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Is it all in vain, seventy-five years later? In the 20th century over a million British servicemen, and women, perished to preserve their island and a way of life. The generation that came of age in the 1940s has been replaced by their children, and grandchildren, now infected with the incurable morbid diseases of politically correct progressive collectivism, socialism’s path of least resistance, and secular laziness.

National security, and fidelity to a nation’s sovereignty is now labeled xenophobia, and worse. 400,000 Britons perished in WWII to rid the world of Nazism, Churchill’s nemesis.

Today radical Islamic barbarians -- free ranging Muslim anarchists -- are given a hero’s welcome, with open border immigration policies that invite unmitigated and abject dread, the most recent evil visiting the innocent concert goers in Manchester, the bombing victims primarily children.

The Times of London now reports that some 23,000 Muslim jihadists are in Britain, all recent émigrés -- numbers roughly equivalent to two German WWII divisions. Imagine not a shot fired, nor a single Sptifire or Hurricane fighter sent aloft. Two WWII German divisions given BritRail passes from Dover to London to Durham.

Who will remember? Who will defend that island, and our continent from the unspeakable horrors of an indiscriminate assault on western civilization?

When the State, governed by an elite faction in a temporary protectorate, shall no longer remember its ideals, indeed repudiate foundational principles, who shall defend the rest of us?

Well, Wilfred Owen, and Randall Jarrell had it right. Dying for the State is grievous, not glorious, when the State is willing to stuff its children into its own ideological ball-turret, then wash them out with a hose.

Who is Winston Churchill to this generation? An historical trifle, another dead white guy reeking of privilege, and toxic masculinity?  Or instead will anyone remember Churchill as the last defender of the western canon, his singing Sunday service hymns with FDR in 1941 on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland? Who will remember?

If the generation born in this decade can somehow recall the exploits of their great-grandfathers, and the reasons why those exploits mattered, they may be willing to emulate those historical offerings of a holy gift, for a noble purpose. If not, submission will lead to subjugation, and slaughter. And no one will remember.

On this Remembrance Day 99 years later, recall that some 750,000 British soldiers, marines, and sailors were killed in WWI; nearly 400,000 more in WWII.

The most heralded British war poets, emerging in 1915, were not practitioners of armchair verse. They were officers, and men, at the front in the trenches. Over four years their tone changed from lofty patriotic apologetics, to stark portraits of everyday horrors, and instant death within arm’s reach.

The British Legion commemorates Remembrance Day

Rupert Brooke, perhaps the literary dandy prototype, product of Rugby and Cambridge, before his death in 1915 while an officer for the Royal Navy, penned the typical overwrought elegy, exhorting gallantry, elevating the supreme sacrifice as a handmaiden to duty, and fealty in his “Soldier”:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s
some corner of a foreign field
That is forever 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…

 

Wilfred Owen, whose literary education was more hand hewn than Brooke’s, but who was a more gifted writer, was an infantry officer that suffered multiple near fatal concussions from artillery shell blasts, finally was killed four days before the Armistice in 1918, after being awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

Owen’s immediate taste and smell of the unvarnished wretchedness, and raw terror of battle is front-and-center in his “Dulce et Decorum Est”, drafted in 1917, published posthumously in 1920:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, 

And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. 

 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling 

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, 

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling 

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, 

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 

 

In all my dreams before my helpless sight, 

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

 

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace 

Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— 

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 

To children ardent for some desperate glory, 

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est 

Pro patria mori.

 

Note: Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

Source: Poems (Viking Press, 1921)

Nearly thirty years later, the American sometime poet but mostly literary critic Randall Jarrell, who served in the WWII US Army Air Corps based in Britain, seized the summit of the genre in a terse five stanza Caravaggio style declaration, revealing the brutal clarity of war, and the men summoned to fight, and perish, alone and undignified in his “Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner”:

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.

It has been one hundred years since American soldiers were sent to France. Like Great Britain, the only other steadfast bastion of civil liberties since the late 18th century, America sought to confine its necessary military campaigns to foreign lands in preserving a constitutional democratic republic, and a constitutional monarchy, sparing America’s continent, and Britain’s island.

The sum of Great Britain’s sacrifice is staggering. Death in the trenches, amongst the icy waters of Scapa Flow, and Dunkirk. All to protect an island from the ravages of dark, and Godless ideologies.

Who remembers those sacrifices? Who remembers Winston Churchill’s speech in 1940 to the House of Commons, right after the ignominy of the evacuation from Dunkirk:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Is it all in vain, seventy-five years later? In the 20th century over a million British servicemen, and women, perished to preserve their island and a way of life. The generation that came of age in the 1940s has been replaced by their children, and grandchildren, now infected with the incurable morbid diseases of politically correct progressive collectivism, socialism’s path of least resistance, and secular laziness.

National security, and fidelity to a nation’s sovereignty is now labeled xenophobia, and worse. 400,000 Britons perished in WWII to rid the world of Nazism, Churchill’s nemesis.

Today radical Islamic barbarians -- free ranging Muslim anarchists -- are given a hero’s welcome, with open border immigration policies that invite unmitigated and abject dread, the most recent evil visiting the innocent concert goers in Manchester, the bombing victims primarily children.

The Times of London now reports that some 23,000 Muslim jihadists are in Britain, all recent émigrés -- numbers roughly equivalent to two German WWII divisions. Imagine not a shot fired, nor a single Sptifire or Hurricane fighter sent aloft. Two WWII German divisions given BritRail passes from Dover to London to Durham.

Who will remember? Who will defend that island, and our continent from the unspeakable horrors of an indiscriminate assault on western civilization?

When the State, governed by an elite faction in a temporary protectorate, shall no longer remember its ideals, indeed repudiate foundational principles, who shall defend the rest of us?

Well, Wilfred Owen, and Randall Jarrell had it right. Dying for the State is grievous, not glorious, when the State is willing to stuff its children into its own ideological ball-turret, then wash them out with a hose.

Who is Winston Churchill to this generation? An historical trifle, another dead white guy reeking of privilege, and toxic masculinity?  Or instead will anyone remember Churchill as the last defender of the western canon, his singing Sunday service hymns with FDR in 1941 on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland? Who will remember?

If the generation born in this decade can somehow recall the exploits of their great-grandfathers, and the reasons why those exploits mattered, they may be willing to emulate those historical offerings of a holy gift, for a noble purpose. If not, submission will lead to subjugation, and slaughter. And no one will remember.

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