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In Flanders Fields

2011 November 11
by Ian Welsh

by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

28 Responses
  1. John permalink
    November 11, 2011

    “take up our quarrel with the foe”???

    I prefer Wilfred Owen’s take:
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
    To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

  2. Cloud permalink
    November 11, 2011

    I can believe that much patriotism (as in the last stanza) is essentially harmful, and yet still understand it. Homo sum, nihil humani alienum mihi puto.

  3. groo permalink
    November 11, 2011

    Well,
    I have a different association:
    Versailles versus Greece.

    German fury, so to say, has something to do with paying reparations from WWI until October 2010.
    Did You know?

    Paying debts, sorry to say, is a much more persistent aid to memory than larks flying high above, or whatever.

    So choose your sorrows wisely.

    Ofcourse the Greek also remember the atrocities of the Germans, and currently refrain demanding reparations.

    Maybe I missed the point.

    But the dead are haunting us.

    They are forgiving or demanding.

    Just as we make them to be.

  4. jcapan permalink
    November 11, 2011

    Prose OK?

    “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”

    “How to Tell a True War Story,” Tim O’Brien, 1990

  5. Andre permalink
    November 11, 2011

    Here’s the full poem:

    DULCE ET DECORUM EST(1)

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs
    And towards our distant rest(3) 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(4)
    Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind.
    Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
    Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time;
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .
    Dim, through the misty panes(10) 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,(11) 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(12)
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
    To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.(15)

    Wilfred Owen
    8 October 1917 – March, 1918

  6. November 11, 2011

    Hey, Ian.
    The ideology expressed in McCrae’s verse, while abhorrent to some, is needed justification for one’s actions in war, whether one is a willing combatant or has been pressed into service. I think we can all know this and feel compelled by it, and still remain pure in holding to the morally justifiable point of view that war is obscene.

  7. Rob Grigjanis permalink
    November 11, 2011

    There are causes worth dying for. The Powers That Be spend much energy and capital telling us what those causes are. Sadly, most of us believe them. Here’s to Christmas In The Trenches.

    For the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame,
    And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

  8. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 12, 2011

    Wouldn’t it be great to have a date that represented the last shot from the last soldier in the last war on planet earth?
    That would be a date worth remembering…

  9. Ian Welsh permalink
    November 12, 2011

    Some wars are worth fighting, WWI was not one of them. That said, poppies and this poem are inextricably symbolic of the day in Canada.

  10. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 12, 2011

    Ian Welsh PERMALINK*
    November 12, 2011
    Some wars are worth fighting…
    =========================
    Curious; care to name one?

  11. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 12, 2011

    ^ Ugh! Ian, never mind; after very little thought, I came up with a bunch.
    But they would be against us, not of us.

  12. November 12, 2011

    I prefer this one, myself, having had a WWI veteran recite it to me in person:

    Suicide in the Trenches

    I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.

    In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.

    Siegfried Sassoon

  13. StewartM permalink
    November 12, 2011

    Ian Welsh:

    Some wars are worth fighting, WWI was not one of them.

    I would differ with that assertion. If you believe that WWII was worth fighting, then you must realize that WWI was just the prelude to WWII. The German aristocrats’ aims in WWI fell only a little short of Hitler’s. They implemented a Brest-Litovsk peace in the East, and they were planning a similar “peace” in the West as well.

    The problem with WWI was that we suffered through WWII because WWI was not fought to completion, to an unconditional surrender and unequivocal German defeat. Because German soil had been untouched by foreign armies, Hitler and the German Right were able to argue that Germany hadn’t been “really” defeated (sort of their version of Rambo in regards to US involvement in Vietnam) and it took the sight of British, American, Canadian and Soviet tanks driving through the streets of German cities to convince them that “Yes, you really did LOSE the war”. Likewise, the lack of a demilitarization and “de-Nazification” effort after WWI by the conquering powers left the Right in control of the German army, the courts, the bureaucracy, and the judiciary which also helped mightily in Hitler’s subsequent rise to power. We took the whole damn system apart after WWII and ran the government ourselves until it could be handed over to the democratic elements in Germany (which were native and which existed).

    -StewartM

  14. groo permalink
    November 12, 2011

    StewartM

    Appreciate that.
    As a German myself I am constantly puzzled by the happenings ca 1914 to 1929.
    A lot of the best died during WWI (eg Franz Marc). Did you know that Paul Klee -one of my favorites ever- painted warcraft-airplanes in WWI at Schleissheim airport?
    What was he thinking?
    Actually we know.
    Break.

    JM Keynes was very influential in the Versailles treaty.
    Born 1883, in 1919 he was just, well: 36.

    Sometimes I wonder why doctors in the 1700s were barely in their 20s, professors in their mid-20s, and those were clever people!
    What happened?
    Was this a good thing?

    What is a grown-up anyway?
    How do you grow them?

  15. Lisa Simeone permalink
    November 12, 2011

    My Boy Jack
    1914-1918

    Have you news of my boy Jack?”
    Not this tide.
    “When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

    “Has any one else had word of him?: ”
    Not this tide.
    For what is sunk will hardly swim,
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

    “Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
    None this tide,
    Nor any tide,
    Except he did not shame his kind–
    Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

    Then hold your head up all the more,
    This tide,
    And every tide;
    Because he was the son you bore,
    And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

    -Rudyard Kipling

    (Of course Kipling was terribly gung-ho for war until his son got killed. Then he wrote this.)

  16. groo permalink
    November 12, 2011

    @Lisa

    there is a deeply ingrained meme, which is trying to persuade us:
    ‘war gives us meaning’.

    This we have to fight against .
    Hayek and Ayn Rand talked about that.

    Hayek somehow disguised:
    The ‘Wee’ people have to be forced to bring out their better selves

    The basic message: The lazy indigenous people of the world have to get some ‘work-ethic’.
    To be content with what you have, is not enough.

    The protestant work-ethic, which latter-day-capitalists nowadays resort to, is very dubious in that respect.

    We have to dig deeper.

    Amen.

  17. Cloud permalink
    November 12, 2011

    Robert Graves’ Good-Bye to All That notes that the suicides in the trenches he knew of firsthand, were not recorded as such. So heaven only knows how many there really were.

  18. StewartM permalink
    November 12, 2011

    Cloud

    Robert Graves’ Good-Bye to All That notes that the suicides in the trenches he knew of firsthand, were not recorded as such.

    In Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, it’s an open question of whether the protagonist death by sniper is an accidental careless lapse or deliberate suicide.

    -StewartM

  19. StewartM permalink
    November 12, 2011

    StewartM

    groo

    As a German myself I am constantly puzzled by the happenings ca 1914 to 1929.

    Germany had a democracy in the interwar period, but powerful institutional forces remained in the German government which were dead-set against democracy. Worse the new Weimar Republic had to rely on these from its inception (particularly the army). These were all-too-willing to crush Communist and leftist insurrections and strikes but all-too-willing to accomodate rightist ones. There have been studies done on the sentences for insurrection during the early 1920s; the right-wing judges routinely handed out death sentences for left-wing agitators but right-wing ones (like Hitler’s and Ludendorff’s attempted 1923 putsch) got slaps on the wrist because the judges obviously felt “their hearts were in the right places”.

    That is why it was so important to de-Nazify Germany after WWII and rid the government not only of ardent Nazis, but of right-wingers in general.

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, I wondered if the new Russian democracy would be a replay of Weimar for that reason (same situation, the new democratic government is saddled with authoritarian antecedents). It’s no wonder why Russia ended up as a “managed democracy”.

    JM Keynes was very influential in the Versailles treaty.

    I respect Keynes, but he did a huge disservice by his book calling it a “Carthaginian peace”. Versailles was no such thing. It was a far more lenient peace than the German government had planned if the shoe had been on the other foot (their plans in the West–annex Belgium and much of eastern and northern France, giving the Germans access to Calais and Channel ports and reducing France to a Vichy-like state just like WWII). The Germans in WWI planned an empire that would effectively stretch from the English Channel to the Ukraine. Their territorial plans were not terribly different than those of WWII, though in admission they didn’t have genocidal plans like Hitler. (Repression and persecution yes, genocide no).

    Versailles by contrast only gave to France Alsace-Lorraine (which was overwhelmingly in sentiment French) and the Polish-speaking region of Posen of eastern Germany to the new Polish state, and a few other odds and ends to Denmark and the new Czechoslovakia. Germany’s total territorial losses were minor and justifiable, and some of the areas lost were due to the matter being decided by the resident populations by plebiscite.

    The result of Versailles was possibly the best fit that Europe had ever achieved matching political boundaries with ethnic and language demographics. “Draconian?” “Carthaginian?” Give me a break.

    Not that Versailles was perfect. The whole reparations issue was a needless disaster based on antiquated economic ideas and we avoided that mistake after WWII. And the new rump Austrian state should have been allowed to join Weimar via plebiscite. Finally (and this ties into the fact that the war was not prosecuted to a proper conclusion) there was no attempt to build a new European political order where Germany would not be simply bidding its time waiting for revenge. The result of the post-WWII world ended up with the French and Germans being allies. Without such an order, with US and British involvement, the French became understandably paranoid.

    But the problem that Keynes helped feed was the mistaken notion that (particularly in Britain) that Germany had gotten a raw deal at Versailles. Hitler exploited this notion to the maximum in the period from 1936 to 1939, and won many bloodless concessions because the French did not believe themselves strong enough to oppose Germany alone while the British seemed to have guilt feelings about Versailles and “those poor Germans”. If the Versailles treaty had been properly supported and enforced, even Hitler admitted that a display of an earnest attempt to enforce the treaty would have stopped him in his demilitarization of the Rhineland and his other early moves. He would have had to back down.

    StewartM

  20. willf permalink
    November 12, 2011

    In Flanders’ Fields does read like an exhortation to further conflict, yet that is not the connotative meaning which most everyone who wears a poppy is trying to signify. Funny how what was originally thought of as a pro-war poem is now held to be anti-war.

    In the spirit of the thread, and because no one else has posted it:

    Death of a 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.

    Randall Jarrell, 1945

  21. Lisa Simeone permalink
    November 13, 2011

    groo,

    there is a deeply ingrained meme, which is trying to persuade us:
    ‘war gives us meaning’.

    In fact, Chris Hedges rips that to shreds in one of his books whose title is almost exactly those words (“War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning”).

  22. Lisa Simeone permalink
    November 13, 2011

    willf, that Randall Jarrell poem is devastating. I did an interview years ago with J.D. McClatchy, who edited an audio anthology of poetry in which that one was included. It was the first time I’d ever read it and I’ve never forgotten it.

  23. Rob Grigjanis permalink
    November 13, 2011

    Funny how what was originally thought of as a pro-war poem is now held to be anti-war.

    And Blake’s “And did those feet in ancient time” is now standard fare for nostalgic English jingoists. There’s nowt as queer as folk indeed.

  24. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    November 13, 2011

    The renown Robert Fisk writes of his WWI veteran father’s ultimate reaction to the display of the iconic poppy. Somehow this must be respected as well.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-do-those-who-flaunt-the-poppy-on-their-lapels-know-that-they-mock-the-war-dead-6257416.html

    “But as the years passed, old Bill Fisk became very ruminative about the Great War. He learned that Haig had lied, that he himself had fought for a world that betrayed him, that 20,000 British dead on the first day of the Somme – which he mercifully avoided because his first regiment, the Cheshires, sent him to Dublin and Cork to deal with another 1916 “problem” – was a trashing of human life. In hospital and recovering from cancer, I asked him once why the Great War was fought. “All I can tell you, fellah,” he said, “was that it was a great waste.” And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn’t want to see “so many damn fools” wearing it – he was a provocative man and, …”

  25. Ian Welsh permalink
    November 13, 2011

    I don’t know of any Canadian who thinks WWI was a good war, or a smart war, or a wise one or any such thing. What the poppy has come to mean is not what it meant once, I think, not in Canada.

  26. sunsin permalink
    November 13, 2011

    In the light of recent events, there’s another poem by Kipling that seems relevant today,

    Mesopotamia
    1917

    They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
    But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

    They shall not return to us; the strong men coldly slain
    In sight of help denied from day to day:
    But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
    Are they too strong and wise to put away?

    Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide–
    Never while the bars of sunset hold.
    But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

    Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
    When the storm is ended shall we find
    How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

    Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
    Even while they make a show of fear,
    Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their
    friends,
    To conform and re-establish each career?

    Their lives cannot repay us–their death could not undo–
    The shame that they have laid upon our race.
    But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
    Shell we leave it unabated in its place?

  27. Lisa Simeone permalink
    November 13, 2011

    Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
    When the storm is ended shall we find
    How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

    My god, how I grow infuriated all over again when I think of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, Yoo, and that whole criminal pack.

    I still think back to when my father was on his death bed, and I was able to tell him, “Dad, guess what? Rumsfeld resigned today.”

    His eyes grew huge. “No!”

    “Yes, it’s true.”

    “That son of a bitch! Now we just have to get rid of the rest of them.”

  28. Nostradamus, Jr. permalink
    November 15, 2011

    #OWS. I told you so…

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