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If There Is No Eden

by Zettel 

Posted: 14 November 2005
Word Count: 236
Summary: Poem of remembrance for unbelievers and those bereaved by Iraq who oppose the war.

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If there is no Eden
no paradise to be
where shall rest the solace
that sets our grieving free

No hymns of praise console us
still less serried bands
the pomp and circumstance of mourning
stills not our restless hands

In our need to share our pain
we congregate with you
sing your hymns and praises
believing them untrue

If God has planned the outcome
then he has willed the means
inventive clever weapons
destroyed our love our hopes our dreams

It’s the Universal Soldier
who really is to blame
a voice of justice cried
for the unknown soldier with no name

We conceived and bore and loved them
each and every precious one
dried their tears calmed their fears
and shared their sense of fun

Only life is sacred
not power wealth or fame
your guns and tanks and warships
are just a deadly game

We don’t deny the honour
the gift of sacrifice confers
upon our darling sons and daughters
but our righteous anger stirs

As we watch the brass bands marching
before the grave-faced great and good
our love of country falters
at the shore of youthful blood

Our pain and grief conjoins us
we know you suffer too
but was this gift of life dishonoured
if its purpose was untrue

If there is no Eden
no paradise to be
can we from the Universal Soldier
set our loving peaceful pure hearts free

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Comments by other Members

Brian Aird at 09:36 on 14 November 2005  Report this post
I suppose arguing for paradise from a non-believer's POV forces us to see its absurdity. I find it hard enough to join in singing along with Blake's Jerusalem during remembrance; but I do because it's a great tune. But inside my head, Bertrand Russell's words ring louder, 'belief is not free' (we are not free to believe things just because we want to; by faith for example or because we've been told to).

In our need to share our pain
we congregate with you
sing your hymns and praises
believing them untrue

And is the Universal Soldier really to blame? I am always chilled by Donovan's lines from that last verse: "His orders come from far away no more, they come from here and there and you and me."

So is the war in Iraq (in fact any war) the fault of all of us - the human condition itself perhaps? Does the very need for war stem from our own psyches; monsters from our own IDs?

If so, killing insurgents or Zionist western forces is pointless. The seeds of war are in us all. Christianity attempts a solution with the concept of the 'Fall of Man', but how much war has there been in His name already? Enough to make a mockery of 'love thy enemy'.

Only life is sacred
not power wealth or fame
your guns and tanks and warships
are just a deadly game

The problem in assuming (by faith) that life is sacred is that it ignores the possibility that in fact it isn't. Could it not be just the result of chance? Does Mother Nature, if not some God somewhere, in fact not give a hoot? Are the wheels of natural selection turning, unstoppably and our survival not pre-ordained?

Uncomfortable truth will not take hold in our hearts, so we create a loving God and cling to the notion of the sanctity of life; but this cannot deal with the 'dark' side of our nature and the need for war. Surely, the human condition is about the paradox of hate and love coexisting and there's no cure and no point in being too sentimental. So if we are all 'red in tooth and claw', why not be a soldier and enjoy it?

Perhaps we can 'from the Universal Soldier, set our loving peaceful pure hearts free,' but only if we recognize our own involvement and tacit agreement with the need for armies, and the whole rationale of war, all embedded deep in our own make-up.


Zettel at 18:11 on 14 November 2005  Report this post

Much to respond to. First and not insignificantly Donovan did not write Universal Soldier - it was written by Buffy Sainte Marie (now Dr) Native American campaigner for Indian rights and those of indigenous peoples around the world for almost 50 years. I think the point of the lyric which was prompted by the Vietnam war, is that we blame our Gods or our political
'religions' - ideologies like communism - for the necessity to take human life - as a means to a supposedly desirable, moral end. This equation is usually justified in religion or ideology by an untestable and/or transcendental set of beliefs. Even Christianity has the highly questionable concept of the 'just war'

Thus in a so-called democracy, we must face up to the fact that the Universal Soldier's orders come from far away no more but from you and me. The old excuse "it wasn't me guv - I didn't vote for him" won't wash any more especially in a democracy where without fear or threat, well under two thirds of the people troubled their arses to vote - the very thing we are told on remembrance Sunday, millions of brave men and women died for.

This is the excuse for Fundamentalist terrorists to regard all citizens of a democracy as 'legitimate' targets.

The poem, like the song is existentialist in spirit - however hard, we have choices, even if on occasions the limit of that choice is simply courageous but honourable dissent. Science itself, whether Darwinism of cosmology, is an infinite regress culminating in a metaphor.

Human life could be lots of things - and is. But among the things it can be is the unrepayable debt owed to men and women who gave their lives for their fellow human beings and in a neither foolish nor naive way for their

These are grand ideas. However my little poem was intended for those men and women who made the ultimate scarifice without any belief in the 'compensation' of an after-life or rewards in heaven. It was also meant for those people grieving victims of the illegal Iraq war who were opposed to it and have the best possible credentials for having their feelings recognised.

As for love. Naive though it may sound -it does not 'exist' we have to create it.



Brian Aird at 21:40 on 14 November 2005  Report this post
Thanks for introducing me to Buffie Sainte Marie and thanks for the walk through. 'As for love - we have to create it'; that's a great line.

Now that I know a Native American wrote Universal Soldier, it makes me think also of a fact reported a while ago, that the first woman soldier to fall in Iraq was a Native American too, not sure if its correct but it makes you think........

Thanks again,



From Buffie also:

You say Silver burns a hole in your pocket
and Gold burns a hole in your soul
Well, Uranium burns a hole in forever
It just gets out of control

Zettel at 22:56 on 15 November 2005  Report this post

Now you're cookin' - that quote is from the CD Coincidence and Likely Stories that blew me away when I dropped on it my chance. As an example of later work it is extraordinary don't you think? I have had a little contact with her and she tells me that she has loads of new material but no one seems especially keen to release it! She was virtually banned from the airwaves in the States for a long time. It is the most amazing story which you can find out about on her website if you're interested.

Thanks for the comments.



Brian Aird at 06:55 on 16 November 2005  Report this post
I dropped by her web site and was impressed with what I found. I wrote a short story here on WW; The Lost Bird of the Lakota. I was unaware of 'Looking for Lost Bird' by Yvette Melanson just as I was unaware of Buffie. I must research more!!


James Graham at 12:59 on 23 November 2005  Report this post
Z, this issue of who is to blame for war has been buzzing around in my head since you posted the poem and the main comments appeared. There was a Guardian article by Philip Pullman last week, in which he makes the (common enough) distinction between 'what we are' and 'what we do'. The point he's making in the article is that religion is something we do, not something we are. I'd say the same about war. Ok, maybe there's an impulse, a conditioning, going back to the origin of homo sapiens. But I think we need to be wary of falling back on the dark side of human nature as an explanation of why wars happen. If we do, we are saying war is a ‘natural’ phenomenon, rather than something determined by human choices and therefore within our power to change. To say that that we have an ‘instinct’ for war inherited from our first ancestors is to head in the direction of passivity and helplessness. We are less inclined to blame our leaders because, after all, they share with us a common propensity for war. Maybe so, but George Bush's instinct for war is a lot more active because he's never going to have to risk his life in combat. (His Dad and friends even made sure he never went to Vietnam.)

"His orders come from far away no more, they come from here and there and you and me." Sorry, they do come from far away - from Washington and London.

The soldier in Iraq doesn’t get his orders from me, nor from any of the millions who demonstrated against the war. Even the fact that someone voted for Blair, or even Bush, doesn’t mean that in any sense the soldier gets his orders from him or her. What’s the alternative? What democratic choice is there? A major anti-war party in Britain or the US? I don't feel that because the second superpower - public opinion - failed to stop the occupation of Iraq, therefore the soldiers get their orders from me.

I realise I'm in danger of taking this too far away from the original poem - except maybe in the sense that the poem is thought-provoking and stirs up the issues.


Zettel at 23:38 on 23 November 2005  Report this post

The poem doesn't seem to have worked as it was intended to express the very thoughts you have responded with. It was intended to express an opposition to both the illusion of transcendental sanction legitimising war; and the passive helplessness of - it's them, not me; what can I do? The soldier's orders come from those who head up the governments we elect. The usual one/many problem of democracy is acute: can I avoid all responsibility for actions taken by the democratically elected government of my nation? Certainly the terrorist does not admit of such a distancing (not to say he/she's right).

On a single person level that's easy but as a member of a democratic society it is troubling - especially when almost 40% of the affluent, unthreatened electorate of this country can't even get off their arses to vote and justify it with 'what's the point', 'I can't do anything', my single vote makes no difference. This last of course displays a total ingnorance of what democracy is about: as Churchill once remarked democracy is the worst possible form of government - until you consider the alternatives.

When Buffy Sainte Marie wrote in the Universal Soldier "his orders come from far away no more" I think she had in mind the genocide of her people upon which the USA was founded and the blind and ignorant destruction of Vietnam in the 60s. As Iraq is yet another example of the US for reasons of self-interst and to protect a privileged way of life that consumes a vast share of the world's resources, using sheer power to dominate a nation of whose history they are (certainly Bush is) almost totally ignorant and whose culture, just like that of Native Americans before them, they neither understand nor respect.

In the end my poem was for the recently bereaved by Iraq whose only way to share their pain on Remembrance Day was to join in with the remembrance events whose tone was almost entirely Christian, Royal and of course irreducibly Military. It's bad enough to have your heart breaking without your mind seething with anger as well. Where do they go with the contradictions? If they feel the war is illegitimate and unjustified they appear to question the validity of their loved ones' sacrifice and render it a 'pointless' waste. If they want it to count they have to buy into all the chauvanistic bullshit above. Some choice.

I don't think we disagree. Our common frustration just comes out in different ways.




'Chauvanistic Bullshit' was too indiscriminate- of course the sincerity and honour of the old soldiers and Christian believers is to be accepted and cherished. I just sometimes wonder whether the ordinary 'Tommy' or working class private of either world war might not after all these years be better honoured with something more colourful, enthusiastic and young. Where are the children at these events? If there was one motivation above all others that drove men to sacrifice their lives it must have been for their children and grandchildren. If contrary to my belief these old soldiers are looking down on such events I can't help thinking they'd be saying "Oh God not another bloody military parade - that was part of the problem in the first place".


James Graham at 14:33 on 29 November 2005  Report this post
Z, your long, considered reply deserves a reply in its turn, even if your poem has gone into the archive. No, we can't avoid all responsibility for the actions of democratic governments. In the 19th and 20th centuries, meaningful democracy in the form of universal suffrage was wrung out of ruling elites, many of whom thought it would be the worst form of government, full stop. What that hard-won victory means is that as well as the having right to vote, there's a responsibility on citizens to be politically aware, and to take whatever political action we can.

But assuming we accept democratic responsibility, how best to act on it? In the 1830s and 40s, the Tories were for keeping the system of transportation to Australia for crimes as petty as stealing an item of food or clothing; the Whigs were for ending transportation. The few who were enfranchised at that time would have had little trouble deciding how to vote. But in our time we have major parties all fundamentally the same - having slightly different approaches to promoting the interests of (a) the Washington consensus, and (b) the corporate lobby. If a party were to seriously challenge these norms, even nowhere near as radically as, say, Chavez in Venezuela, the neoliberal Assyrian would come down like a wolf on the fold.

I can understand why at least some non-voters don't vote. I think in many cases it's more than mere apathy. At least sometimes it's a considered rejection of all the 'products' on offer. But you can't leave it at that. If voting seems a waste of time (I haven't yet gone that far myself; I still look for a fringe candidate to vote for) you have to consider other forms of democratic expression - protest and activism, raising consciousness, disclosure. An example of the last of these: whoever made the public aware of what Bush said about bombing al-Jazeera - which was either a serious proposal or the unfunniest joke of the decade - was acting democratically. (Even if illegally - democratic action must sometimes include civil disobedience.)

I think you're right, we don't disagree and our common frustration comes out in different ways. From what you say I can understand better the dilemma faced by relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq. For many years I've simply dismissed Remembrance ceremonies as military, religious and monarchist propaganda - but there are those for whom it can never be that simple.


Brian Aird at 16:08 on 29 November 2005  Report this post
It's too tempting to reply to this thread - but perhaps it's the wrong place. I'll upload an article to the journalism group instead.

P.S. Sure was a good poem to have got us thinking like this!

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