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by Zettel 

Posted: 10 November 2013
Word Count: 208
Summary: Sunday 10/11/13

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We owe a debt to those
who risk and sometimes
give their lives
to protect us
and we must discharge it

But to celebrate
with equal circumstance
those who simply
kill in our name
corrupts true gallantry

And when we know
as sadly know we do
that corrupting souls
assassins makes
we are dishonoured too

We should celebrate
the offered lives
not how or why they died
there is no glory there
just sacred life denied

Kill for God
Kill for Fun
Kill for State
Kill for Markets
Kill for all Kill for one

Courage is not honour
Though that’s not what is said
for only life is absolute
killing kills us too
in Death’s dominion – dead is dead

“You’re f***ing browners fella”
(brown bread – dead)

“Anyone want to do First Aid on this idiot?”

“I’ll put one in his head if you want”
“Not in his head, ‘cos that’ll be f***ing obvious”

“Going to switch this f***er off”
“Just strangle him”
“Yeah” (laughs)
“Maybe we should just put one in his head”


“There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil”
“It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us”

“This doesn’t go anywhere lads”
“I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention”

“A biometric data module, right”

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:51 on 11 November 2013  Report this post
Hello, Zettel - It was the second part of this poem that made a really big impression on me. I don’t know whether you got the soldiers’ talk from somewhere or invented it yourself, but it doesn’t matter - it’s perfectly credible, as well as disturbing. It would stand alone as a poem, with a heavily ironic title, something to do with glory, honour or patriotism.

The first part is maybe a stanza or two too long, and it also had me debating with myself. The stanza that I relate to most is

We should celebrate
the offered lives
not how they were lost
there is no glory here
just incommensurate cost

Yes, this is what remembrance really should mean. Celebrate the lives of the young men who died, their qualities, their strengths. But rather than ‘how they were lost’ I think I would say ‘why they were lost’. Perhaps the line could read ‘not how or why they died’. I’m thinking of recent wars, especially Iraq, in which soldiers died for a ‘cause’ which was just plain wrong. For their families it was not only a tragedy, but an unnecessary tragedy.

Going back to WWI, I heard on TV today a soldier interviewed before an Armistice Day parade, and he said it was good that young people still know about the First World War, and about the men who fought and died for freedom. Well, whose freedom? As I write this I’m in the act of mounting my hobby horse, but it seems to me it was the freedom of the ‘great’ European families - Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs and Romanovs - and their elite hangers-on, to maintain hereditary power and hold back democracy as much as they could. Maybe the only decent outcome of the war was that they all lost that freedom.

So I found myself wishing the first part of the poem had said - and I think you nearly say this but not quite - that we should pay our respects to the soldiers who died, or were wounded, or survived unhurt but had not been afraid to face danger - but remember at the same time that, as often as not, they were being used by the powers that be, for highly questionable purposes.

You may not want to make this sort of change, so let me add that the poem as it is says something well worth saying, especially considering the two parts together. You might perhaps shorten it a little by combining what is said in stanzas 2 and 3 into one stanza.

P.S. This is going beyond the bounds of your poem, but it might be an interesting experiment to write another, similar poem - again with soldiers’ talk in italics, but this time juxtaposed with quotes from politicians about freedom, democracy etc. To make the soldiers’ talk different, it could be things said by those who torture prisoners in detention. An example that comes to mind - I don’t remember where I read this - is from Vietnam: an elderly woman had been detained and she said she didn’t know why they had locked her up as she had done nothing wrong. The reply was: ‘Innocent, huh? Well, we’re gonna beat you till you’re guilty.’ As to politicians’ utterances, Bush, Nixon and Kissinger - as I’m sure you know - are rich sources of war-related claptrap. Just an idea.

A very thought-provoking poem. Let me know what you think about any of these comments.


Zettel at 01:21 on 12 November 2013  Report this post
Thanks James

The second section is entirely the actual Soldiers' words.

I wouldn't want to merge stanzas because each tries to capture a different but related idea

1. Is to recognize their courage and our debt
2. Is to anticipate the appalling difference between genuine courage to defend us legitimately against a genuine threat and killing to protect our self-interest.
3. Is about the dehumanising effect of 'training' (see Full metal Jacket) which we know happens, which the military are proud of and which is blatantly designed to replace personal conscience with corporate obedience.
4. You've got this one right. I hate that every year we are seduced into the glorification of war and the military because it is wrongly conflated with respect for the courage of men facing combat. 'how they were lost' is meant to reflect the priority and glorification given to a war-death, a military death.

I find the inscription on the cenotaph - "to our glorious dead" deeply offensive: personally and to the very men it is supposed to recognize. Even Paxman took Cameron to task recently when he displayed that he is under the sway of the same offensive fallacy in thinking - Cameron was talking of "celebrating the 1st World War". Just so Dave.
All the marching bands and militaristic tone is entirely out of keeping with the attitudes of a few men I've known who saw genuine combat and they have one thing in common - they don't want to talk about it and they have no patience with the so called great who aren't; and self-proclaimed 'good' who are anything but.
5. Is self-explanatory
6. Is my central point - we comfort ourselves with some fallacies e.g. that all bullies are physical cowards. Would that this were true. Ask any bullied kid in the playground - bullying is a desire for domination and power - and it not at all uncommon to find such people who have considerable physical 'courage'. This in the fallacy that lies at the heart of the popularity of the 'anti-hero' - we can't help but admire the willingness to suffer physical pain - but then find the morally perplexing individuals who love to inflict it as well as being willing to soak it up. Scorcese's films (which I admire but hate) are littered with such characters.

Courage is not enough and cannot, must not, be equated with the will to suffer and inflict violence. This fallacy is toxic and deeply corrupting - as the story of Soldier A clearly demonstrates.

This was all expressed far better than my poem by Buffy Sainte-Marie's Universal Soldier - as true today as when it was written 50 years ago. But a hard message.

A deeply related issue is also perfectly captured in the film I saw tonight and cannot recommend too highly - Hannah Arendt (Margarethe Von Trotte).

I cannot watch or listen to Bush or Blair without getting very angry. And I note that the endlessly deferred Chilcott enquiry report is being held up for ever by a determination to water down criticism especially of Blair and perhaps protect him from being charged with war crimes. His self-serving hypocritical cant is sickening. I'm just relieved I didn't lose anyone to his hubris. How those who did deal with it I simply cannot imagine.

Every Remembrance Day I think of bereaved parents/wives/sweethearts and children who have no religious faith, opposed the wars, and don't identify with the military - there is NOTHING for them - except their grief and sense of irremediable loss. They SO deserve our tears.

I like your idea about juxtaposing real soldier dialogue with politician-speak: Rumsfeld of course would be perfect and Cheney for his deceit. History tends to show that mockery and biting satire are the most effective weapons as Heller showed in Catch-22 and Lehrer in so many songs.

I may try to improve on the stanzas in the light of what you say rather than merge them.

Some interesting issues and thought-provoking ideas though.



James Graham at 12:37 on 13 November 2013  Report this post
I absolutely agree with you about Remembrance Day.

Every Remembrance Day I think of bereaved parents/wives/sweethearts and children who have no religious faith, opposed the wars, and don't identify with the military - there is NOTHING for them - except their grief and sense of irremediable loss.

It’s hard to know what form the commemoration should take. Political leaders, the military, and representatives of the monarchy should be absent, but who is to keep them away? It should be as far as possible from a celebration or glorification, and as close to a memorial service (humanist for me) as possible - like a funeral, expressing love and respect for those who died, and allowing the families to share their grief. Perhaps it should include a vow to question all justifications put forward for future wars, challenge and oppose them wherever there is reason to do so, and promote non-violent resolution of disputes.

I do see the rationale behind your various stanzas, and the reason why you want to leave them essentially as they are, with perhaps no more than a few minor changes.

Oh, and I agree about Catch-22 - every time I go back to it I think it must be the best anti-war novel ever. The satirical voice is so sharp, and you're always left with a sense that if anyone ever truly meant it, Heller did.


Zettel at 14:19 on 14 November 2013  Report this post
Like Arthur Miller and Hannah Arendt, among others, Heller understood the critical difference between a Jew and an Israeli and had the only legitimate credentials, being Jewish, that legitimises respect for the one and profound criticism of the other.

I've not read a better anti-war book than Catch-22.

I would celebrate Remembrance day with massive multi-cultural, multi art and sport parties in every park in the country. At set intervals - maybe 3 or 4 during the day on a signal everyone would stop and observe a minutes silence - then carry on. No uniforms, no guns, no politicians.

It seems obvious to me that our celebrations should be ina form that the peope who gave would have wanted to be at. A celebration of what they haven't 'missed' because they, thoughts of them, and their memory would be incorporated within the day.

But that wouldn't sell more guns. Massage more political egos and assert our 'Manifest Destiny' to feel superior to the rest of the world.

thanks as ever for the comments



butterfly2000 at 12:16 on 23 November 2013  Report this post
Vey stirring... thank you

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