To the Warmongers
As we approach Remembrance Sunday (which this year lies on 14th November) I find myself once again wearing a poppy on my coat lapel, and having once again to explain this to those I meet in the department and elsewhere who don’t approve. I’ve already said everything I think I need to on this in posts last year and the year before, so I won’t repeat myself at length here.
I am aware (and acutely sensitive to) the danger that the wearing of a poppy might be mistaken for support for militarism and that many of our politicians would like to manipulate the meaning of this symbol in precisely that way for their own ends. Nevertheless, I will wear one and will observe the two minutes’ silence on Thursday too. Why? Lest we forget, that’s why…
But instead of debating this again, I will post the following poem and letter, both of which were written by Siegfried Sassoon.
The poem is called the To the Warmongers:
I’m back again from hell
With loathsome thoughts to sell;
Secrets of death to tell;
And horrors from the abyss.
Young faces bleared with blood,
Sucked down into the mud,
You shall hear things like this,
Till the tormented slain
Crawl round and once again,
With limbs that twist awry
Moan out their brutish pain,
As for the fighters pass them by.
For you our battles shine
With triumph half-divine;
And the glory of the dead
Kindles in each proud eye.
But a curse is on my head,
That shall not be unsaid,
And the wounds in my heart are red,
For I have watched them die.
The astonishing letter below was written by Siegfried Sassoon in July 1917, and was subsequently read out in the House of Commons. Sassoon narrowly escaped court martial for treason.
It’s worth noting the last two paragraphs:
I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise.
The tragedy is that these words could equally well have been written about Afghanistan 2010 rather than France or Belgium 1917. The sight of Tony Blair wearing a poppy at the Cenotaph is one that filled me with nausea, but his hypocrisy makes it more, not less, important to hang on to the true meaning. Lest we forget. Nowadays, though, I don’t really “wear my poppy with pride”, but with something rather closer to shame.