Friday, 20 December 2013

War is boredom

War is horrific. It is bloody and in Wilfred Owen's words it leaves people 'bent double, like old beggars.. coughing like hags.' War is not only horrific but much of it consists in boredom. Owen describes the boredom of war in the trenches in his poem 'Exposure' as a soldier who in between vigilance doesn't have much to do. 'We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance, but nothing happens.'

Much of war consists in waiting; either waiting for the enemy to attack or waiting for instructions for your next attack. In between is the cold self reflection of one's own presence here in the war. Owen writes:

Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?

What are we doing here Owen asks. What is the point of this war. The war alluded to is the first world war. It was a conflict between many nations. As Thomas Hardy puts it in his poem 'Channel firing', 'And all nations striving strong to make red war yet redder.' This was the result of the first world war. It made red war yet redder. Over 8 million people lost their lives. And the bloodiest battle was the battle of Somme. Frederick Steinberger, a German officer, summed it up well. "Somme the whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word." Such an experience led many to loose their faith in humanity. To loose their faith in religion as well as political leaders, and in Western civilization. Such a view is not uncommon today as many would look upon their political leaders as the 'group of professionals least likely to tell the truth.'

The first world war was senseless slaughter; It was horrific and much more, it was boredom that made many to loose their faith in ideals, especially the ideals of the 19th century. To finish off with Owen, he writes in "Dulce Et Decorum Est":

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.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Romanlyrical poet Horace's Odes (III.2.13). The line can be roughly translated into English as: "It is sweet and fitting to die for your country." Wikipedia 


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