Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Oh huzzah, huzzah ...
It's that time of year again. You could read this:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest 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
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes 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, 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
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.
Or you might even read this:
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. (And more Wilfred Owen poems and World War One poetry here).
Of course you might be more of a jingoistic, nationalistic, flag-waving patriot, joining other scoundrels in your folly, and would prefer to read Kenneth Slessor's Beach Burial:
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.
Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin -
‘Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,
Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front. (And more Slessor poems, here)
Of course they're all raging Lefties, the lot of them, these bloody wretched poets:
Yes, it's time for the armchair generals to get out of their leather-clad sofas, and fight for the right for people to kill and be killed.
And never you mind that it's sometimes held that nihilism and anarchism doesn't have much in common with conventional lefties.
When you've swallowed the dictionary, sometimes you just have to go the verbal chunder.
The pond was first alerted to the armchair generals being on the prowl when Frank Furedi turned up on Amanda Vanstone's wretched program. That's too many minutes of the pond's life that can never be retrieved or made good, though if you like you can ruin your life too by listening here.
Even Vanstone herself gave the odd indication that Furedi was barking mad, but then that's how she makes a listening and achieves some sense of continuing relevance - by letting the barking mad how at the moon ...
As for the Caterists, Anzac cynics blind to reality, (behind the paywall because armchair generals must make a living, and it's certainly not by joining up) it's the usual pile of horseshit from a blow-in chest thumping war monger of the traditional kind.
Now the pond has never been to war, and never will be, but endured a war of sorts, with the alcohol-induced violence of a grandfather who'd seen service on the Somme, and spent his subsequent years in nightmare dreaming ...
In fact, in the usual rural way, most of the extended family could boast of men who'd served in either of the big wars, but the strange thing the pond routinely noted, is that few of them wanted to talk about the experience or tub thump about the glories of the killing field (the Gallipoli veteran was the most mute of the lot of them, and the least inclined to celebrate, taking the view that the campaign was a bloody disaster conjured up by incompetent Englishmen).
The pond has never raged at the ordinary soldier doing time, but does take time out occasionally to get agitated at the politicians and the cultures that send men off to die, and the industrial military complex that sees this as a good business opportunity.
The pond has always thought the Italian attitude to war in the desert was the right one - take plenty of red wine and when an opportunity presents, surrender ...
But as the memories of actual combatants fade - apart from the odd movie about the Christmas truce in the trenches - the hagiographers get going, and it turns out that the Caterist is a lover of war, and a lover of British generals, and a lover of their splendid work in the first World War, and a firm believer that the first big show was all the fault of the filthy Hun, and it was all about liberty.
Yes, he's a fatuous twit, but you already knew that.
There is, the pond believes, no point spending too much time with twits, and certainly no point in debating or arguing with them.
The Caterist caterwauls about Paul Keating making some sensible observations about the meaning and purpose of the first world war, and comes up with this:
The defence of liberty is a far more convincing explanation for the extraordinary fidelity that drove more than 400,000 Australians to enlist in World War 1 than the supine imperialism suggested by Keating.
Oh indeed, indeed, and won't someone think of the women:
The Caterist also gets agitated by revisionist academics who dare to suggest that war might have its difficulties:
To the extent that the unconventional thinking of Stanley, Stockings, Brown and others encourages a broader debate on our history it is welcome.
Yet the pejorative tone of the language these historians use and their arrogantly named website — Honest History — indicates clearly that they have no intention of negotiating with those they regard as dishonest.
They live, says Bendle, “in an elitist parallel universe” in which they alone understand the truth about our past and in which ordinary people are incapable of anything other than mawkish and muddled sentimentalism.
When it comes to condescension, the monocled British generals of their imaginings are hardly in the same league.
That'd be the elitist parallel universe where millions died in misery in the mud and the trenches or suffered shell-shock and spent their later lives in Sassoon-like trauma.
So what is the actual truth about "our past"?
Is it, per Furedi and the Caterists, that it's an ennobling and enhancing battle for just causes?
Well, iff war's so much fun, why weren't the Caterists and the rest of the armchair general brigade the first to enlist and experience the fun of all the recent jolly japes, from Korea on?
It turns out of course that, unlike that part of the populace that swallows the myths of war-mongers, some Australians have had a rather more sceptical concept of war, and thought nothing - a mere piffle and trifle - of being called a cynic by an armchair general, remembering things slightly differently, from the successful fight against conscription in the first world war, to the fight against conscription and the folly of the Vietnam war, and the protests against the folly of the Iraq war.
Hasn't that one turned out well?
But hey, the pond is always happy for the Caterists to show how it's done, and Frank Furedi style, to show how being one of the sixteen million odd dead, and twenty million wounded in the big one, was an ennobling and enhancing experience ...
We'll be in the leather couch in the corner with a good gin and tonic, and can be relied on for cheering and 'Huzzahs', while the Caterists teach those filthy gooks/Huns/Nazi swine/Japs/towel heads/ a bloody good lesson in best British style ...
Posted by dorothy parker at 4/22/2014 08:04:00 AM