Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Rough draft of Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est,"
one of the best known poems of the First World War,
composed between October 1917 - March 1918.
The earliest surviving manuscript is dated 8 October 1917
and addressed to his mother, Susan Owen, with the message
"Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final)."

Not only do I remember when Memorial Day was called Decoration Day, I can also recall when all of my elders referred to Veterans Day as Armistice Day. Did you know that the Federal government decided that we need no apostrophe in Veterans Day? I like that, don't you? Something to make life easier! I wish they would do the same for Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and Valentines Day!

Here is a bit of irony to mark the occasion: in the UK, beginning in 1939, the two-minute silence traditionally observed in honor of the Armistice, at 11 a.m. on 11 November, was moved to the Sunday nearest 11 November in order not to interfere with wartime production should 11 November fall on a weekday . . . so as not to let Commemoration of the War To End All Wars stand in the way of Preparation for Yet Another War.

And the irony continues with a couple of items that you may have come across . . .

. . . already if you're a fan of The Onion:

"The meeting stretched from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and included a short lunch break during which several writers were asked to brainstorm individually on a broad idea — the enduring war in Afghanistan — that was proving to be a challenge. In the end “U.S. Continues Quagmire-Building Effort in Afghanistan” won out over “Quick and Painless Overthrow of Taliban Enters Eighth Year” and “Afghanistan Rapidly Replacing Iraq as Replacement for Vietnam as Replacement for Quagmire.”


. . . earlier this month if you follow A.Word.A.Day:

"The truth is that every morning war is declared afresh. And the men who wish to continue it are as guilty as the men who began it, more guilty perhaps, for the latter perhaps did not foresee all its horrors." --Marcel Proust, French novelist (1871-1922)

What occurs to me with some sense of dispiriting coincidence is that the two observations -- the first delivered mockingly, the second in contemplation -- are, in fact, really one & the same message. Why persist in throwing good after bad -- money, time, lives? Instead, why not wake up one morning and decline to declare war?

I hate waste. Remember Rhett Butler's assessment of the Civil War, in Gone With The Wind : "I'm angry. Waste always makes me angry, and that's what all this is, sheer waste."

" . . . the old Lie: Dulce et Decorum Est*
Pro patria mori."

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) was an English / Welsh poet and soldier, regarded by many as one of the leading poets of the First World War. He was killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre just a week before the war ended. Sadly, news of his death was delivered to his parents, even as the town's church bells were ringing out in peace.

*Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace (Ode III.2.13); the line translates into English: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."

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