Anthem For Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)
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.
It’s Veteran’s Day, November 12, a day of red-orange poppies on lapels. My Grandfather served in both World War I and World War II, his skills as a civil engineer well regarded in wartime. There is an obvious ridiculous irony in that fact.
What did we learn from the war to end all wars? How do we honor our veterans, those that fought and those that sacrificed their lives? Do we honor them by making it legal to own in peace time the very munitions used to kill their enemies on the field of battle? Is gun ownership the hope of soldiers who come home? Or do they wish for the guns of war to fall silent?
We celebrate this Veteran’s Day in the shadow of another senseless mass shooting with 26 lost lives in Texas. Some politicians say it is not time to talk of gun control after Las Vegas, after Sutherland Springs. Instead, these politicians choose to serve the interests of weapons manufacturers and the shrinking minority that want assault rifles to remain legal. When will it be time to talk of sensible gun laws? Are we at an impasse where meaningful change in our gun culture is impossible? I don’t believe anything is impossible. I believe that honoring our veterans can co-exist with laws that make the guns of war illegal and inaccessible in our communities of peace. I say it’s possible to keep bolt action hunting rifles legal and make semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifles illegal, along with the extended clips and bump stocks that can easily modify them into machine guns. I say that bringing home a war mongering culture of death after the armistice is not the cause for which soldiers fought and died. I say, bid them be patient, no more.
The poppy as a symbol of remembrance comes from the poem In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae. McCrae was a battlefield doctor who did not see the end of the World War I. The Anxious Dead was the last poem he wrote before he died from a severe asthma attack.
The Anxious Dead
by John McCrae (1872-1918)
O guns, fall silent till the dead men hear
Above their heads the legions pressing on:
(These fought their fight in time of bitter fear,
And died not knowing how the day had gone.)
O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see
The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar;
Then let your mighty chorus witness be
To them, and Caesar, that we still make war.
Tell them, O guns, that we have heard their call,
That we have sworn, and will not turn aside,
That we will onward till we win or fall,
That we will keep the faith for which they died.
Bid them be patient, and some day, anon,
They shall feel earth enwrapt in silence deep;
Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn,
And in content may turn them to their sleep.