by Clifford Dyment
I found the letter in a cardboard box,
Unfamous history. I read the words.
The ink was frail and brown, the paper dry
After so many years of being kept.
The letter was a soldier’s, from the front—
Conveyed his love and disappointed hope
Of getting leave. It’s cancelled now, he wrote.
My luck is at the bottom of the sea.
Outside the sun was hot; the world looked bright;
I heard a radio, and someone laughed.
I did not sing, or laugh, or love the sun,
Within the quiet room I thought of him,
My father killed, and all the other men,
Whose luck was at the bottom of the sea.
My Grandfather’s luck was better. He served in both World War I and World War II. But because he was a civil engineer, he was never assigned to combat duty, his skills in building bridges and roads more highly prized behind the front lines. He was also fortuitous in the timing of his enlistment in WWI, finishing boot camp and embarking for France only months before the end of the war. I am glad my Grandfather’s was not only unfamous history but also unremarkable, coming home physically and mentally intact with only a finer appreciation of european beer.
But luck and War have always been connected. Maybe it’s why I have an aversion to the omnipotent presence of technology in our lives. Technology that seems so benign in peace time will be the scourge of luck in war-time. The next world war will be fought with such inhuman precision that luck won’t stand a chance.
Let’s honor the brave and the fallen in World War I on this 100 year anniversary of the end of the war, but let’s not glorify it. The battle field poets certainly didn’t on both sides of the conflict. Let’s save some of our patriotic fervor to hold accountable our current leadership. Hold them accountable to value diplomacy and reasoned avoidance of conflict as just as critical to a strong national defense, as the bloated budget for the Department of Defense. Let us hope that the lessons of the past informs our leadership of tomorrow and that pride and ego do not plunge us into war that could have been avoided with a touch more humility and a lot less bombastic lunacy.
The Man He Killed
by Thomas Hardy
“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
“I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.
“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”