I recently watched the film, All Quiet on the Western Front, the story of the horrors of WW1 from the perspective of German boys/men.
Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen published in the London Times in 1914 expresses the same sentiment of loss and horror from a British point of view.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
H.G. Wells, the British author, coined the expression: “The war that will end war” to describe World War One.
My visit to the WW2 cemeteries of Normandy with their thousands of crosses clearly indicate the fallacy of Well’s statement.
In these recent days, we see the atrocities being perpetuated in the Middle East, the media opinions on who is right and wrong, who started it. Apportioning blame, justifying violence, seems to be the order of the day. But I wonder who speaks for peace? Where is the voice of the moderate?
Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading Colm McCann’s book, Apeirogon, based on the friendship between a Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, and an Israeli, Rami Elhanan: “An Israeli, against the occupation. A Palestinian, studying the Holocaust.” The men are united in their grief – they lost their daughters: Smadar, turned into “a scattered human jigsaw” at the age of 13 by a suicide bomber, and Abir, assassinated aged 10 by a trigger-happy member of the Israeli army. Both men join the Parents Circle, a group of bereaved parents who unite in their sorrow to press for a peaceful resolution to the conflict: “This became their jobs: to tell the story of what had happened to their girls.”
Apeirogon, a mathematical term for an object of an “observably infinite number of sides” is a most apt title for a book that addresses the entrenched positions in the Middle East with a stance that is on both sides and neither.