The Old Lie

Timoth Garton-Ash describes in The Guardian what he sees as the root cause in the difference between the US outlook on the War on terror and the European outlook.

He compares the pro-war conservatives in the US with the militaristic imperialists (“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori“) in pre-World War I Europe and suggests that the seminal event which ended such thinking in Europe was, in fact, The Great War.

Interesting analysis that I need time to digest but I can’t let the Dulce et Decorum reference to pass without quoting Wilfred Owen.

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.

Historical note : Wilfred Owen completed this in 1918 but still found time to die before the end of the war a few months later.

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

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