A skeleton of the Veteran’s Day post I meant to write
Something kept getting in my eye.
Smile, Smile, Smile
Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday’s Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not yet planned;
For, said the paper, “When this war is done
The men’s first instinct will be making homes.
Meanwhile their foremost need is aerodromes,
It being certain war has just begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead, —
The sons we offered might regret they died
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
Though all be worthy Victory which all bought,
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot
The greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity.”
Nation? — The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
This is the thing they know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France
(Not many elsewhere now save under France).
Pictures of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings
Say: How they smile! They’re happy now, poor things.
–Wilfred Owen, 09/23/1918
Wilfred Owen died ninety years to the day before Barack Obama was elected president – two items which have no relation beyond the fact that for a good while to come, November 4th 2008 will be a date to which many things are compared.
His parents learned of his death one week later, ninety years ago today. The telegram arrived, it is said, while the victory bells rang in Shrewsbury; Owen’s parents learned of their son’s death only after having begun to celebrate the end of the war.
The last American death because of the war in Iraq will not happen until long after the troops come home. The last Iraqi death because of the war in Iraq will take longer still. Prolonging the war will not change that; it will only prolong the rest of it.