Dulce et Decorum Est

Today is Armistice Day. On November 11th, 1918, the world came together in the realization that war is so horrific it must be ended immediately, and the armistice signed in France signified an end to World War I – the “war to end all wars.”

At the time, the bloodshed of WWI marked a massive departure from the wars that came before. With the rise of machine guns came the horrifying ability to wipe out entire generations of young men in a single attack.  Since then, of course, the killing power of the world’s weaponry has only increased exponentially.

Today is a day of peace. We don’t even know a world without horrible death machines. Is it really progress to continually invent more efficient ways to kill each other?

Please take a minute to read (or listen to a reading of) this brilliant poem by Wilfred Owen, a poet and soldier in the first World War. Makes me cry every time!

Dulce Et Decorum Est

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.

*Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori means “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country.” These are the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace).

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