So the great irony of today is that with classes having, of course, been cancelled in honor of Veterans' Day, guess which one of my classes is cancelled?
My World War One class, of course.
I've spent the semester reading literature about the Great War - autobiographical accounts, fictional accounts, poems . . . a lot of writing by a lot of veterans, some of whom went on to be fiercely pacifistic, and some of whom I'm not sure I can call veterans because they didn't make it to November 11, 1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Did you know that the armistice was signed sooner than that, but the fighting kept right on going and people kept right on dying because those in charge wanted Poetic Symbolism (and something that would be easy for schoolchildren to remember)?
Because of all that reading, I'm not feeling as solemnly sentimental as I'm supposed to feel. Mostly, I'm feeling angry. So I'd like to join in the posting of poems in remembrance, but the one I've chosen is a little different. It was written by Siegfried Sassoon, a British officer who fought memorably in the war even after his published declaration of his belief that it had turned into a war being waged for the wrong reasons. Sassoon lived through the war and went on to become an angry veteran and pacifist, and spent his life writing about it.
"At the Cenotaph
I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph:
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
"Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of the pride and power of being alive;
Men's biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace."
The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.
Sassoon was right. Today is the anniversary of the end of the war to end wars, but now we use it to honor countless men and women from the many wars that happened anyway. For myself, I will honor them by being angry that they had to fight at all.