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.
[On November 11, 1918, Wilfred Owen's parents were listening to the cathedral bells ringing in celebration of the war's end when a telegram arrived informing them of their son's death seven days earlier, at Ors.]
Return Armistice Day. Even at the expense of taking it off the Federal calendar and creating a Veterans' Day somewhere else, if Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, and the individual services' days aren't enough to amortize our bunting expenses.
Return it to the solemn remembrance of The Great War and all who died, on both sides. Let us have one day to remember the horror, the futility, the enormity of War, and the human vanity which tries to cover the suffering with Glory, and swears in the aftermath it will never make the same mistakes again.
Return to us the memory of a conflict which gave us the tank, the military use of air power, and modern infantry strategy, which gave us mass-market propaganda and mass starvation. Let us remember, despite the efforts of those who would have us forget, just Who we bleed and die for, and not just What. Let us remember--even those who would have us remember Munich and forget Verdun and Ypres--that it was the insistence on Honor above Humanity, on Spoils which no one had won, which brought the guns back just twenty years later.
Safe for Democracy! Give back the Armistice, even if it finds a rank grave in a lost and forgotten field. The bells of 11/11 belong to her dead, as surely as the Arizona belongs to hers. If we cannot set aside a Day, even a sacred Hour, to remind ourselves that not all the madness is on the other side, that Glory will not feed the dead nor comfort the living, then we are cowards unworthy of honoring the Brave whose graves we festoon, deaf to what they might tell us if they still could.