Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cenotaph Sunday

We who have missed our wars, being either too young or too old to fight, are often perplexed by the heroism of those who died.

I was two when WW2 ended and still too young for Korea and Suez. In Britain, Harold Wilson kept us out of Viet Nam and by the time of the Falklands we had a professional army that did not require aging amateurs. The First Gulf War would have been my children's war, but my oldest were still at University and my youngest still at school. I have a nephew who was there and close to a friendly fire incident where American bombers demonstrated their effectiveness but not their efficiency.

My youngest toyed with a career in the air force, but eventually ended up designing racing cars instead. Had he joined he would now be in Iraq or Afghanistan.

My father was deferred military service because of TB, but my grandfather was in the trenches in world war one, surviving, no doubt, by the luck of having charge of the horses. My wife had an uncle who was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, but he too survived.

As a family, therefore, we have escaped the warmongering of the twentieth century.

I heard on a news item this morning that a large proportion of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were victims of friendly fire, road accidents or logistic errors, like the soldier killed by a roadside bomb when the defence against it, radio-jamming equipment, had been delivered to his base but not fitted to the vehicle because someone had forgotten to sign the requisite chitty.

Watching an old movie on TV last night, 'D-Day, 6th of June', it was galling to see the Richard Todd character, having survived the battle with only the sort of scratch that war heroes dismiss with heaps of aplomb and modesty, carelessly step on a landmine so as to leave the beautiful Dana Wynter for Robert Taylor.

I suppose things like happen in the fog of war, but were I the parent of a soldier who had put his life on the line to preserve our land, our liberty, our lives, and then found that he had died because someone left the handbrake off, or left early for lunch, of hadn't memorized the call sign or for some other trivial error I should be dismayed. Our soldiers deserve more.

This morning watching the great and the good leaving their wreathes around the Cenotaph in London, I was moved to write this poem.

Poppies on every coat,
Wreathes of regret;
Was it for this they wrote,
"Lest we forget"?

Ploughshares and pruning hooks,
Wolves with the lamb;
Splendid the pageant looks;
All just a sham?

Reverent with pomp and show,
The dead they adore,
Then as they bend quite low,
Plan the next war.


Anonymous said...

You might be interested in reading Rick Atkinson's history of the invasion and prosecution of North Africa during WWII entitled "An Army At Dawn".

In light of the news storeies which fill the papers and television media the story of the combined failures and successes of British and American forces during this era is most interesting reading.

I, too, missed military service having been in school throughout the prosecution of the war in Vietnam and my 2 boys were too young for the first Gulf War and are now too old for the current war. My father, uncle, stepfather and father-in-law all served either in the Pacific or Europe during WWII, but all returned safely (though my stepfather carried German schrapnel to his grave).

None of them glorified their participation and none of them loved the wartime experience, but all felt as if they did what they had to do.

I don't pretend to know what is right at present, but do think we should support our servicemen wholheartedly as they potentially sacrifice everything for us still at home.

The incidence of foolish mistakes, needless civilian death, episodes of friendly fire, etc was extraordinary during WWII, but the 24 hour news media wasn't there to over it...only people like Eddie Pyle.

Richard said...

When discussing heroism during the last war I think it would be difficult to find a better example than that of the school teacher, and bomb disposal expert, John Bridge.

A link to his obituary in the Guardian is given below.

Anonymous said...

Stupidity causes many deaths, and not just in wars.

And we are human, and prone to error, after all. Bombs and bullets are indiscriminate. They kill the ill-prepared and the best prepared.

Janielle said...

Not only are lives lost by direct and indirect fire, they are lost in accidents, disease, suicide, and errors.

The size alone of the US Army is over 500,000. That in itself is a fairly good sized city. Within a city, you will find intelligence, lack of intelligence, good people, bad people, etc. The most phenomenal thing about the British and American forces is that they are all volunteer. Just imagine the majority of these men and women and the integrity and honor it takes just to decide to join the military - especially in war time.

Being a mother of two young men that are both in the U.S. Army, I can speak with experience and say that it is NOT the majority that is portrayed in our media. And if either one of my sons should die because of an error made by friendly fire or similar circumstances, it would never take away the pride I have for them or their reasons for joining. It would sadden and break my heart either way. I truly do not believe that the 4,177 deaths to date (in Iraq since 2003) of coalition forces, are in vain in any circumstances.

As comparison, in 2006 alone, there were 17,602 vehicular deaths caused by alcohol. This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. This is 41% of all vehicular fatalaties for that year. Those are tragic deaths and all in vain.

This is only the opinion of one very proud Mom of two amazing soldiers.