“Dulce et Decorum Est “

This photograph was taken on the western front in France, 1916. It shows British troops going over the top of the trenches during the battle of the Somme. This was one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, claiming over a million casualties in five months. Photography copyright Getty Images.

This photograph was taken on the western front in France, 1916. It shows British troops going over the top of the trenches during the battle of the Somme. This was one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, claiming over a million casualties in five months. Photography copyright Getty Images.

Every November 11, Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” eats away at my mind. His poetry, and the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, capture in a unique way the panorama of war “sans propaganda.” Both poets, friends, were soldiers during WWI. Like many of Owen and Sassoon’s war poems, “Dulce et Decorum Est” is graphic, vile, and disturbing. It portrays a poison gas attack in vivid images and does not cosset its readers. Rather, it aims to portray the horror of war in a way that dispels the mythical “glory” that traditionally called youth to the battlefield. I would encourage you, on this November 11, to take some time to read through some of Owen and Sassoon’s other war poems.

I realize that there are many theological tangles regarding pacifism and “just war” – tangles too thick for me to unwind here (and too beyond my expertise for me to make the attempt). And, truth be told, my soul pulls both ways. But whatever you believe about war, we can all agree that it contains a base horror that is unmatched by any other human experience. And, as such, it is right and good that we take some time today to feel deeply for those who have experienced, and those who do experience, war as a daily reality – as soldiers and as civilians. And whether or not we believe there is ever a valid reason to go to war, we must keep faith with those who have been there by refusing the rose-coloured glasses that try to present war to us as “glorious.” The rough translation of the Latin phrase at the end of “Dulce et Decorum Est” is: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” It’s taken from one of Horace’s Odes and its context is an exhortation to Roman citizens to gain military strength and skill for the glory of Rome.

Whatever your views on war, whatever your views on Remembrance Day, on poppies, on current political realities – I hope you take some time today to consider the depth of evil humanity is capable of. And I hope you take some time today to pray for those who have, who do, and who will experience that evil. And I hope you take some time today to pray “Come, Lord Jesus, Come” in the midst of that evil – because peace will not reign until Christ does. And we are all waiting, longing, praying – I hope – for peace.

 
 
Dulce et Decorum Est

deviantArt by Aadore inspired by "Dulce et Decorum Est"

deviantArt by Aadore inspired by “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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Nagasaki Fires. Photo by Yusike Yamahata.

Nagasaki Fires. Photo by Yusike Yamahata.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I 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;

diviantArt by ringosdiamond

diviantArt by ringosdiamond

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.

~Wilfred Owen (1890-1918)

A Prayer of Rememberance

 We live in a community with a strong military presence. The base is only a few kilometers away, and many families choose to live in Bon Accord or Gibbons rather than on the base itself. So when Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday last year, and we were asked to participate in the service, our small church decided that we would serve the town by attending the town ceremony and serving lunch. I know there are complex and thorny theological issues of pacifism and Christian participation in war that need to be navigated each year at this time. But for us, it was simply a matter of understanding where God has placed us, and moving toward our community rather than away from it. My husband prayed during the ceremony, I sang O Canada (as their original singer backed out at the last moment), my husband read the Canadian poem “In Flander’s Fields” in his Irish accent, and our whole church served lunch. This is the prayer my husband wrote:

Merciful and loving God,

We come before you in praise and remembrance.

Be with us today,

In our heads and in our understanding,

In our mouths and in our speaking,

In our hearts and in our acting,

As we remember.

 

We remember the horrors of war, past and present:

The death and destruction,

The fear and terror.

 We remember that many throughout your world still live where

War and terror,

Violence and injustice,

Are part of daily life.

 We remember women and men who have

Struggled for peace,

Stood against evil,

And sought justice

With their bodies, their minds, their futures, and their lives.

We offer prayers of thankfulness and care

For those who died that we might live,

For those who suffered and still suffer in the defence of the dignity of all people.

And we ask that you would be with all those who have lost a loved one or wait for a loved one to return.

 

We are saddened, with you,

By the evil which damages and destroys life,

By the people who have seen the darkness of war.

We ask that your presence would be with those who struggle for justice and peace in our world.

And we ask that you would comfort and strengthen those who suffer from oppression, isolation, and sorrow.

 

For those qualities in us that make war possible,

For times when we have not sought justice or peace,

For times when we have deadened our spirits to the suffering of others,

Forgive us, we pray,

 

We look forward to the day

When you will cause all wars to cease,

When you will change our weapons into tools of human flourishing,

When our loved ones will return home,

When you will heal your world.

 

Amen.