Dalton Trumbo wrote his famous pacifist novel Johnny Got His Gun in 1939, and to my knowledge Trumbo never actually saw anything like combat first hand, though he wrote about it often and with passion. Trumbo, a communist sympathizer and party member for some years, also wrote a supposedly stirring piece of sentimental rubbish about the Republican loss in the Spanish Civil War, whinging and mincing about how he would have been a hero had he been there, and how he will be a hero if ever the chance arises for him to prove it in the future. Anti-war propaganist, novelist, hack buffoon. If I can find the quotation in my notes I'll include it here and make my poor fans suffer the reading of it. But not today. Today all is quiet on the Western fringe.
In the morning it will be what we formerly called Armistice Day. Stice is interesting, it being part of interstice and solstice and so on, coming from Latin, stitium, a stopping or a space between things. We can look at the armistice signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to end WWI as a gap between wars, not the day that ushered in the end to the war to end all war. The armistice was a stopping for a while. War is with us and will continue to be with us for the foreseeable future. The question is how we deal with that unpleasant reality, whether we deal with it as a reality or whether we deal with it as an indulgence in private sentimentality and sanctimony and self-righteousness and moralistic posturing while appeasing the truly evil for the sake of our posings and posturings, such as Trumbo did so often. We have given up the very use of the term Armistice to describe the day, and in America we call it Veterans Day.
Wouldn't it be nice if war had truly ended on November 11, 1918? No more Wilfred Owens to write such poems as "Dulce et decorum est." Unlike Trumbo, Owen was in the trenches he writes about. Below, in the last stanza of the poem, he describes a poison gas attack and the narrator tells a war mongering fool to stop lying about the glory of dying for ones nation. Owen was shot to death a week before the war ended, died in combat.
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 decorum est
Pro patria mori.
No, we won't be found encouraging men and women to die for glory and nation. We could be found telling our own to risk death for the sake of life, to rid the world of tyrrants who would use poison gas to murder civilians at random. We could ourselves be found in the ranks of those who would give our all for the sake of life even if that means death for us. The good that makes life worth living means there are those same things that make it worth the dying to give to our own if we must go before them.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Benjamin Britten made his Requiem's libretto from poems by Owen. It opens as above.
Lord grant them eternal rest;
And let the perpetual light shine upon them.
The whole should be available here:
Yes, it's a fine sentiment to be against war, but finer still is to fight those who are commited to evil, finer to die if one must in the war against those who would murder if they are not stopped. Yes, it's even glorious to die in dubious battles, to die if one must in the hope that one is better to fight for what is likely better than to allow the murder of others.
This Remembrance Day I will remember Shakespeare's lines as I recall those who make our lives of freedom possible, The Dead at rest:
The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed blade,
Shall no more cut its master.