Guest Column: War 'a horror that sometimes has to be done'

No matter what one’s viewpoint on the war in Iraq, one thing is strikingly clear. War is a terrible thing.

On both sides, families are torn apart. Men, women, and children are harmed. Countries are split. Economies are drained.

And the ones involved in actual battle, the soldiers, have to face these byproducts of war while dealing with the deadly circumstances around them. They are noble people, fighting for their country, willing to die for what they believe in. But, the fight is still a brutal one to undergo.

Wilfred Owen, a poet and soldier of World War I, captures this sentiment of one’s duty to one’s country versus the harshness of war with his poem “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.

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 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 writing 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.

At first take, Owen would seem to be against the idea of war. He was not. He fought very well, winning a military cross, before he was subsequently killed by machine gun fire a week before the war ended.

His message is what is important. War is necessary. War is brutal. As a country, we know this, but still pass on the message that war is glorious, something to be done to prove oneself. But it isn’t. And we should stop the old lie stated in the last line: It is sweet and right to die for one’s country. Sweet! And decorous! Perhaps it is right to die for one’s country, but it is not sweet or decorous. It is a horror that sometimes has to be done.

Melissa Wangall is a contributing writer for The Rock River Times and is a Poplar Grove resident.

From the April 6-12, 2005, issue

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