15 Nov


The poem written by Wilfred Owen, is as relevant today in the twenty-first century as when it was written at the beginning of the twentieth century during the First World War of 1914-18. Young men dying and fighting for a political cause in a country they may have had difficulty finding on a map. The youth and the deluded giving their lives for those age weary courtesans patriotism and freedom; flippant misconceptions dispersed today by centrally controlled media outlets to ensure cognitive dissonance. The serving men and women whom we view, or rather the media would have us perceive, as our bravest and best, how without whom our freedoms would be non-existent. Given that our freedoms and rights are already enshrined I offer this syllogism. If our soldiers are heroes then they’re fighting wars of integrity, defending the sovereignty of the nation? There must be armies massing on the Mexican border or perhaps in the North on the Canadian? There must be an imminent possibility of invasion? This of course is not the case and our troops are involved in operations far from American shores. Literature shows us that in the main the protagonist is the hero and the antagonist the villain. In the wars of the twenty first century the coalition-of- the-willing have fought for antagonistic policies and therefore I say that our troops aren’t heroes but human beings; pawns in a political meat grinder of which they’ve no control. Why would a sane nation send its bravest and best when are prisons are filled with our least desirable and our governments with even less reputable characters?

Owen proffers a view of war that is anything but glorious. There are no resounding military bands, shiny medals or flag waving crowds, there’s simply, mud, gas and oblivion. Vain glorious ideology swept away by the omnipotence of death. When Owen wrote this he was recovering in hospital and yet the image he shows us is, as if he was there. Perhaps he was, perhaps this is a true recollection and if so, we see how it’s engrained in paper and how it endures time. His imagery of men drowning in a sea of mustard gas, of a man being burnt alive by the effects of gas inhalation is both horrific and poignant. Given that the centenary remembrance of the First World War is next year then Owen reminds us that nothing much has changed. The First World War which was known as the war to end all wars was clearly just another conflict in a history of conflicts that hasn’t yet run its course. History has taught us that the war of Owen’s youth was empirical in nature just as history will show that the wars of today are corporate and nation building in nature.

Owen offers ring-side views of what it truly means to be a soldier; the enduring fatigue, the continuous state of shock, the oblivious attitude to yet one more vista of horror. Their deafness to the 5-9’s as they whizz toward them with their murderous payload whilst their minds are focused on rest and a couple of days behind the lines. The panic, the stumbling, like old women bent double under their packs. Where are the recruiting posters, where are the recruiters in their smart uniforms who haunt the corridors of our high schools? Owen shows us none of these. The poem isn’t about men in war but rather a warning to those who’ve never experienced it. His is a voice of reason and experience in a world of hubris, bravado and utter madness. Owen makes it clear that death is forever and that a mouse-click doesn’t revitalize in a true combat situation. Poetry is meant to invoke, to carry a message or feeling; a recollection perhaps of a memory and that’s exactly what we perceive through his words. I’ve never fought in the trenches and yet, after reading the poem, feel as though I have.

Probably the most poignant part of the poem is the description of the gas casualty whom they’ve thrown on the cart in front of them. Is it an understanding of the wastage of war that Owen perceives or is it a gratitude that it’s the other man rather than himself who lies dying? Perhaps even indifference and resignation that if not him, then me? Owens words are evocative and resound from the page.

The realization that it’s not a sweet and honorable thing to die for one’s country is the undercurrent of comprehension. I believe that without this title Owen would have stated his case coherently to the point of reader understanding. The poet’s words should be read to our young people before they enlist. Unfortunately, when I joined the Army, as is true now, that wasn’t the case.


“There are hundreds who want to be soldiers, but there are millions who want to be civilians”

                                                                                                                                                           SUPPORT THE TROOPS – BRING THEM HOME.


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