CRONIN: War and peace


“Ashes of soldiers…”, Whitman wrote, “…South or North, As I muse retrospectively murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes,, again in my senses your shapes, and again the advance of the armies.” Walt Whitman, ostensibly a gay man, a man of great depth and severe observation, had completed a tour as an Army nurse tending to injured Union soldiers. That service  had a large influence on his later life and, of course on his poetry. Today as I recalled those lines above, I also remembered my grandmother telling me of the Grand Army of the Republic encampments near her family’s house in Massachusetts.  As the years went on into the twentieth century, the numbers of Civil War veterans declined until, as she tells, “the last encampment brought even Confederate veterans to meet with their former foes” and a great ceremony was made of them all shaking hands, embraCING and sharing a drink.” Animosity ground away by time – it does happen.
When I was a boy, November 11th honored  Armistice Day, the essential end of World War I, “the war to end all wars”.  And it was celebrated still then with parades and the wearing of bright red paper poppies, sold for whatever by the American Legion Auxiliary ladies. The day commemorated an event which began at eleven AM on November 11when  the guns lay silent and troops from both sides emerged from the muddy trenches to meet on No Mans Land, to shake hands, to embrace,to share a drink.   
That was the last war in which discussing or remembering that sentimental words and songs come to mind more than any brutal memoir of the sounds, sights and smells of battlefields convey.  A Canadian doctor, John McCrae,  in France in 1918, deeply disturbed by the slaughter,  but convinced of the war’s  “justice”, nevertheless,  wrote several short emotional poems of which his best known is:IN FLANDERS FIELDSIn Flanders fields the poppies blowbetween the crosses, row on row,that mark the place, and in the skythe larks still bravely singing, flyscarcely herd among the guns below.’
We are the Dead. Short days agowe lived, felt dawn,saw sunset glow,loved and were loved, and now we liein Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;to you from  failing hands we throwthe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who diewe shall not sleep, though poppies growin Flanders fields.
McCrae was killed the following day, January 19, 1918.
Most of the veterans of WWII are gone and those still with us are in their late nineties. Few will tell you much about the terrors of war except in private conversation, if at all. Today’s veterans are much the same:  War’s indelible marks are often hidden.  We must also consider the destruction and horrors visited upon the civilians of lands uprooted and destroyed by the machinery of  wars.  In my lifetime an estimated 450 million humans have died in wars. The world still harbors demagogues who know only of force as a means of ruling their own people. How many more to “Flanders fields”?

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Service & Honor
Service & Honor
2 years ago

Lovely Carl, these sentiments should be kept alive and introduced to every child and perpetuated as a non-ending thread of our history signifying compassion, service and honor

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