A Nazi soldier meeting Picasso said, "So you're the one who did that" (referring to his painting, Guernica). "No, you did!" replied Picasso.


Guernica (1937)
Pablo Picasso



"Knowledge, of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can't fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can't make them undead."

Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried


"What About Glory"
Pindar VanArman

Ask the child
Who, without an answer,
Asks her brother,
"What is he like?"

Ask the brother,
Who, missing the memory,
Asks his mother,
"When will he be back?"

And ask the mother
Who, without a husband,
Asks herself, "Why'd
He have to be a hero?"


We hear people say, "I hate war," but the average person does not feel that way about it. War has its appeal. We thrill to the patriotic. One of our chief occupations is criticizing our government, but let some outsider say something uncomplimentary about our nation, and our blood boils. Somehow, as we see the Stars and Stripes floating in the breeze, the band playing, and our soldiers marching, our backbones tingle. When it is two other countries fighting and killing each other, we do hate war; but when America is involved, it is a different story. Then so many of us are swept off our feet by a false patriotism. But war is wrong. The Second World War included all sins known to man - murder, lying, thievery, materialism, unbrotherliness, wastefulness, and all the rest. Any way we look at it, there is no justification for war. It is intellectually foolish. It settles no arguments but demonstrates only who is the strongest. Sherwood Eddy says, "The saddest thing is not that some ten million of our best men are dead, that the world is impoverished, victimized, embittered by hate, rent by division, suspicion and fear. It is that we have settled nothing, made nothing safe, achieved no lasting good that could not have been better done without war." Men with reason do not fight. Neither do nations, when their people think.

Charles L. Allen, Roads To Radiant Living



War (1896)
Arnold Böcklin


"Dreamers"
Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.


"Think of what a world we could build if the power unleashed in war were applied to constructive tasks! One tenth of the energy that the various belligerents spent in the World War, a fraction of the money they exploded in hand grenades and poison gas, would suffice to raise the standard of living in every country and avert the economic catastrophe of worldwide unemployment."

--Albert Einstein


On July 16, 1945, the Trinity test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, proved the power of plutonium-based weapons. As the blast unfolded, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project, quoted from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."


Apocalypse (1988)
Keith Haring


"The Man He Killed"
Thomas Hardy

"HAD he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!*

"But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

"I shot him dead because--
Because he was my foe,
Just so--my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

"He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like--just as I--
Was out of work-had sold his traps--
No other reason why.

"Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown."

* NIPPERKIN: a half pint of ale


"We are part of the century which has seen more people killed by war than in all others combined. Obviously, we don't know the meaning of life. A vulture or hyena has more respect for life than man does."

--Rodrigo Poblette


"I begin by taking. I shall find scholars afterwards to demonstrate my perfect right."

-- Frederick the Great, on war


"The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"
by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.


"Never has there been a good war or a bad peace."
--Benjamin Franklin, in War


"Dulce Et Decorum Est"
by Wilfred Owen

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 disappointed shells 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 floundering 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 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 et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.: "How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country--an old Latin saying very popular on military gravestones."


"The cemeteries are filled with indispensable men."
--Charles de Gaulle


"Sometimes gunpowder smells good."

--Ralph Waldo Emerson, visiting a navy yard in Boston at the beginning of the Civil War. Emerson had for decades warned that this day would come if slaveryt were not abolished.


"An Irish Airman Forsees His Death"
William Butler Yeats

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tummult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.


"What love can a man possess who believes that the destruction of life will atone for evil deeds? Can a new wrong expiate old wrongs? And can the slaughter of an innocent victim take away the sins of mankind? This is practicing religion by the neglect of moral conduct. Purify your hearts and cease to kill, that is true religion."

--Buddha


"Two Sides of War"
Grantland Rice

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart
They call for greater armament
And map the battle chart

But out upon the shattered fields
Where golden hopes are gray
How very young the faces are
Where all the dead men lay

Poorly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that or something else
That sounds the warlike note

But where their sightless eyes stare out
And gone are all their joys
I've noticed nearly all of the dead
Were hardly more than boys


"Aftermath"
Siegfried Sassoon

HAVE you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.


"A declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting."

--Erich Maria Remarque from All Quiet on the Western Front


"Shock and Awe"
Eric Burgess

then
i was inspired by
a sleek red sports car
that filled me with
tremors of wonder

now
i am saddened by
a stained-red uniform
that fills me with
shock and awe


            I fought my war in a very different place than the deserts of the Middle East.  It was a green, wet, humid place of great beauty and great suffering.  It was home to the most divisive war in our history, until today.

            I was a sergeant in a special Heliborne Assault Group.  I was the NCO in charge of Landing Zone Perimeter Defense, the first chopper in, the first soldier to jump out of the copter as it hovered over the field.  I stood at the door, looking down through tracer fire, a raging mix of emotions fighting for control – it was the greatest rush I’ve ever felt, and the most awful – I felt unbelievable power and nearly immobilizing fear.  I screamed as I jumped, loved the ground I hit, became machine-like as I directed the men who jumped behind me to their positions.

            I fired my rifle toward the “enemy,” rage and fear intertwined – sometimes I saw my shots kill – My corporal said, “Never look at the bodies.”  I tried not to, but the Army decreed body counts and I had to go back over every field, counting the dead, looking at them, twisted as they’d fallen, dead.

            That is what I must stress to you – Wars are won by killing.  Young people are trained to kill other young people.  We demonize the enemy so that we can kill them without qualms.  We develop names to call them, dehumanizing terms so that we won’t think of them as real people, so that soldiers won’t hesitate to kill the “target.”  To see one’s “enemy” as human is to die in some most human way –

            Every young person who goes into combat, who goes where bullets hunt his flesh, who seeks to quell his fear and loathing with a kill, dies.  He may still walk, talk, and breathe, but he is a different person now than the one who first went in – There is a darkness now, it may recede, but it never goes completely away.   That is what we do when we resort to war –

            I remember that, during one body count, I noticed a young North Vietnamese soldier stretched in death on the ground – In his black sash a book, wrapped in rice paper, was tucked.  Thinking it might be a codebook, I picked it up.  I called our guide, a Montagnard from the highlands, to look at it.  “What is it?” I asked.  – Some poetry, he said.  I thought he meant it was a book of Vietnamese poetry and asked him if that was so.  “No,” he said, “It is his own poetry, - all about some girl.”

            I reeled.  My hand went reflexively to my thigh pocket where my own, thin volume of poetry was – I had killed another poet – someone who saw the world through images as I saw it – I had come to know my “enemy” as a human being – Then I realized ---“We” were not killing “them.”  “They” were not killing “us.” ---We were killing ourselves.  That’s what we do in war, ---we kill ourselves.

 

                                                                                    –– Dr. Richard Winters