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November 11, 2011

In Flanders fields (1915)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:55 AM * 81 comments

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

—Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918), Canadian Army Medical Corps
Comments on In Flanders fields (1915):
#1 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 07:10 AM:

Thanks for reminding me timely that more things are owed than only a silence.

The red is in the green.
The rose is in the grave.
The reason's still unseen
The lead is in the brave.
The cock is on his dunghill.
The dust is on the plain.
The ocean's in my eyes, my love –
But never you again.

No, never you again.
The wind is in my eyes, my dear –
The way it blows is plain.
The plumes are on the princes.
The names adorn the arch
The flesh that drew apart.
The bones are on the march.
The red is in my heart.

#2 ::: Malaclypse ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 08:06 AM:

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 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.

#4 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 08:55 AM:

"The silly buggers are going to do it all again."

Charlie Bell (ex-Serjeant, Lincolnshire Regiment, 1914-1919), to Joseph Bell, c. 1938

#5 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 09:05 AM:

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

#6 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 09:11 AM:

At our Toastmasters meeting last night, one of the impromptu speech topics was "A war poem or song that has particular resonance for you"; the speaker nominated "I Was Only 19".

This morning at work I had the window open and, half a dozen blocks away from the war memorial, could hear the bugler at the 11 o'clock Remembrance service.

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 09:38 AM:

Blackadder, going forth. I always cry.

#8 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:19 AM:

The Old North Bridge

Tourists take photographs and read the signs.
Two lovers kiss beneath November trees.
Historians debate the battle lines

before a group of spell-bound retirees.
It’s history. It’s quaint. Nobody bleeds
here anymore. We stroll. We take our ease.

Four boys wave spears of grass that’s gone to seed.
They fight across the bridge and back again.
I look up from the book I’ve brought to read

by this rude bridge that arched the flood back then
and watch the boys make war just for pretend.
They must be eight or nine. I wonder when

they’ll find out it’s no game. Silent, I send
my prayer, “Let them not learn—have cause to learn—
with their own blood that truth. Help us defend

what started here, that we need never spend
our children’s lives for peace. Let’s make an end.”


#9 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:24 AM:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

(AE Housman)

#10 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:46 AM:

No Man's Land

From his fourteenth birthday on, my paternal Grandfather's birthday has been a day of national remembrance. He was very straightforward with us - "Hardly anybody is given peace for their birthday - I was."
Jim McDonald, thank you. In Flanders Fields was my maternal Granddaddy's favorite poem for this date, according to my mother - he was very lucky, and lived to have his lung injuries hamper his athletic activities until death at age 66. Others who were a few yards down from him were not so lucky.

#11 ::: hope ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:08 AM:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Ode of Remembrance
~Laurence Binyon

#13 ::: Ian C. Racey ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:16 AM:

My grandfather, in a care home, is 88 and has advanced dementia. Conversations with him generally involve him cycling through the same five questions over and over because he doesn't remember just having asked them, and he's taken to reading children's picture books and poetry books because with anything longer, he forgets the parts he's already read before he moves on to the next parts. (He also seems very content with his current life, and the staff at the home clearly love him.)

But he had to learn "In Flanders Fields" as a schoolboy, and if you ask him to, he can still recite it word for word without hesitation. Also "The Soldier" ("some corner of a foreign field will be for ever England").

#14 ::: Karl Narveson ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:25 AM:

This rhymes and scans beautifully, but it also parses, and the meaning can be paraphrased in prose. Read that last stanza again.

Take up our quarrel with the foe.

In other words, keep fighting the Germans. You will be breaking faith with the dead if you give a hearing to any proposal for a negotiated settlement.

#15 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:47 AM:

Somehow I am not getting the impression that war was any better in the days when it was fought by poets.

#16 ::: Mike Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 12:03 PM:

There will always be wars until the masses of people refuse to take up arms for the benefit of the few. Sadly, I doubt the human race will outlive this part of human nature.

#17 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 12:29 PM:


I saw the spires of Oxford
As I was passing by,
The grey spires of Oxford
Against a pearl-grey sky ;
My heart was with the Oxford men
Who went abroad to die.

The years go fast in Oxford,
The golden years and gay;
The hoary colleges look down
On careless boys at play,

But when the bugles sounded War!
They put their games away.
They left the peaceful river,
The cricket field, the quad,
The shaven lawns of Oxford
To seek a bloody sod.

They gave their merry youth away
For country and for God.
God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Who took the khaki and the gun
Instead of cap and gown.

God bring you to a fairer place
Than even Oxford town.

#18 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:14 PM:

And there's Eric Bogle's The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda -- this version with a slide show bridging several decades. May be triggering to many. Brought tears to my eyes.

#19 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:14 PM:

Faded, curled leaves,
White markers of stone stand mute.
Silence lasts longer.

#20 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:19 PM:

Karl Narveson: I've been debating that line back and forth most of this week (yes, the poem has been in my head that much). Certainly "Join the same army I joined and let the generals kill you off the same way" is one feasible reading of "Take up our quarrel with the foe".

But I do not think "Accept no peace negotiation or settlement" is remotely one. I doubt we can ask the Lieutenant Colonel, but it doesn't fit either the tenor of the rest of the poem or how most Great War veterans felt about their service. Or the people who quote it on November 11th.

And I can most decidedly see readings, especially post-war, of that line, that mean much more positive things -- about duty and honour and those dusty old words that mean a fair bit more when you dig through them, and whose meanings don't necessarily say one has failed the dead for not, specifically, picking up the gun. (Even in wartime, "Do your duty by the soldiers who die for you" I should hope includes home ground support, medical support, and seeking a way to attain the goal of the conflict and thus be able to end it.)

(All that being said, I continue to fervently hope labour won't start or end today, though Laura Runkle's grandfather certainly had good reason to feel as he did about his birthday; because he lived the Armistice. These days I believe the inheritance for this day is much less of Armistice and much more of grieving, though.)

#21 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:23 PM:

Blackadder Goes Forth always makes me laugh while making me cry...

Lieutenant George: Great Scott sir, you mean, you mean the moment's finally arrived for us to give Harry Hun a darned good British style thrashing, six of the best, trousers down?

Captain Blackadder: If you mean, "Are we all going to get killed?" Yes. Clearly, Field Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.

#22 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:24 PM:

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight

(Under Lord Derby's scheme). I died in hell -

(They called it Passchendaele); my wound was slight,

And I was hobbling back, and then a shell

Burst slick upon the duck-boards; so I fell

Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

In sermon-time, when Squire is in his pew,

He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;

For though low down upon the list, I'm there:

"In proud and glorious memory" - that's my due.

Two bleeding years I fought in France for Squire;

I suffered anguish that he's never guessed;

Once I came home on leave, and then went west.

What greater glory could a man desire?

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:27 PM:

Even though Binyon's poem, For the Fallen strikes me as overwhelmingly false, these lines from it do ring true:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

#24 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:27 PM:

Thanks, John @12; My (ESL, in Vancouver) students were asking me yesterday how the US marks the date, and I couldn't fully explain the difference. They might find that piece interesting. I couldn't fully explain it, and now I see I was missing the Korea connection.

Friends ain't s'posed to die 'til they're old
And friends ain't s'posed to die in pain.
No one should die alone when he is twenty-one,
And living shouldn't make you feel ashamed.

part of Friends Ain't Supposed to Die Til They're Old, from
-Billy Bishop Goes to War

#25 ::: Janni Lee Simner ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 01:37 PM:

Thanks, Laura @10. That one always gets me, too.

#26 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:27 PM:

Elegy In A Country Churchyard
G. K. Chesterton

The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And birds and bees of England
About the cross can roam.

But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.

#27 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:33 PM:

Hmm. We seem to be focusing on the war dead, which is what I (for one) do on Memorial Day. I usually take today to be about the living veterans.

Let today be the day we thank them. Let today and all other days be the day we honor them.

And also, less poetically, make sure they have the services they need. Thanking them for their service while cutting their benefits and denying them medical care ("You don't really have PTSD") is the height of hypocrisy, and every American should denounce it...and vote out those who practice it.

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:42 PM:

Xopher @27:

Many of the commenters here are not in an American context. I don't know that any country apart from the US teases the living soldiers from the dead. In the UK, certainly, Remembrance Day is about the war dead; the poppies on lapels, the two minutes' silence, and the ceremonies at all the war memorials all evoke those who lost their lives as well as the ones who came back.

(Of course, here in the Netherlands—neutral in WWI—we're doing something completely different. It's Sint Maarten, and children wander the streets with little lanterns, singing songs and collecting candy. We remember the war dead on May 4, just before Bevrijdingsdag on the fifth.)

#29 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:51 PM:

I guess I got mixed up and forgot that Veteran's Day is international. THIS is the one that's called Remembrance Day in Canada, not Memorial Day.

In other words...never mind.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 02:54 PM:

Oh, your point about honoring veterans by making sure that they get what they need is valid and important. That comment was just an "embrace the power of AND" reminder, really.

#31 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 03:27 PM:

Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.

Kemal Atatürk, 1934. Engraved on memorials in Anzac Cove, Wellington, and Canberra.

#32 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 03:38 PM:

On respect for veterans, I recommend Elizabeth Moon's LJ from yesterday. The short version: "If someone respects me, or wants to show gratitude to a better citizen." The long version is worth reading.

#33 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 04:26 PM:

When I was in elementary school, we learned "In Flanders Fields," and were told that "take up our quarrel with the foe" was addressed to the US.

We also read but didn't learn a poem called "America's Answer" (not, in my feeble memory, any of the ones I've found by searching on the internet though).

I think it's a plausible story, especially as the original was written by a Canadian, but I don't know if it's a true one.

#34 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 04:39 PM:

As I understand it, Memorial Day and Armistice Day were both originally in honour of the dead, the first from the Civil War, the second from the Great War. I suppose that, as both wars receded in memory while others followed them, it made more sense to distinguish the dates in a different way, giving one to the dead and the other to the living. In countries which don't have Memorial Day this did not happen.

Saint Martin, a soldier who gave up the sword on his conversion, is often honoured as a worker for peace, making him not an unsuitable saint for this day.

#35 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 05:22 PM:

I think it unlikely that "take up our quarrel with the foe" would have been addressed to the USA in a poem written in spring of 1915, with the war less than a year old.

When I was in elementary school, the school janitor was a WWI veteran. And we memorized "In Flanders Field."

Speaking of taking care of the living, when I was in the Fleet the joke was, "Nothing's too good for our boys in uniform, but Congress hasn't figured out how to give us less than nothing yet."

Not that that's a new problem. Observe Rudyard Kipling:

The Last of the Light Brigade

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an, we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made-"
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

#36 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 07:17 PM:

And then there's this take on WWI...

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Wilfred Owen

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 07:42 PM:

The Great War and its poets gets most attention. I have long been impressed by this poem from the Second World War:


Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.

The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.

Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
in a copybook gothic script.

We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that's hard and good when he's decayed.

But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.

For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled
has done the lover mortal hurt.

#38 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 08:13 PM:

For Kenneth MacLeish, 1894-1918

Ambassador Puser the ambassador
Reminds himself in French, felicitous tongue,
What these (young men no longer) like here for
In rows that once, and somewhere else, were young.
. .

All night in Brussels the wind had tugged at my door:
I had heard the wind at my door and the trees strung
Taut, and to me who had never been before
In that country it was a strange wind, blowing
Steadily, stiffening the walls, the floor,
The roof of my room. I had not slept for knowing
He too, dead, was a stranger in that land
And felt beneath the earth in the wind's flowing
A tightening of roots and would not understand,
Remembering lake winds in Illinois,
That Strange wind. I had felt his bones in the sand

Reflects that these enjoy
Their country's gratitude, that deep repose,
That peace no pain can break, no hurt destroy,
That rest, that sleep. . .

At Ghent the wind rose.
There was a smell of rain and a heavy drag
Of wind in the hedges but not as the wind blows
Over fresh water when the waves lag
Foaming and the willows huddle and it will rain;
I felt him waiting.

. . Indicates the flag
Which (may he say) nestles in Flanders plain
This little field these happy, happy dead
Have made America. . .

In the ripe grain
The wind coiled glistening, darted, fled,
Dragging its heavy body: at Waereghem
The wind coiled in the grass above his head:
Waiting--listening. . .

. . .Dedicates to them
This earth their bones have hallowed, this last gift
A grateful country. . .

Under the dry grass stem
The words are blurred, are thickened, the words sift
Confused by the rasp of the wind, by the thin grating
Of ants under the grass, the minute shift
And tumble of dusty sand separating
From dusty sand. The roots of the grass strain,
Tighten, the earth is rigid, waits -- he is waiting --
And suddenly, and all at once, the rain!
The living scatter, they run into houses, the wind
Is trampled under the rain, shakes free, is again
Trampled. The rain gathers, running in thinned
Spurts of water that ravel in the dry sand,
Seeping in the sand under the grass roots, seeping
Between crack boards of the bones of a clenched hand:
The earth relaxes, loosens; he is sleeping,
He rests, he is quiet, he sleeps in a strange land.

--Archibald MacLeish (Captain, US Army Field Artillery)

#39 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 08:51 PM:

There set out slowly, for a Different World,
At four, on winter mornings, on different legs...
You can't break eggs without making an omelette
--That's what they tell the eggs.

--Randall Jarrell, "A War"

#40 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:02 PM:

The FIFA poppy affair. Many of my older relatives, my father included, served in WWII, and ones I never met were in WWI, and I appreciate the work that the Royal British Legion does; but I want an end to this obnoxious fetishization of the poppy, which now seems to go on for about a month from mid-October to mid-November. What was a moving, low-key mark of respect has now become omnipresent and dismal. Better an end to the whole poppy business than the several weeks of tabloids shrieking at TV presenters who are shown not wearing them ("TV POPPY BAN FURY").

#41 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:12 PM:

Fragano Ledgister@23: its use in Remembrance Sunday services makes many people assume that it's from the Bible. And many who know that it's about WWI probably think that it was written afterwards, maybe when the big memorials were being built in the early 20s. It's sobering to think that the poem was published in September 1914, when, by the standards of the next four years, pretty much no-one had yet been killed.

#42 ::: Lenore Jean Jones/jonesnori ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:14 PM:

#12 ::: John A Arkansawyer - thanks for this. It says well how I feel about it. I've attended several Remembrance Sunday services in London, Ontario, and one in London, England, and they felt very different to me from Veterans Day celebrations (I use the word celebration advisedly) here. I'm not comfortable with the celebration of power and might that Veterans Day often seems to be, but I'm moved by the quiet dignity and respect of Remembrance Day.

#43 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 10:59 PM:

"He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front."

-- Erich Maria Remarque

#44 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:21 PM:

The tragedy of what happens when veterans return from the war, and what happens when the politicians seem to have learned little from it, is something which isn't new. I quote below a verse from a song popular in the Great Depression here in Australia:

"We went out to fight for our country
We went out to bleed and to die
We came back and asked what that earned us
And this was our country's reply:

Soup (Soup!) Soup (Soup!)
They gave us a big plate of loop-of-the-loop
Soup (Soup) Soup (Soup)
They gave us a big plate of soup."

("Soup" - Sung to the tune of "My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean". The song refers to the soup kitchens which were the main expression of welfare policy at that time in Australia.)

#45 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2011, 11:22 PM:

My grandfather John Frazier served in WW I, I never knew about it until he was long dead. I know why he didn't talk about it. Heck, I only made it halfway through our WW I museum at the Liberty Memorial before I had to sit down on a well-placed bench to weep for the loss of the European / English boys. The second half, the American part, made me cry More. it was awful. The leader of our small tour group sat down with me a couple of times and gave me a hug after he realized why i was crying.

My father had been trained and was ready to go the England to fly bombers when the Armistice was signed for WW II. He ended up going to Korea and commanding a bomber again He did not speak of it EVER until he was too ill from cancer to be in control of himself. He was proud to be a Grim Reaper, because he fulfilled the mission he was assigned.

My brother (10 years older) didn't die in Viet Nam, but his spirit did. He's gotten better over the years but it took some rough stuff for him, and he still isn't the young man I admired and loved deeply before he went. He will not speak of his service if you ask him directly.

I certain other, younger members of my family on my father's side (lots of siblings, lots of children and grandchildren, our side not so much) served or are currently serving.

I spent today doing necessary things and pausing for two minutes at 11:11 to remember and think for a moment.

#46 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 12:10 AM:

Both my grandparents served in WWII, one in the Army Air Corps and one in the merchant marine; my father served in the Navy in Vietnam. None of them would talk about their war experiences. I came across this poem in high school, and for the longest time I heard it in their voices.

They ask me where I've been,
And what I've done and seen.
But what can I reply
Who know it wasn't I,
But someone just like me,
Who went across the sea
And with my head and hands
Killed men in foreign lands...
Though I must bear the blame,
Because he bore my name.
--Wilfred Gibson, "Back"

To all who have served, thank you.

#47 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 09:14 AM:

More Housman:

Farewell to a name and a number
Recalled again
To darkness and silence and slumber
In blood and pain.

So ceases and turns to the thing
He was born to be
A soldier cheap to the King
And dear to me;

So smothers in blood the burning
And flaming flight
Of valour and truth returning
To dust and night.

and Hardy--

Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set 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.

#48 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 12:40 PM:

lightning @ 43:

Of all the epitaphs of all the wars, that one makes me cry every time I read or hear it.

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 12:49 PM:

Steve with a book #41: Yes. It's very syrupy for a poem of the Great War. The only poems that I find ring as false as Brooke's:

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

Oh! we who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there's no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Nought broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart's long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.

I can't see the war-wounded responding well to that.

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 02:12 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #49: Gaah. That poem represents the worst Christianity has to offer....

#51 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 02:30 PM:

@33 DaveL
When I was in elementary school, we learned "In Flanders Fields," and were told that "take up our quarrel with the foe" was addressed to the US.

We were required to study that poem in some depth, in more than one year of high school English. I've never heard of that take on the 'quarrel' line.

#52 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 05:10 PM:

Lenora Rose, #20: Certainly "Join the same army I joined and let the generals kill you off the same way" is one feasible reading of "Take up our quarrel with the foe". But I do not think "Accept no peace negotiation or settlement" is remotely one. I doubt we can ask the Lieutenant Colonel, but it doesn't fit either the tenor of the rest of the poem or how most Great War veterans felt about their service.

Not sure this is right. There's a detailed and fascinating post here about the poem's war-time use as pro-war propaganda, with the line "if ye break faith we shall not sleep" being printed on British victory bonds. Anyway, it seems like a pretty convincing argument that that was how the poem was understood at the time.

And by at least some thereafter. The above-linked post quotes Paul Fussell's discussion of the poem from his classic book on the war, The Great War and Modern Memory, who says of the last six lines that they are

...recruiting-poster rhetoric apparently applicable to any war... We finally see -- and with a shock -- what these last six lines really are: they are a propaganda argument -- words like vicious and stupid would not seem to go to far -- against a negotiated peace... it is grievously out of contact with the symbolism of the first part.

#53 ::: jim ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 05:36 PM:

There is, in the library of the University Club of Montréal, what can only be described as a shrine to McCrae, who was, apparently, a member. It includes a framed autograph copy of In Flanders Fields, as well as photographs of him in and out of uniform.

The Club was once, I suppose, a bastion of Anglophone Montréal. But it has moved with the times. The last time we stayed there the meeting rooms were full of Francophone would-be high-tech entrepreneurs pitching their dreams and ideas. But there is one corner of the library which is, for ever, Anglophone.

#54 ::: JeanOG ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2011, 08:14 PM:

Sgt. MacKenzie: the song and the story.

#56 ::: between4walls ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 12:53 AM:

And here is a rather bizarre trademark claim.

"Last year, the Canadian Legion threatened to sue peace groups in Prince Edward Island and Ontario if they did not stop handing out white poppies in the run-up to Remembrance Day.

"It's simply a trademark issue," said legion spokesman Bob Butt told CTV News at the time. "We own the trademark on the poppy.""

Aside from the sheer nastiness of threatening a lawsuit, can one really trademark something like that?

#57 ::: Errolwi ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 01:10 AM:

Steve with a book @40 but I want an end to this obnoxious fetishization of the poppy, which now seems to go on for about a month from mid-October to mid-November.

I was saddened when living in London in the late 90's (having come from NZ) at the tacky-feeling wearing from late October. I am unsurprised that it has got worse. Here you only see them on Poppy Day (Friday before ANZAC Day) and ANZAC Day (and at specific events at other times).

#58 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 06:17 AM:

On the timing of poppies, I think the BBC sets the dates for its staff from the Royal British Legion's poppy campaign dates. That started on the 27th October, this year, two weeks before the 11th November, but sales aren't so visible until maybe a week later. Since it's partly about fundraising, there's maybe a reason for the difference between UK and ANZAC customs.

Mid-October, that does sound odd.

Locally, it used to be that the big effort was made on the preceding market day, a Thursday. Back in the old days, when people came into town to do their weekly business, selling the poppies, and wearing them, made a lot of sense, I reckon.

From the figures I've seen, the average payment for a poppy is about a quid. Too late now, perhaps, but it seems damnably mean of people.

#59 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 06:25 AM:


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
    O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
    But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
    But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
    The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
    O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
    Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
    But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
    While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
    But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
    There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
    O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
    But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

Rudyard Kipling, but I expect you all know that.

#60 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 10:37 AM:

On the treatment of veterans:

Ye haven't an arm and ye haven't a leg, hooroo, hooroo.
Ye haven't an arm and ye haven't a leg, hooroo, hooroo.
Ye haven't an arm and ye haven't a leg,
Yer an eyeless, boneless, chickenless egg,
And ye'll have to go out on the streets to beg...
Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

Centuries later, you'd think we'd have learned something.

#61 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2011, 03:31 PM:

Stephen Frug: Pro-war propaganda, yes. I conceded that; it's right there in the part of my comment you cited, and "buy victory bonds" seems to me on a similar level to "join the army" when it comes to not breaking faith with the fallen.

But I still have a hard time seeing "Accept no negotiated peace" as the only, or even a terribly feasible, expression of that "support the war" attitude. In fact, even Paul Fussell, in the section you quote, notes that this interpretation clashes with the prior verses.

Though if McCrae did as suggested in the article, and threw away the poem after seeing a friend killed, it might be because he thought that same section was problematic, or didn't quite say what he felt.

#62 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 12:11 AM:

Grandpa Wisan was always disappointed that he never went overseas. Speaking as a descendent, I'm actually fairly glad he didn't go overseas during his brief commission as a 2nd Lt in the US Army (1918).

Dad & his brothers also never saw combat during WW2. Uncle Jack was a Navy medic, whose ship to Japan was interrupted by VJ, and when they turned around to head for the European theatre, they were interrupted by VE, and went home. Uncle Max was a longshoreman in Italy. Dad played trumpet in various USAAF outfits in the lower 48. My mother's brother was never the right age - too young for WW2, exempt for grad school during Korea, and too old for Vietnam.

Debbie's father enlisted for Korea, but wound up occupying Japan, flying very few missions, and raising 1.5 kids at Ashiya Airbase. Her grandfather fought the Arabs and the British in Palestine, or so he claimed; we take that with a grain of salt.

My aunt's father, a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech, and an early pilot, went over to England to fly biplanes for the RAF. I've seen a picture of him with his Sopwith Camel.

My other grandfather burst his eardrums to avoid the Russian draft c. 1905. I remember walking along with some fannish friends, [erstwhile?] regulars here, swapping stories with a Jewish woman about how our grandfathers and great-grandfathers had found ways to avoid the Russian draft, while another woman, whose family was in America for centuries, listened in growing horror. We had to explain the difference between the Russian army, with its 15-25 year enlistments to erase people's Judaism, and the US army. Or German army, for that matter - I've run into Jews whose grandfathers proudly fought for Germany in WW1.

#63 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 01:06 AM:

Jon Baker @ 62:

The other problem with being a Jew in the Tsar's army was that the commanders thought it wasteful to give a real rifle to a Jew, so they were given broomsticks and sent into combat in waves. Very similar to what was done at Stalingrad in WWII, except for the part about only doing it to Jews. One of my great-uncles got lucky; he got his broomstick just before the war in the East ended and was never sent into battle.

#64 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 09:35 AM:

My Jewish great-grandfather refused to join the Russian Army and was put in jail. He swam across the Dniester River to Romania and made his way to the United States.

#65 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 02:19 PM:

One of my great-great-grandfathers chopped off his trigger finger in order to avoid the Russian draft in 1888, one of the years it came around to the Pale.

I hadn't heard about the broomsticks; it was explained to me as "sent in front to trip the land mines."

There wasn't any Ellis Island then; he came in through the Port of Elizabeth.

#66 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 03:58 PM:

Also Jewish here.

My paternal grandfather, who was born in a little town that (he said) was sometimes in Germany and sometimes in Austria, some time around 1900 (he was never sure and the town's not there anymore), ran away from home and family to avoid being forcibly conscripted even though he was under-age. He was tall even then, apparently.

As he told it, he just walked away from home one morning, having heard that the army was coming, and never went back. Somehow he made his way to Spain, where he found work. His employer later sent him to Mexico and then to NYC, where he quit his job, apparently immediately upon getting off the plane.

He didn't like to talk about this part of his life in much detail. There was an implication that he had argued with his father on the subject of the army; his leaving home was a breach between him and his family and as far as I know he neither saw nor spoke to his father ever again, though one of his brothers made his way to America a few years later.

#67 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 04:19 PM:

I was required to memorize "In Flanders Fields" in elementary school. I can still recite it.

We "studied" WWI in high school, but the full horror and idiocy of that war was not truly touched upon: that I learned through my own reading, later.

#68 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 06:58 PM:

“Mothers, Daughter, Wives” — words & music

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
Epitaphs of the War, Rudyard Kipling

While I detest the one-downmanship of "My unique catastrophe trumps your unique catastrophe", myself I very much mourn the dream of Socialism, which may never recover from the suicidal damnation of the workers going to slaughter each other for the bosses.

"The master class has always declared the wars;
the subject class has always fought the battles...."
— Eugene Debs

For my own lifetime, I did what I could to tell them not to go get blown to hell in the first place. Sell your fucking poppies to the people who cheered them on.

p.s. -- I have a recollection of a story of some great-uncle who died of blood poisoning from taking his thumb off with a hatchet to avoid impressment into the Czar's army. The semi-stock snappy comeback, "my forebears came here to get away from czars" more properly belongs in another thread . . .

#69 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 07:19 PM:

I'd also recommend Another Man's Cause by The Levellers. More current, perhaps. No video, just the song. Lyrics here.

Not light listening. Opposed to war, but not blaming the soldiers.

#70 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 11:35 PM:

Lenora Rose, #61: I still have a hard time seeing "Accept no negotiated peace" as the only, or even a terribly feasible, expression of that "support the war" attitude.

It's been a while since I read WW1 history, so maybe I'm just wrong about this, but I don't think that there was much daylight between "support the war" and "accept no negotiated peace". The question was whether to continue the senseless slaughter until somebody "won", or whether to call the whole thing off, i.e. a negotiated peace. I'm not saying that there was no logical position between the two, but my memory is that at that time no one was actually standing there, so in practice a poem telling people to take up the quarrel and keep faith was, in fact, opposing a negotiated peace.

#71 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 11:44 PM:

PS to previous: There were a few gestures in the direction that you're imagining, certainly. In a specifically U.S. context, Woodrow Wilson originally spoke about having the US enter the war in something like the spirit you imagine, where supporting the war did not mean opposing a negotiated peace; the phrase was aiming at "peace without victory". It was in this spirit that liberals, famously Walter Lippmann and John Dewey, supported the war. An amazing man named Randolph Bourne said they were being stupid, and that supporting the war was, well, supporting the war, and they were wrong to do it. Bourne was proved right; Lippmann and Dewey, et. al., felt betrayed, although they never made up with Bourne, who died of the 1919 flu pandemic if memory serves. But as Dos Passos would later write:

"If any man has a ghost
Bourne has a ghost,
a tiny twisted unscared ghost in a black cloak
hopping along the grimy old brick and brownstone streets still left in downtown New York,
crying out in a shrill soundless giggle;
War is the health of the state."

For the most part, you were pro-war or pro-peace: being for a settlement was the latter, telling people to take up the quarrel was the former. An ugly reality, but it was an ugly time.

#72 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 01:04 AM:

My uncle Melvin, who was a medic at the Battle of the Bulge, was the one who went putting flags on veterans graves for Veterans Day and Memorial Day... he died a few weeks ago, and at the funeral, a flag was placed by his, adjacent to the ones for my father and mother, before his casket was lowered down.

#73 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 09:44 AM:

Another poem by Thomas Hardy. "Channel firing" from April 1914. At least some people seemed to have an idea of what was coming, or a fear of what might come.

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, "No;
It's gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

"All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

"That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them's a blessed thing,
For if it were they'd have to scour
Hell's floor for so much threatening ...

"Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need)."

So down we lay again. "I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,"
Said one, "than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!"

And many a skeleton shook his head.
"Instead of preaching forty year,"
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
"I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer."

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

#74 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 04:42 PM:

Well, I'd be the first to admit that my grasp of historical attitude and cultural mores is not always what it should be.

And also that I'm altogether too inclined to find myself standing in a weird middle position between contentious groups, saying, "Hold on, there's a nuance here, it's more complicated than that..."

If it was that black and white, I find it something of a pity -- as in all honesty, I don't find the causes of World War One remotely clear and simple enough to be worth that kind of un-nuanced view.

These probably affect my reading. But I will say that while you're probably more right than I about the historical meaning, the accumulation of attitudes over the years have certainly affected the modern reader's view.

#75 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2011, 09:13 PM:

the accumulation of attitudes over the years have certainly affected the modern reader's view.

I certainly agree there.

#76 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2011, 04:44 AM:

I think we should remember that Willie McBride really did believe that this war would end war. Recall the historic recording made of the guns, so there would be a record of guns fired in anger, a sound that would never be heard again.

Being for anything other than victory, being for a negotiated peace, would be saying that you wanted more wars later on.

#77 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2011, 03:46 PM:

James D. Macdonald: That does put a more interesting perspective on the seemingly absolute stance. and one that I should have remembered, or at least considered.

But of course, from here the very idea of "the war to end war" looks a bit different. Since the only war I can imagine would succeed would be the one that stops the human race.

(Fortunately, in spite of starting my life in the age where nuclear annihilation was a very real fear, it seems as if the concept of a war THAT absolute has *also* weakened. Unfortunately, it keeps being replaced by other apocalyptica.)

#78 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2011, 03:51 PM:

My father's father served in WWI - he lied about his age in order to join the army. He trained as a medic, and I don't know for sure what kind of action he saw. I could figure it out to some extent, as we have a book about the Alabama regiments that served in the war and he is listed in there - I could see what his regiment was up to.

Aside from that, there's not much military service in my family history that I know of. The only other relative that I know served in any way was one of my mother's cousins. He was an Army signalman in a support assignment during the early 1960s - his good luck was to never get sent to Vietnam. My mother said that the Radar O'Reilly character in MASH reminded her of him.

#79 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2011, 05:48 PM:

While I have a few relatives that served in various wars, the one I always think of is my grandmother's younger brother, who, in 1939, while still underage, simply attached himself to the end of the column that was marching through his village. He was found at the next village, where they phoned his father to come get him.

Three months later, he was caught at a recruiting station, lying about his age and trying to join up again. His father gave in and signed for him.

Family lore is that he was captured by Rommel's army, and escaped - twice!

I have a photo of him taken in North Africa, with his squad-mates*, in their uniform pants and boots, white T-shirts, all tanned and squinty, in front of their tent. All of these boys, gone off to war, so young and handsome. I don't even know the names of the rest of them - I don't know if any besides my great-uncle survived. I never met him.

*is that how you say it?

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 06:29 PM:

Fragano @49, that poem is true to the moment. You can find statements to match it made by men in all the affected countries.

It wasn't long before they stopped talking like that.

#81 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 07:31 PM:

There is a story in my family;

Arnold Genthe, a German photographer living in New York City at the time, was a friend of my great-grandmother and heard of her plans to go on a trip to Europe. He said, "you really must meet the actress Ellen Terry! She is sailing on the New York." and persuaded her to change her travel plans accordingly.

When she got on the ship, she met Ellen Terry, who thought it very strange, because he had persuaded her to change her ticket too, with a similar story.

Thus it was that they were not on the Lusitania.

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