Care of the War Dead and of the War Living

It is right and fitting that the dead be cared for, and also right and fitting that those who have died while fighting for their country should have their bodies properly tended. In October 1914 when the carnage of war had just begun these words were written:

In all wars it has been one of the fears haunting a soldier’s friends that his body may be utterly lost. Even in this war there have been such irretrievable losses. But in no great war has so much been done as in this, to prevent the addition of that special torment to the pains of anxiety and of bereavement.

Today the war graves are sullen, empty of life but beautifully kept and we conceive of various ways to honour the dead. In London the Cenotaph, the empty tomb in Whitehall, is ceremoniously decorated and on Sunday will with pomp and circumstance be surrounded by soldiers, sailors, airman, royalty and politicians and a few ordinary folk in an attempt to make the living believe that the dead of war did not die in vain.

Of course they did. We can fill the dry moat of the Tower of London with a sea of ceramic poppies, and create a great sight for visitors. But we should not, when remembering the dead of war, look at great sights, like seas of poppies or cenotaphs. These merely add to the illusion of war.

We should see ghastly sights when remembering the dead of war. We should see their rotting flesh and bones and their distorted empty bodies and broken minds. We can only honour the dead with images that prevent war, not encourage it as a glorious and worthwhile enterprise. Because you cannot tell

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

     The old Lie:  Dulce et decorum est

     Pro patria mori.

And while we think of the dead of war we must also think of the living that war left behind.

These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.

     Memory fingers in their hair of murders,

     Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.

     Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,

     Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.

One Response

  1. A book about our MIC history is unveiled

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