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Monday, May 30, 2005

Just Peace

Posted by: Hammer / 7:28 AM

Memorial Day. In Churches and picnics and community gatherings across the country this weekend, In Flanders Field will be read:
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.

The poem was first published anonymously on December 6, 1915. The author was John McCrae, a Canadian field surgeon serving in World War I. Paul Fussell breaks this "butterfly upon the wheel" thusly:
It is an interesting poem because it manages to accumulate the maximum number of well-known motifs and images, which it gathers under the aegis of a mellow, if automatic, pastoralism. In its first nine lines it provides such familiar triggers of emotion...So far, so pretty good. But things fall apart two-thirds of the way through as the vulgarities of "Stand Up! Stand Up and Play the Game!" begin to make inroads into the pastoral, and we suddenly have a recruiting-poster rhetoric apparently applicable to any war...

We finally see -- and with a shock -- what the last six lines really are: they are a propaganda argument -- words like vicious and stupid would not seem to go too far...it is grievously out of contact with the symbolism of the first part, which the final image of poppies as sleep-inducers fatally recalls.

(Emphasis in the original: Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, pages 249-250, 1975 paperback.)

Odd, isn't it, that the most famous poem from the "War to End All Wars" is, in fact, a generic call to perpetual war?

Instructive, too, amid the War on Terror, to consider the sentiment. As our nation rises to not break faith with those who died on September 11, 2001, have we not considered those among our enemies who rise to keep faith with their friends, their families?

Revenge is the worst memorial. War is brutal and horrible and fundamentally a failure of humanity. Necessary, at times, to be sure. Just, at times, to be sure. Though sowing death to save lives may be necessary and just, sowing death from a simple thirst for revenge is vicious and stupid and beneath humanity.

A better reminder, if less poetic, comes from the great military historian, B.H. Liddell Hart:

The main obstacle in the Allies' path, once the tide had turned, was a self-raised barrier -- their leaders' unwise and short-sighted demand for "unconditional surrender". It was the greatest help to Hitler, in preserving his grip on the German people, and likewise to the War Party in Japan. If the Allied leaders had been wise enough to provide some assurances as to their peace terms, Hitler's grip on the German people would have been loosened long before 1945.
(Liddell Hart, The History of the Second World War, 1999, page 712)

There are two lessons to be learned from Liddell Hart's analysis. One, it's not wise to view our leaders uncritically, especially in times of war. Two, people desire peace. That if we can credibly promise a just peace, our enemies will reject the Hitlers and Bin Ladens in favor of their own sons and daughters.

And, no, brutalizing POWs does nothing to secure our credibility and bring us closer to a secure peace.

4 Comments:

It's bad enough that the current right wing administration and minions (Bush, and Pat Buchanan) want to trash FDR's accomplishments - Bush going after the New Deal, and Buchanan going after FDR's conduct of WWII and its aftermath - but now the left wing (Hammer) wants to trash FDR's conduct as well. What would you have had them say to Adolph? "Can't we just get along? Let's stop fighting, and we'll forget that you started a war that cost millions of lives, and tried to wipe out a whole race because of their religion."?? Gosh, if Lincoln had not been so belligerant in trying to stop the South from seceeding, we'd still have slavery in 15 states.
It's true that war is an evil thing. But let's use some common sense in thinking about it.
therealrepublican

By Anonymous theRealRepublican, at 1:33 PM  

I never suggested any compromise with Hitler. Neither did Liddell Hart. He wrote: "If the Allied leaders had been wise enough to provide some assurances as to their peace terms, Hitler's grip on the German people would have been loosened long before 1945."

I wrote: "[I]f we can credibly promise a just peace, our enemies will reject the Hitlers and Bin Ladens in favor of their own sons and daughters."

I assume your comment is in good faith, but I think you are reading a lot into my post that just isn't there. Allied forces negotiated for peace with the French in North Africa and the Italians. Italian military leaders, knowing the situation was hopeless, overthrew Mussolini, and accepted the reasonable terms of peace the Allies offered them. German military leaders might well have done the same thing if the Germans had been offered any terms of surrender. Remember, the Allies demanded Germany's unconditional surrender -- they wouldn't even promise not to kill and eat all the first born German children.

By Blogger Hammer, at 2:34 PM  

I'm no WWII expert but Hitler's grip on the German people was pretty stong so I don't know that we could have done much to reach them. And on at least one occasion German military leaders tried to assassinate Hitler (I believe Rommel may have even been involved in the plot.) Ironincally tho, one of the major reasons for WWII was the decidedly UN-just peace imposed on Germany after the First World War.

By Blogger Jambo, at 9:35 PM  

Jambo: you raise a question of fact that I can't directly address. All I can give you are Liddell Hart's conclusions. Liddell Hart's reputation is excellent, though not unmarred.

After the first assassination attempt, Hitler's grip on the military became tighter, but also smaller. Hitler suspected almost all of his higher command of conspiring against him. Certainly, a group of Nazis would have remained loyal to Hitler no matter what. But Liddell Hart, based on interviews with German commanders after the war, concluded that the military would've turned on Hitler if given an alternative.

By Blogger Hammer, at 9:44 PM  

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