Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Serving Officer Protests His War

Finished with the War
A Soldier’s Declaration

I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe evil and unjust.

I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

S. Sassoon
July 1917

After his protest was published Sassoon was sent to a mental hospital to be treated for “shell shock.” He was an officer, wounded twice and twice decorated for bravery. He survived the war and died in 1967.

5 comments:

Randall Holdridge said...

Art,

I'm glad to see your posting of Sassoon, not least because I like his books of English country life, but because his record of trench war life has been hugely valuable in the subsequent understanding and treatment of post traumatic stress syndrome in soldiers.

The l995 Booker award winning novelist Pat Barker has created a great 20th century work of introspection about war's intellectual costs in her by now famous trilogy, ["Regenration"; "The Eye in the Door"; "The Ghost Road"], informed by the real life accounts of WWI's psychiatric doctors and patients, including especially Siegfried Sassoon, whose diaries are exquisite.

The present English Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, has an interesting notice in the current number of the "Times Literary Supplement" (Oct. 6, 2006), in which he describes his emotions, as a schoolboy, on finding in the purchase at Oxford of Wilfred Owen's "Collected Poems", a reprint of the first and second drafts of Owen's immortal poem -- "Anthem for Doomed Youth" -- as edited and improved by Sassoon "when the two soldier-poets were writing shoulder to shoulder in the Craiglockhart Hospital."

For those who don't know it, here's Owen's "Antehm for Doomed Youth":

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs --
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Art Jacobson said...

Randall,

Thanks for passing on Owen's "Anthem."
I'm well acquainted with the Barker trilogy. Sassoon's letter...as you probably realize..opens "Regeneration."

I was struck to the heart by how appropriate it was to our present war.
Sassoon's anti war poetry is absolutely savage:

"Does it matter?- losing your legs?..
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

"Does it matter?-losing your sight?...
There's such splendid work for the blind.
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
--Does It Matter?

Randall Holdridge said...

Art,

Our two choices of poems complement one another, and raise double demons of a war's aftermath, the stricken remains of wounded survivors, and the quiet emptiness of those who sent their love and hopes to war with those who died.

We could go on between us in this exchange, but it seems vain and indecent for us to do so without the voices of others joining in.

I hope they will.

x4mr said...

Art/Randall,

I don't have a poem to contribute, but I share your sentiments regarding this god awful mess. I said somewhere that I think this fiasco will go down as one of the greatest blunders in human history.

It is THAT BAD, and I don't know how anyone can say this isn't slipping past the point of no return with respect to civil war. Iraqi casualities are well into six figure sums, perhaps topping half a million according to some estimates.

Regarding blogger commentary, it seems to have really dropped off since the primary. Not sure what to make it mean. I miss some of those fabulous threads that occurred here at TDP during the summer.

There's a cynical part of me that thinks volumous commentary tends to flow to the banal and inane. For a good sampling, go to the online Star and read the drivel that gets posted after various stories.

Comments or not, Art, I visit your blog regularly and enjoy what you publish. As for my own blog, I will continue so long as the spirit moves me and set my own standards. At least for the moment, it appears that thought provoking material of substance solicits fewer comments than simpler political tabloid stuff.

Liza said...

x4mr,
I think you are absolutely right that "thought provoking material of substance solicits fewer comments than simpler political tabloid stuff." However, it doesn't mean that thought provoking material was not effective or went unnoticed. You never know who is reading.

By the way, Art, this is a great post.