Monday, November 10, 2008

Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans Day here in the U.S. And yes, that's the proper way to spell it, per the U.S. government, although Veterans' and Veteran's are frequently used.

On tonight's NBC news, Brian Williams reported on the Highway of Heroes in Canada. Every time a Canadian soldier's remains are returned home from Afghanistan, thousands of citizens turn out to line the highway from the airport to the morgue. Family members riding in the caravan of vehicles accompanying the body, which is received with state honors, can look out the windows and see thousands of their citizens saluting as they go by, and/or waving Canadian flags.

In the lead-up to the story, Williams noted that here in the U.S., we pretty much never see the caskets come home. What Williams didn't go all that far into is that the reason we don't see the caskets is because the government has been suppressing press coverage of the more than 4000 caskets that have returned to the U.S. from Iraq and the more than 600 that have returned from Afghanistan, to say nothing of the many thousands more with life-altering injuries. Apparently, seeing all those dead and wounded returning home might decrease support for the war. (Ya think?) But I digress.

The point of this post, however, is not to become overly political (although I recognize I came perilously close with that last paragraph), but to draw attention to Veterans Day, a day in which we should all honor the men and women who have served our countries in times of war.

Here, a pointer to two posts I've done about war poems, which are, I believe, a good way to memorialize the day. Also, poems by men who have experienced war tend to convey some of the realities of war (harsh, sad, noble, and otherwise) to readers in a way that simple news coverage cannot. So I point you first to a prior National Poetry Month post that includes three of my all-time favorite war poems, "Dulce et decorum est" by Wilfred Owen, "The Soldier" by Rupert Brooke, and "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae.

And I point you next to my Veterans Day post for Guys Lit Wire, which goes live shortly after midnight in some other time zone, in which I discuss the poetry collection Here, Bullet by Iraq War veteran Brian Turner. The collection came out in 2005 and has been winning awards ever since. If you've read the post in the previous paragraph, you've seen that Owen's poem was actually a condemnation of war and its atrocities, whereas Brooke's poem is about the noble calling of what it is to be a soldier, full of idealism, and McCrae's poem is about the dead soldiers, and their passing of the torch to those that follow. Turner's work in Here, Bullet covers all of this ground in a way; his poems discuss the sometimes brutal reality of what it is to be an American soldier in Iraq, but they share also the beauty (and harsh conditions) of that country, as well as some of its history. And war is not ennobled in poems such as "Body Bags", "AB Negative (The Surgeon's Poem)", and "16 Iraqi Policemen", which include grim physical descriptions of deaths.

Here, one called "Sadiq", the Arabic word for friend. The epigraph comes from The Gulistan of Sa'di, Chapter Eight.

by Brian Turner

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

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