Reflections on Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est

 15 September 2007, “Stop The War” Rally at Columbus Federal Building 

 

My name is Brad Cotton, from Circleville, Ohio. I speak here today as a former Lt. U.S. Army Reserve as a Veteran for Peace, as a Quaker.

I spent this morning teaching our staff in the emergency department.  I am now an emergency physician; I spent the morning teaching nurses how to save lives. Speaking here before you now is an attempt to save lives, those being wasted, ours and Iraqi in our current occupation of Iraq, an attempt to save my children’s lives, your children’s lives in future unnecessary wars.

I read a poem by another Army Lieutenant, Wilfred Owen, British Army, World War 1. Wilfred Owen was killed 4 November 1918, in the last week of the war. As we don’t learn Latin in high school anymore, “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori” means, “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” That is the kind of thinking that took us into the slaughter of World War I, the kind of thinking that took us into Iraq. 

Dulce et Decorum Est

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

 

I mourn for our almost 3800 troops dead, the 28,000 injured, many with serious brain injuries from which they will never recover. The as yet uncounted tens of thousands with post-traumatic stress disorder for whom peace of mind, the love of their families will never be the same. I mourn for the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis.

“They are being treated like toys a rich kid got for Christmas” writes U.S. Army veteran and author Kurt Vonnegut in sympathy for our troops in Iraq. As a former U.S. Army Reserve officer with the 2291st U.S. Army Hospital and the 256th Evacuation Hospital I remember the bright young men and women I served with. Many of them were not from privileged backgrounds, they enlisted to serve, yes, but also to get money for college, try to learn a trade, to support their families and children. They asked only that their lives not be thrown away in vain, not in this unjustifiable war and occupation of Iraq. They asked only that they not die for lies, the lies Wilfred Owen warned us about. The lies of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice, the lies of FOX news. The lie that the Christian faith, perverted so often by Mr. Bush, justifies an aggressive war.

I hope I pass on only the truth to my sons and daughters and grandchildren. I thank you here today for being bearers of truth. There is much that is truthful, right and good in our nation, as our founders saw it. The good and the truth will come from those of us here, it will not come from those leaders, possessed of a profound darkness, who launched this war. I pray for my nation.

-          Brad Cotton