Fight for peace!


My oxymoronic headline is an attempt to explain what I am witnessing today, November 11th, the 100th year commemoration of the end of WW1.

What the day is about is remembrance.  Remembering the lives and the deaths of ordinary men and women who gave their lives for freedom, for peace, for God, Country and Corps.  That last bit is the bit that gets me.  The Corps.

The ceremonies of remembrance are, first and foremost, a grand day out for the military.  In Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, during the ceremony a military honour guard paraded to take station at the stands where poppy wreaths are to be laid.  During the drill the plate of medals attached to the chest of one of the soldiers came loose, swung away from his chest, and fell to the ground.

In that moment I asked if this was perhaps a good thing.  Those medals represent the peak of military achievement by that man, that soldier.  Why, at a ceremony to mark futility of death in battle, do we celebrate our soldiers.  We allow the military to own these ceremonies.  They don their finest uniforms, polish their boots, oil their rifles, raise their flags and march with great precision to the glorification of their corps, their battalion, their unit, division, brigade, regiment, whatever.

On a day when we should be repudiating war we celebrate the soldiers.  We are effectively telling those soldiers “if you are lucky we could be praying for you here someday, when you gloriously die in battle”.

Instead of wearing their finery perhaps it would be better if we asked our soldiers to attend these events in civilian dress.  No marching, no military bands, no pipe or fife and drum.

Cover up your medals, store them away.  Roll up your flags and place them in a cupboard.  Lay away your uniform.  Lock away your weapons.  Let the solemnity of the occasion be fractured by the shouted commands of military drill.  Carry a flower and a handkerchief.

Suicide in the trenches; by Seigfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
who grinned at life in empty joy,
slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
and whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
with crumps and lice and lack of rum,
he put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
who cheer when soldier lads march by,
sneak home and pray you’ll never know
the hell where youth and laughter go.



Remembering Len


I was all set to post a poem from one of the war poets for Armistice day when I heard on the news of the passing of Leonard Cohen at the relatively young age of 82.

Len was the artist I listened to in my teens when I had the blues real bad.  (To grammar Nazis out there, this syntax is perfectly acceptable when speaking about the blues).  When you felt unloved, down on yourself, miserable, you put on Leonard Cohen and by the third song you were thinking “hey, my life is actually pretty good!”  My favorite song is Suzanne, but this is probably more appropriate for the day that is in it.  Len is now standing before the lord of song with nothing on his lips but………………


Hallelujah:  by Leonard Cohen

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor falls, the major lifts
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
love is not a victory march
Its a cold and its a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the Name in vain
I don’t even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, but it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah