Today is a High Holy Day for Marines like me. On this day in 1775, the Continental Congress agreed to form two battalions of Marines. The committee that decided this met at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, over beers of course, and the Continental Marines were born.
So those of us who have earned the title Marine, have two birthdays, the second of which we all celebrate today. I’m thankful that I was blessed to be a Marine. But I also know that my time in the service, and those of my brother and sister Marines, has left me with an unsettled feeling about the wars we have been called on to fight of late. Coming up on 10 years in Afghanistan? Sheesh.
Sigfried Sassoon (that’s him in uniform above) is regarded as one of the best “war poets” of all time. He served bravely during World War I, and was awarded a medal for gallantry. But he also experienced the horror of total war, and this in a war that destroyed an entire generation of the “best and brightest” of Europe.
Below are thoughts of Sassoon’s that were published in the English newspapers in 1917. They caused quite an uproar at the time. But the salient points he raises should, in my humble opinion, be raised again today.
Sassoon’s Public Statement Of Defiance
I am making this statement as an act of wilful 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 to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerity’s 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.
Later in life, Sassoon converted to Catholicism. It is difficult to readily find any of his later Catholic poems (you can find most of his war poems easily) but I did find this one to share. This is the prayer of an old soldier. Someone who has seen the world at its worst, despite it’s best intentions, and has found solace at the foot of the Cross.
A Prayer in Old Age
Bring no expectance of a heaven unearned
No hunger for beatitude to be
Until the lesson of my life is learned
Through what Thou didst for me.
Bring no assurance of redeemed rest
No intimation of awarded grace
Only contrition, cleavingly confessed
To Thy forgiving face.
I ask one world of everlasting loss
In all I am, that other world to win.
My nothingness must kneel below Thy Cross.
There let new life begin.