Being distanced from the hot zones of war, we forget what kind of hell on earth war can be.
That’s when the stories of war matter. And so do its poems. Before you think poetry is airy-fairy stuff, remember that poetry is a distillation of man’s immediate and direct responses to the world around him. Thus, a good war poem states profoundly the unspeakable truth of strong reality that buttresses itself against the warspeak that emanates from the corridors of power.
In places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, poetry is a beloved medium of expression for writers and thinkers and a voice of the people.
In war, black and white bleed into each other.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
The great World War One poet, Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) wrote this line in an unfinished poem, Strange Meeting.
To me, black and white are close relatives, for like right and wrong, you can’t have one without the other. Also, what is judged as wrong can be deemed right in another context.
What context? We supose tha it is right for a soldier to obey his captain’s orders. If the order is for the soldier to kill the enemy, the soldier kills the enemy while maintaining it is right to do so, given the context of war against an enemy country.
And what if the soldier goes against orders and spares his enemy’s life? Is it morally right? At which part of the “rightness” spectrum does his action fall under? There is no clear answer, is there?
This story, Blood Brothers, also made me think about the definition of the enemy, and who defines the term for us. In desperate times, in violent times, black is not always black. Your friend could well be the enemy you killed under orders. And if you didn’t?
He could be your blood brother.
- Michael Caines: Versed in the Horror of War (online.wsj.com)
Francois Fenelon, a 17th century French archbishop, poet and writer and defender of human rights, once said “All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.” What are your thoughts? Do share your responses about the story on Blood Brothers.