Friday, 31 May 2019

On Patriotism in the Army (Battle of Danny Boy)

As skidding to a halt, returning fire
from in the turret, we men in the back
sat listening to the endless rounds, spray up,
the language in our minds was vile, obscene
for we’d been sent to counter the attack.
About fifteen militia, maybe ten,
popped up, engaged, got down, all zig zag hid
entrenched in desert sand, not in the mire
of some historic gas polluted scene.
We followed orders, no time to weigh up,
we fought as British men have done, we did
what we set out to do, which you’d admire
if we were not your fellow countrymen.

We zig zagged, leap frogged our positions then
went down upon one knee, returned the blast,
and step by step we closed in on the trench
and some surrendered, threw down guns, at last.
We  saw the shocked expressions in the eyes
of those who had not thought we’d take the fight
to them, and sensing quick defeat some ran,
yet where they’d run we could not really tell.
Almost as great as theirs was our surprise
at making it this far, yet we began
to follow training, not our instincts, which
were blind, defeatist, unreliable,
we did what we’d been trained to know was right.

The trench contained the living and the dead,
and weapons, which we put beyond the use
of men like cornered animals, whose dread
of us, to ours of them, was parallel.
As gun fire, covering, rained overhead,
confusion reigned and fear deep within,
we soldiered on and thought it not obtuse,
for something kept us at our work, despite
the chemical of doubt, adrenaline,
whose reasoning seemed undeniable, 
pumped through our heat raised veins, demanding flight.

As more troops on the battlefield arrived
for safety we had need to clear the site.
I walked out at the Sergeant Major’s side,
and far about the scene we tried to scan,
while sensing sudden danger all around
then “target left, militia in a ditch.”
The Sergeant Major quickly took him down,
a job of work, completion of a plan,
how many lives were saved for one deprived?
And we moved on, until ten yards away
another fighter stood, and so I dropped,
and kneeling, shot him, life denied.
“In all my dreams before my helpless sight”
in many hours of my waking day
I hear him coughing, taking his last gasp
and see him crumpling to the desert ground,
and wonder if your sort will ever grasp,
or even begin to acknowledge,
the weird kind of courage,
that it takes to kill a man.

And afterwards we took each corpse back where
the former man could be identified,
a dreadful, and a most horrific task,
and almost an impossibility,
but one from which we could not be exempt,
their death was our responsibility.
Their blood, soaked puce, into the desert sand
might have been mine, my life ended there.

“If in some smothering dreams” you too could see,
in detailed scenes within your poor mind’s eye
the vehicles we laid them in, with care, 
holding them intact, would you still ask
that bravery be held beneath contempt,

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