Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori

Dulce et Decorum est (7/365)

"It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." 

That is, apparently, a good translation for Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori. The line, itself, goes back to the Roman poet, Horace. But for many in the modern age, it comes from an anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen, who wrote the poem to recount a mustard gas attack during World War I but didn't release until after the war was over.

Owen, famously, calls this phrase, "The Old Lie." It is a lie, he says, that it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for one's country. Perhaps it is more of a lie today than it ever has been before.

I struggle with this.

I am in awe of veterans and also those who lose their lives in war. I'm in awe that they would willingly offer (no draft today!) to shoot and be shot at for their country. While I can conceptually wrap my brain around it if it seems there is a threat to our own country, to our homeland, to our families, I struggle, mightily, when it appears that the threat is farther removed...when it is someone else who is threatened...when we fight for vengeance...when we fight to "keep the peace." How do we convince young men and women that "it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for one's country" in these circumstances?

How do we make "the old lie" into a truth?

How, regardless of the fitting-ness of war, do we celebrate, recognize, and honor the sacrifices of our vetarns?

Can one even call out the lie while, at the same time, supporting our troops and those in harms way?

I leave you with the Owen poem:

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.

~ Wilfred Owen

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