Willful way with words

January 14, 2007 by barbara

by LeftyMN

(Photo of poet Wilfred Owen)

"During the battle of the Marne in September 1914, France's Marshal Ferdinand Foch declared: 'My center is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.' Thus wrote George Will in Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Foch did attack. And his "Fochian panache" resulted in a win of sorts, "followed by four years of carnage that destroyed empires, including the Ottoman Empire, a shard of which became Iraq."

It is fitting for the estimable George Will to address the issue of our Iraq experience in the mirror of World War I. WWI was similarly a catastrophic mistake of hubris and imperialism.

The "Great War" wiped out a generation in Europe, wasted and crippled that part of the generation that survived, set loose an international influenza pandemic, destabilized the Middle East to this day, created a Europe ripe for totalitarianism, set forth the Soviet experiment in Russia and its attendant influence on the post imperial world, furthered ethnic hatreds in the Balkans and Central Europe, incubated the grandiose philosophy of hatred and manipulation of a failed artist and wallpaper hanger named Schickelgruber who later killed millions, exacerbated the financial devolution that resulted in the Great Depression, helped create the modern military-industrial complex and the corporatization of the craft of war machinery and war profiteering, along with a litany of other ills that plague the world to this day.

Our ill-conceived, politically motivated Iraq war might not be as devastating. But it is certainly the most significant foreign policy blunder of the 21st Century and no doubt will generate a release of Pandora-like outcomes as well.

Field Marshal Foch's great gamble definitely saved France from defeat but, as Will himself notes, the sacrifice was enormous, both short- and long-term. And we must question the "sacrifice" made by the Field Marshal.

For all his brave talk, Foch himself was not actually endangered. His aides de camps and orderlies no doubt continued to deliver his meals with exquisite tableware. His fois gras and Bordeaux likely were still served with aplomb. Sounds a lot like our great commander, George II, who spoke briefly of "sacrifice" on Wednesday last.

How much sacrifice will George and Laura and the twins make? Will William Kristol lose his editorial or pundit stipends? Will Condi Rice be forced to pawn her designer shoes or to reduce her coiffure budget? Will Mitch McConnell find less corporate sponsorship for his Republican fundraising? Will the stock market or the Wall Street bankers who took in over 35 billion in 2006 bonuses sacrifice?

No. This sacrifice, like that of 1914-1918, will be borne by the military men and women and their families.

How fitting, then, to liken our leader's armchair bravado to the era of the The Great War.

Here is another WWI memory from the poet Wilfred Owen, written sometime during September-October 1917. Owen died leading his troop in an attack in France on November 4, 1918. The armistice was signed one week later.

Anthem for doomed youth
by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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