Back in May 2016, I was still following the International Baccalaureate Diploma program. My old English teacher was a very tenacious and perfectionist lady who I grew to adore. She stood beside me at all times and had also suggested the topic of the following essay.
My literature based Written Task was inspired by the photographic realism and pathos within Wilfred Owen’s trench poems, namely: Dulce et Decorum est, Anthem for Doomed Youth, the Send Off, Exposure, Disabled and Mental Cases. I chose to impersonate a high-ranking war veteran who fought in the British Army in World War I and I imagined an extract of his memoir published in the Daily Telegraph, five years after his son’s death in action.
Appearing in a daily newspaper reaches out to a wide audience even though the broadsheet style of the Daily Telegraph appeals to the more educated public. I believe that every single person should be aware of the atrocity that war caused. I tried to convey my own message while keeping well in mind Owen’s work. I did not want to make direct references to his poems but create subtle echoes instead. I opted for a newspaper publication because I wanted the war veteran to share his story. I wanted to show that he is devastated and that he will never find his peace of mind. I wanted to find a way to display his suffering. I wanted the reader to be able to put himself into the veteran’s shoes and feel the horror. I wanted to create a true empathy towards him.
It was a fairly hard and sensitive topic because it is incredibly hard to imagine, absorb and recreate the horrors of trench and chemical warfare which characterise WWI. Like Owen’s trench poem’s, the memoir denounces chivalric images of war. Since the burst of modern warfare axed all ideals of bravery, far from the “war to end all wars”, the first global conflict amply proved how “patriotism is the virtue of the vicious” – Oscar Wilde.
MEMOIRS OF A WAR VETERAN: FIVE YEARS.
Lt. Gen. William George Camberson.
“Fire, bend, refill and rise. Pierce the soft and innocent bodies of boys who were not much younger than yourself and feel proud. You are rescuing your fatherland by killing the enemy. Do not fear the darkness and emptiness that death is, for there is no greater glory than that of dying for your nation.”
I believed and trusted every single syllable and repeated them passionately. I was a Lieutenant General back in 1917, the most diligent of all. I had joined that army years before the war broke out when I was a young boy myself, aged seventeen. I have been decorated multiple times for my gruesome achievements.
Needless to say, I adored the recognition. It is appealing for a man to be called “brave” and “exceptional”.
Now, I am an old man whose only purpose was to win. Win what? Even I am unsure of that. Win wars. Win the respect of my superiors. Impress and attract the prettiest girls. All I have won is the title of a murderer.
My most loyal friend died in front of my eyes. If I could have, I would have given my life and soul up to him.
I have seen many cry out in agony before drawing their final breath. It was no heroic sight. Their corpses often rotted away before we had the chance and energy to bury them. It was the norm. The unpredictable storm of shells shattered the little peace and hope that we had. We did not want to dig our own grave next to theirs. The greatest pain was that of their relatives. But we, officers of any rank, we had orders to follow. We did not have time to sympathise with the dead. We had to be firm and strategic for the bold and the living. We did not even bother to learn the names of the weaker ones. We saw too many new faces. They would not last. We did not care.
I took the lives of hundreds of children because that is what they really were. Boys who have not yet experienced what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. Ingenuous, harmless, children who were on the enemy’s side. Boys who did not have enough time to dream. Children like yours and mine.
Today is the fifth anniversary of my son’s death. He was beyond wonderful.He was born to lead… He was born to die. He was as young as the boys I led to their graves.
For endless months, I turned my back on God and what he represented. I could not believe how ungrateful he was. I had given up my vitality for my nation. I had given up my youth. I had given up my conscience for the better future of this nation. I came back with letters of love and admiration. He awarded me with an angelic wife. He gave me a wholesome son. Then he decided to take my son away from me. The flesh of my flesh at an age when his place was on the football field. And revelling in the company of pretty girls. Surely not to die horrifyingly on a battlefield.
Eventually, I began to understand that my son’s life had been taken away by no one else than myself. I had put into his head that there is no greater glory than that of serving your country till the doomed day. I was the hero he looked up to. He wanted to follow in my footsteps. He wanted to make me proud. His mind was corrupted just like hundreds of thousands of other boys’ minds became corrupted by the war propaganda machine. “Answer the call.” The colourful posters all forgot to mention that if they enlist, they were digging their own graves.
If I could go back and change the past, I would. If I could give my life in exchange of all of the fallen, I would. I have been a blind fool. The smoke from the explosions blurred my reasoning. Today, I am aware that words can cause worse wounds than bullets. They slaughter happiness. They massacre hope. They create a carnage in people’s brains. The more beautiful the rhymes are used, the more lethal to the juvenile mind. I no longer believe in Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori. I no longer feel pride in my deeds.
Dear all, I do not have long before my own demise. Thus, I would like to give you some advice. Fall not into the trap of war propaganda. Do not believe the ruses used by men who never held and have no intention of ever holding a single gun, let alone enlist.
War has no benefits to the nation, but to the powerful men who rule us. Their cravings of authority and dominance over more lands and more wealth justify how they carelessly sacrifice human lives. I am not powerful enough to change this world. I can not perform miracles. But you, all of you united together, you can. I had been too naive to realise that I sent boys marching to their own tombs. I had often blamed them for wasting our resources when they aimed badly. I often quarrelled with them when we had to retreat because too many had fallen.
What a bloody fool I was. My hands will remain crimson. My name will forever be gory.
Props to Hewer for a couple of rectifications 🙂