The Blind Men and the Elephant

A thought-provoking poem about war and the posthumous awarding of hero-status on soldiers.

Why this poem?

I get rather cross about conflict and wars. It often seems to me that the people who decide that war is a good idea are seldom the same people who are on the frontlines, having to commit atrocious acts to fulfil orders or to survive, and who return “home” with mental challenges, or physical disabilities, or in a body bag (if they are lucky enough to make it home at all). I often wonder if politicians and leaders would be so quick to declare war if in doing so, they were commiting themselves and their loved ones to be the first on the field and the first in the line of fire.

I also find this idea that parents should be “proud” that their child died on the battle field absurd. What kind of parent would prefer their offspring to be riddled with bullets or torn to shreds by a landmine rather than having them home, safe and sound?

When my husband’s godmother shared Felix Pollak’s poem with me in German, it struck a chord and when I searched for it later, I discoved an English version, and thought I’d ponder it whilst walking the tortoise…

Speaking: the Hero by Felix Pollax

I did not want to go.
They inducted me.

I did not want to die.
They called me a coward.

I tried to run away.
They court-martialed me.

I did not shoot.
They said I had no guts.

I cried in pain.
They carried me to safety.

In safety I died.
They blew taps over me.

They crossed out name
and buried me under a cross

They made a speech in my hometown.
I was unable to call them liars.

They said I gave my life.
I had struggled to keep it.

They said I set an example.
I had tried to run

They said they were proud of me.
I had been ashamed of them

They said my mother should also be proud.
My mother cried.

I wanted to live.
They called me a coward.

I died a coward.
They call me a hero.

And that, dear reader, is the end of today’s Walk the Tortoise!