In a week when we commemorated a Nation’s war dead with a two minute’s silence and share our neighbour’s grieving from a fresh atrocity, a lot of voices call for action. Radios are filled with declarations of war and bombing campaigns, the rightness of shoot to kill policies and imposing new security measures to protect.
There are accusations made about the narrow focus of this outpouring; why so much angst when it is Paris and not for Beirut? On a personal level I am horrified by both but the French experience is more visceral, more real for knowing the city, giving the horror a context. I am also imbued with a shared history of fighting foes. We haven’t always loved France and the French as a construct but we are as close to its people as any other nation on the planet and in the last 100 years we have needed them as much as they us.
All this takes me back, as so often melancholy does, to my father. He loved and despaired of the French in equal measure. He would fight with them any day, more than with any other nation. When war was declared in September 1939, he recalls his father’s reaction to the famous radio broadcast. ‘It will be a good year for plums’. Not some call to arms. A non sequitur, perhaps, or rather a way of displacing his anxiety that his son, then approaching 14 would have to fight as he had in 1914. Tyranny must be defeated but let us be wary and cautious of the cost, on all sides.
I wrote this poem (in nonet form) as a reaction to a prompt about Armistice Day but it seems apposite to share it now. Before we rush to action consider who it is who will suffer most
‘No response received; we are at war.’
The wasp is drunk on rotting fruit,
Spins slowly. Disturbed it jabs
Its sting, thoughtless who’s hurt.
It’s instinct. It knows
No better. We do.
Yet still we