Friday, May 17, 2013

Ode to a Pacifist

“As society progresses, not only war itself, but the love of war will diminish.”  Bertha von Suttner
The word hero, according to Webster’s, means to watch over, protect.  More commonly, we think of a hero as someone who displays great bravery, or, if you’re from New York, as a submarine sandwich heralded for its great size and, if prepared properly, its drippings, which requires an act of courage to consume if one is dressed for work.  
For all that wars have taken from us; one of things that they provide is a steady stream of heroes.  As long as there have been wars there have been stories told of the brave men, and now women, who sacrificed all, and whose acts of courage give rise to monuments, stories, paintings, and poetry.  We literally sing the praises of our heroes in songs of tribute to their war-time acts.

It should come as no surprise that most people do not think of heroes when they think of pacifists. With the possible exceptions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we have few stories to rival the volumes stocking libraries and bookstore shelves about heroes in the heat of battle. Likewise, one would be hard- pressed to name a monument to pacifism: unless one considers the entire country of Sweden, its golden hair, chocolate producing, fondue-eating citizens a monument (as I certainly do).  

A Google search for poems on pacifists was disappointing in the lack of return. Imagine my shock when what it did turn up was this nugget from George Orwell, from his essay Pacifism and the War,* “Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.” I find it hard to see myself whistling along with that tune.

In an attempt to add one more hit to the Google search engine, and, more importantly, pay tribute to those who choose the gentle path through life-altering illnesses, or simply life, (heroes one-and-all) I offer this Ode to a Pacifist:

You’ll find no metals across their chests
No trophies adorn their dusty shelves
No banners hang to shout their names
But each a hero, just the same.
They do not beat the battle drum; still its rhythm fills their ears
They do not shout the battle cries, and still have shed their share of tears.
Their cause you may not even know
Lest you find the courage to simply ask
Their tragedies held in quiet grace
Their triumphs stored in a sacred space.
Strong and steady; peace in motion
One less war; their deepest devotion

Take that, George!
*George Orwell: ‘Pacifism and the War’
First published: Partisan Review. — GB, London. — August-September 1942

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