Sunday, 9 November 2008

war, what is it good for?

There are a few clips from film, television and radio which come to my mind when thinking about war and its toll on human beings. The opening scenes from Saving Private Ryan portraying the Battle for Omaha Beach during the D-Day Landings; the final scene from the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth as Blackadder and his troops go over the top of their trench and bleed into a field of poppies; Fergal Keane’s description of bodies being tossed across the Rusomo Falls, victims of the horrors of Rwanda, broadcast in A Letter From Africa.

However, one of the most powerful descriptions I have encountered is from Siegfried Sasoon’s Out In No-Man’s-Land taken from The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. I first read this piece of prose in 1982 as the Falklands War was getting under way.

Shell-twisted and dismembered, the Germans maintained the violent attitudes in which they had died. The British had mostly been killed by bullets or bombs, so they looked more resigned. But I can remember a pair of hands (nationality unknown) which protruded from the soaked ashen soil like the roots of a tree turned upside down; one hand seemed to be pointing at the sky with an accusing gesture. Each time I passed that place the protest of those fingers became more expressive of an appeal to God in defiance of those who made the War. Who made the War? I laughed hysterically as the thought passed through my mud-stained mind. But I only laughed mentally, for my box of Stokes gun ammunition left me no breath to spare for an angry guffaw. And the dead were the dead; this was no time to be pitying them or asking silly questions about their outraged lives. Such insights must be taken for granted, I thought, as I gasped and slithered and stumbled with my disconsolate crew. Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull.

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