I have taken a very simple approach to the exercise of illustrating a poem. I intended to use the traces of military Aldershot to illustrate one of the many Kipling poems that I love. There was the opportunity to contrast his Victorian poems with the decaying evidence of Empire that surrounds the town.
However when researching the exercise I came across this poem by Curtis D Bennett (1), a Vietnam veteran, which resonated with me. In my lifetime young service men and women have been deployed across the world to fight in wars that appear to have played to the personal agendas of our political leaders or worse to the agendas of foreign politicians. We, quite rightly, see these young people as heroes who have done their duty in the great traditions of our armed services but are we ready to confront the brutal reality of what happened to them in our name?
Keeping The Distance
Beneath this earth young warriors sleep
Forever more, forever more,
And for what myth was it they died,
Who sent them here forever?
To bury them, so far away
From farm and village, hearth and soil?
We dare not ask of why or how,
We dare not think too hard of them!
We need not question of ourselves,
Of how we let them go so far,
So we may keep our distance safe
Can paint their pictures in our mind
Of how they sacrificed their lives;
Of how they died so willingly,
On land that did not give them birth,
Noblesse Oblige, they sleep the earth.
We know they did not wail or scream,
Nor cry nor piss their pants in fear!,
They did not spill their crimson guts
Through gaping wounds of steel-sliced flesh,
Or stare in numbness at their blood
That pulsed and squirted, stained the soil.
We know they did not weep for mother,
Nor curse their fate nor bawl in pain,
Or seek to find their missing limbs,
While dragging stumps through fiery ground,
Or smelled their own flesh, burning stench!
Nor whimpered soft through blood blind eyes,
As whistling breath through gaping throats
Shot out their life in scarlet spurts.
We do not wish them here at home
To find eternal, lasting sleep,
No, better stay in foreign lands,
Where they sacrificed their life,
No, t’is better they remain unseen,
To keep their distance and our dream
To keep them heroes, sight unseen,
For sure, they died as noble men,
Not terror-stricken sons and boys,
For if this myth were proved untrue,
How could we ever face ourselves?
How could we ever…be so cruel?
Curtis D. Bennett (1)
(1) Bennett, Curtis D. War Poetry by Curtis D. Bennett (accessed at War Poetry 14.3.15) – http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/curtis_bennett.html