There have been several programmes on BBC Radio recently about Tennyson, as this year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. In one, a modern soldier read part of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'. He explained how well Tennyson captured the confusion of battle, and how he emphasised the bravery of the soldiers and the stupidity of the generals. The young man seemed very touched that someone outside the battle had cared enough about the disaster of it to commemorate it in verse. Paradoxically, it is only because of this poem that anyone apart from military historians knows the battle today.

Similarly, what would our images of World War I be without poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas? We would have the photographs, films and other archive materials, but nothing gets across the horror and the human tragedy of life in the trenches with the immediacy of the poetry.

Modern wars still seem to be about the ordinary soldiers taking the risks, while the generals stay well out of the firing line. We are sending children into battle, children who are fighting other children. We are bombarded with images and footage of war on TV, but we rarely hear from the individual soldiers about the horror of their daily experiences. The more film we see of explosions, and the less we hear from the combatants, the more modern warfare starts to resemble some huge video game.

We need people who remind everyone of the human cost and the barbarity of war. We need to be reminded that the little figures we see running on the news are individual people, with lives and thoughts - and emotions which are being crippled as much as their bodies are by the horror of their experiences.

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Comment by Peter Lawless on 9th mo. 27, 2009 at 10:04am
True my Friend
As Walt Whitman said war is a reversal of things where fathers bury their sons rather than sons burying fathers. The current spate of UK TV ads for the forces are making war seem like a computer game and show the game players reflect their pride. They often end with the words'No casualties' but I feel that this is taking a partial view of the issue in that It seems impossible to know that with certainty and gives a sense that the only casualties which count are those on 'our side'. This seems to reflect a dehumanising, as well as desensitising, view of the process. Have they no imagination of the hurt they are inflicting, the resentment they are creating and how they are making the task of peace making harder and prolonging the conflict not shortening it?
I am reminded of the injuction to attend Meeting with heart and mind prepared but surely we must live all our lives this way but it leaves open the question prepared for what and who is responsible for that preparation?

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