The Next War

I’ve recently been watching a lot of movies and reading a lot of books that cover preludes to war, and in Above the Dreamless Dead (First Second, 2014), one of my favorite books of several different categories—graphic novel; poetry collection; war; social commentary—I came across this sorrowful poem by Osbert Sitwell, “The Next War.”

It often seems as though those who make decisions at the top forget the very real people whose lives are affected by those decisions, as Sitwell makes so depressingly clear here.

The Next War
by Osbert Sitwell

The long war had ended.
Its miseries had grown faded.
Deaf men became difficult to talk to,
Heroes became bores.
Those alchemists
Who had converted blood into gold
Had grown elderly.
But they held a meeting,
Saying,
‘We think perhaps we ought
To put up tombs
Or erect altars
To those brave lads
Who were so willingly burnt,
Or blinded,
Or maimed,
Who lost all likeness to a living thing,
Or were blown to bleeding patches of flesh
For our sakes.
It would look well.
Or we might even educate the children.’
But the richest of these wizards
Coughed gently;
And he said:

‘I have always been to the front
-In private enterprise-,
I yield in public spirit
To no man.
I think yours is a very good idea
-A capital idea-
And not too costly . . .
But it seems to me
That the cause for which we fought
Is again endangered.
What more fitting memorial for the fallen
Than that their children
Should fall for the same cause?’

Rushing eagerly into the street,
The kindly old gentlemen cried
To the young:
‘Will you sacrifice
Through your lethargy
What your fathers died to gain ?
The world must be made safe for the young!’
And the children
Went. . . .

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