Dulce et Decorum est, Pro patria mori?

I am in full agreement with the views expressed by Peter Copestake and Joan West in their letters and, in particular, in relation to the First World War.

Wednesday, 12th February 2014, 5:55 pm
First World War One soldiers

In remembering the centenary of “the war to end all wars”, there is a danger of sanitising history and glorifying war to justify it. We should remember this was a futile war of attrition with 37 million killed or wounded. It was a war between Empires for domination and not fought to defend freedom and democracy. It is ironic the monarchs of three competing nations, King of England, Kaiser of Germany and Tsar of Russia, came from the same family household.

Those who were needlessly slaughtered or maimed were led like lambs to the slaughter in the trenches, fighting over a few yards of land. Yes, we should remember this tragedy but with deep sorrow and regret at the mass murder on all sides. We should not speak of the “glorious dead”. They were victims of war.

The testimony of those who were there speaks volumes: Harry Patch, a former veteran, said the war was a “licence to go out and murder”. He added: “Why should the British Government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense of that?”

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The Army padre, Studdart Kennedy, nicknamed “Woodbine Willie”, expressed the horrors of war in his poem “Waste”:

“Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,

Waste of Youth’s most precious Years,

Waste of Ways the Saints have trod,

Waste of Glory, waste of God … War!”

Wilfred Owen, an army officer, killed just before the end of the war, penned this poignant verse in his famous poem:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est,

Pro patria mori (It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country)”.

David Penney