Saturday, November 28, 2015

War Poets 7: You can't blame us

“You can't blame us” said the generals,
“We did what you told us to do.
We thought that you asked us to win the war.
And we won it. What more could we do?”

“You can't blame us” said the government.
“We had to defend the land,
And these things always come at a cost,
Surely you understand.”

“You can't blame me, said the soldier.
I just did what I was told.
And anyway I was simply a kid.
I was killed at twenty years old.”

So was it all simply nobody's fault?
The horror, the killing the pain?
It seems like the truth. But if it is true,
Why it's certain to happen again.
                                      Nick Mellersh November 2015

Wrote this after going to a talk with a retired general who lives in a village not far from us. (The link at "general" leads to more about him.)  His talk was entitled "Lions Led by Donkeys." It was about the first world war and whether the generals had been given an unfairly bad press.  

He is an impressive and intelligent man and he made the case very strongly that the generals had been unfairly blamed.  The type of war was new, the enemy efficient and determined yet the British army (unlike the French and the German) never showed signs of falling apart. And they were the army that brought it to an end in the last 100 days.  Days my father missed as he was at home in hospital with his third wound. The generals, given the circumstances did a surprisingly good job.

I believe this to be true.  And so did my father who fought in the war and wrote three books about it. But somehow the whole thing left me feeling unhappy.  If everyone was doing their best (and generally they were) why was the outcome so terrible. The preservation of peace is a dilemma and mankind seems thoroughly bad at it.  As I write this the clouds of war are gathering.  We must try harder than a predecessors if we are going to avoid another ghastly bloodbath  But surprisingly we avoided a nuclear war in the fifties and sixties when that seemed inevitable so let us not give up hope.

(What seems to me very frightening is the way the debate is skewed. Corbyn asks whether the plan to drop more bombs on ISIS (and kill a few more misguided idealistic young men) is really a part of a coherent military strategy. The press discuss everything but this. Mostly "should we leave it to our allies to do all the dirty work then", and "I suppose Corby thinks we can just send a few policemen around to Raqua and arrest them all"  But thinking back to the 50's maybe we can sort out the mess in the middle east without making things a million times worse.  I hope so.)

The last few weeks of this blog have been dealing with serious issues mostly to mark the publication as ebooks of my father's books about World War I.  You can have a look at excerpts from them all at

Next week it should be time for something a bit more happy.  Oh yes and for some beautiful drawing have a look at my wife's blog, this week showing four life drawings. 

PS: I managed to find the bit that was in the Lymington times about my dad's books today.  It's up on the website.

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