Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Picardy Express

I'm looking out of this train window
watching towns and villages and farms and history speed by,
the no-man's-land on either side of the line
now bears a plentiful crop,
and waits for the mechanical scythe.

The harvest is coming.

All the old-timers have faded away;
some straddled three centuries, and belonged to a different age

but the stories they told are all the same -

of how a war which was nothing more than a family squabble
among different heads of state
led to millions of dead young men
and an upturn in the memorial monument trade.

Now battle-ground tourists criss-cross the countryside
on guided coach-tours of war cemeteries
and heritage visitor attractions which enable the customer
to empathise and re-live the past,
with hands-on multi-media displays
and neatly arranged junk and artifacts.

Perhaps there's something in our national psyche -
a mawkish sentimentality
that finds the romance in needless slaughter,
of duty nobly done for the greater good,
becoming like a favourite piece of pornography
stiffening the backbone
firming the resolve
stirring the blood

but ultimately leaving us hollow inside.

Today, things are much more civilized;
instead of fighting with bayonets in mud
against a uniformed foe a few yards away
the war on terror in some foreign field
is mostly against some-one who can't be seen
and the killing is done at a safe distance
and controlled remotely -

the roadside bomb,
the rocket attack from another country,
the drone that rains down death from above,
the press of a button,
the flick of a switch,
the waiting
the waiting
the waiting

the signal.

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