Monday, May 31, 2010

Ode to a Conscientious Objector

In that fascinatingly repellent film, Death Wish, a man asks the redoubtable Charles Bronson what he did in the war (presumably Vietnam). "I was a C.O.," Bronson says. "A commanding officer?" "No, a conscientious objector."

What could be a more suitable day to celebrate the fate of a man who refused to fight in war than Memorial Day? Particularly if, like Olaf, apostrophized in e.e. cummings' great poem, he paid for his refusal with his life. Perhaps we should remember that, while military conscription (i.e., the draft) may be necessary during a time of national crisis, when many men might choose to object to military service for reasons of cowardice, exceptions should be made for those for whom fighting poses a genuine conflict of conscience. The battlefield is not the only place where victims of war are killed.


XXX

I sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelov├ęd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

e e cummings

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think your father would be ashamed of you.

Dan Harper said...

Then let him come back so that he can be ashamed of me.