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The Poet's Eye--Do Or Die (first draft)

Posted to Poetry and Politics




Do Or Die



'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
--Alfred Lord Tennyson




I'm not a big cry baby. But now and then my eyes will mist up and I'll get a catch in my breath. Inside my crusty shell there is an amount of sentimental mush. Every Sunday when George Stephanopoulos does the In Memorium section of his show The Poet's Eye gets a tear in it for the wasted lives from this war. We have lost over six hundred.

Tennyson wrote The Charge of the Light brigade about a massacre that happened during the Crimean War when British commanders foolishly sent The Light Brigade into withering fire. There are a number of interesting parallels between The Crimean War and our present adventure in Iraq.

Both were in the same region of the world. Both were corporate wars. The Crimean War was waged in behalf of the British East India Company and Lloyds of London just like the Iraq War was launched for the benefit of Halliburton et al.

They were both imperial wars for the purpose of controlling resources and trade routes. The Iraq War is being fought to secure oil supplies and the Crimean War was fought because Russia was threatening to control the Dardenelles, a passage vital to British shipping. The Afghan War of 2002 was waged to secure pipeline routes, not women's rights.

There was a 'coalition' in the Crimean War, even though it was primarily a British affair which was fought for British imperial motives. The Turks and the French participated, among others, against the Russians.

The Crimean War was the first war covered by modern war correspondents. The first real war correspondent was William Russell of the London Times. Russell's comments on the plight of the sick and wounded in the Crimea convinced Florence Nightingale to travel to Turkey to establish efficient and sanitary nursing facilities. And who knows? Perhaps Russell's graphic portrayal of the heroic though futile Charge of the Light Brigade in October 1854 directly inspired Tennyson's celebrated poem.

The Iraqi War has been televised and reported in detail. Correspondents travelled 'embedded' (in bed) with our forces. We see instant pictures of each smoking HumV where six more soldiers are killed by a roadside bomb. The American public has been in the living room of many grieving mothers and war widows via TV since the 'end of hostilities.'

Which brings us back to Florence Nightingale.
During the Crimean War she sought to improve the care of sick and wounded soldiers. She introduced women nurses into military hospitals, set up kitchens to provide suitable diets for the invalids, provided recreational facilities for convalescents and improved the distribution of supplies. These principles have been the basis for much Red Cross work in later wars.

In the Iraq War the International Red Cross, an organization whose inception was inspired by Nightingale's work, was instrumental in bringing to light the Abu Graib prison abuse scandal that has been the worldwide insignia of America's imperial ruthlessness in Iraq.

The Poet's Eye weeps for the more than six hundred Americans killed and the thousands wounded in an imperial war who's only purpose is enriching a few at the expense of many. And all because " Some one had blunder'd."


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
--The Charge of the Light Brigade
by Tennyson