The New York Times
Published: June 10, 2004
If the world leaders at the G-8 summit meeting want to understand the war in Iraq, they should look beyond the war plans and U.N. resolutions. The most incisive analysis of war has often come from poets, like Homer or Wilfred Owen.
And now the Iraq poems are beginning to come in, offering another way to memorialize the struggle there. In April, I announced a contest for readers' poems about the Iraq war. Since then, I've been deluged by more than 1,000 sonnets, limericks, haiku - and, alas, epics.
Many try to capture the ugliness on the ground with the beauty of verse. Tim Johnson of Northville, Minn., wrote:
Outside the city, shivering with dread,
We're Falluja bound.
Can hear the explosions when I raise my head. . . .
Foreign soldiers, invaders from another land;
When I look through the hatred in their eyes,
I almost understand.
R.P.G.'s, mortars, and friends dead on the road.
My youth is gone,
Crushed from sensory overload.
Assaulted yesterday up an Iraqi street.
R.P.G. explosion, a scream,
Seared my face with the heat.
Dragged him through the blood-streaked dust and dirt,
His screams in my ears,
His blood type tagged to his shirt.
Covered with blood, he cried, Don't leave me alone.
Died in my arms;
Now I just want to go home.
Officers yelling, Get out of your holes!
We're Falluja bound;
Please pray for our souls.
An embittered second lieutenant who asks not to be named wrote:
Knock the dust off your boots, my boy,
It's time to ride again.
The frontier has gone restless now
And we must crush this rebellion. . . .
These people understand only violence,
So let's give it to 'em now.
We'll ride 'em down like Cherokee;
We'll trample 'em like Pueblo.
These savages are ruthless;
They understand no law.
So we'll pick up our Peacemakers,
And shoot 'em like Choctaw. . . .
Rally round the flag, my boy,
And grab your rifle, too.
The Red Man's turned Brown, my boy,
And there's a lot of peacemaking to do.
Megan Foley, a 16-year-old from Long Island, focused like many on the ambiguities of a war that was supposed to enhance moral clarity:
Confusion, fear and lies;
What good can come when people die?
Red Blood spilt
On barren land
To complete an alchemical plan,
Red Blood to Black Gold,
Deviously poisoning, polluting, choking our Heart.
Men tortured, defiled, dishonored by their Brethren,
Captured on film, a permanent bruise
Not to be overlooked.
Truth and honor wither away;
They know they do not belong.
Boundaries grow hazy
Accompanied by roles:
Who the victim? Who the villain? Both? Neither?
For what purpose and to what end?
Why fight a war
Paid with lives
Only to gain confusion, fear and lies?
Another young entrant, Zach Chotzen-Freund of Santa Barbara, Calif., examined in this excerpt the esprit that leads 17-year-olds to sign up for war. Fittingly, he's 17.
Off now, children! Off to war! Kill in your country's name!
For murder on behalf of kin is what allows our boys to win
And rest someday in cherished lore. So off now, off to war!
Off now, children! Off to war! Make your fathers swell with pride!
For though you're young, they love to hear that you're a splendid bombardier
And dodge death like a matador.
So off now, off to war!
Off now, children! Off to war! Bring smiles to your mothers' eyes!
They hate to lose you, sure that's true, but if flags of red, white and blue
Are at your funeral, souls will soar.
So off now, off to war!
More readers' poems are posted at www.nytimes.com/kristofresponds, my blog. I'll run the grand winners in my next column, on Saturday.