A Poem for Memorial Day: War vs. Peace

Independent radio producer Joe Frank reads a poem about war and peace.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

We end our Memorial Day program now with a poem, "An Ode to War and Peace," written and performed by independent radio producer Joe Frank.

JOE FRANK:

So here's to the snappy salute, to spit and polish, the clicking of booted heels, the singing of martial odes. Here's to the officers' club and the swaggering commandant, to the loving but abusive drill sergeant, to the constant flow of insult that is the philosopher's stone of survival. Here's to the young lieutenant fresh from the academy, to the troop ship, soldiers with their duffel bags slung over their shoulders, their cloth caps slouched and angled on their brows. And here's to weeping parents, sweethearts and children clutching at the skirts of their mothers, to final tearful embraces and brass bands playing.

Here's to the night before the battle, to the assault, the coursing landing craft, to going over the top, to the airborne troopers plunging from their droning seed pods, to the rubber dinghy landing at night. Here's to where the farm boy and the city dweller meet and are made equal. Here's to the arcing shell and magnesium dawn, to the clanking treads of armored personnel carriers, to bullets and howitzers, carbines and recoilless rifles, to mortars and anti-personnel bombs, to fragmentation grenades and tear gas canisters, to machine-gun emplacements and flamethrowers, to fasgene(ph) and mustard gas, to the serrated bayonet and the deadly rain of shrapnel.

Here's to minefields fraught with sudden fragmentation, to screaming sergeant death, commanding the rag-tag remnants of his courageous platoon. And here's to raising the flag on the shattered field of victory, to the prisoner of war camp, to the medevac chopper, the hospital ship, sacrosanct, yet sunk, to chaplains, to burial detail and body bags, to "Taps" and other songs. And here's to the brave pilots who in their cavalier ready rooms prepare to become the airborne messengers of death, to the dog-faced infantry who dedicate themselves to the earth as much as their own cause. Here's to words like courage, sacrifice, discipline, glory, maimed, dead.

Here's to war. I raise my glass to you and gaze into the roiling liquid of death's own intoxication. O, war, you have made the low elevated. You have created heroes, and history will be written by your winner. Peace is pallid next to you. Peace can skulk and shrink, a weakling, a coward's paradise. Peace, you lukewarm bowl of grandmother's mush, you washed-out stand-in for manly behavior. Peace walks through the marketplace offering second-hand bargains, peace, the shaver of points, the cut-rate merchant. Peace, you miserable converter of men into swine, you destroyer of valor, quicksand in which nations founder, the bleeding wound in the side of the great avenging angel. Peace, the apologist, the compromiser, the appeaser, the rust upon the edge of courage's great sword.

What is peace but an excuse, a reason for cowardice, a refusal to accept one's responsibilities? I spit on peace. I lift my leg on peace. I have my dog despoil the miserable garden of peace. There are no medals to peace, no honors, no marching bands, no great monuments to peace, no hymns sung, no great odes, no martial melodies, no parades to peace. There are no gigantic fireworks displays, no champagne corks popped to peace, no last cigarette smoked in its honor. There is no night before peace, no declaration of peace. The very absurdity of a nation declaring peace on another shocks the imagination. And who among us can say that he has heard of the spoils of peace? Is there such a thing as a peace hero? Who among us have gathered with his old cronies late at night, hoisted a glass and told peace stories? What valiant young man has been welcomed back from peace? What young boy has gazed longingly at his father, saying that he would willingly go to peace to save his country?

CHADWICK: War vs. peace, by radio's Joe Frank. And you can hear more of his work at joefrank.com.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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