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Armistice Day, 1986

Old newsreel: boys in khaki and saucer hats
march proudly up Parisian streets.
My grandfather pulled the tubes
out of his arms and died, a soldier,
joking cheerfully over lunch with Mother.
He never talked about the war. There was one
photograph, handsome, young…
But then, perhaps Vietnam was not the
first failure, the betrayal of a dream.
They had all failed because they do not
end war, or aggression or evil
in man’s heart.
But they did not know that then.
They had failed before the Armistice
was signed in that railroad car
at .
The Senate rejected the League of Nations
and a nation went back to sleep, Prohibition, speakeasies
and the talkies. Europe could go to hell,
and did, in cheapened
Isolation. We were two worlds or three,
or four. Or six
until the true legacy of that first war became clear:
Munich, Dachau and Hiroshima,
another, a different Armistice,
a League. And wars too countless to count.
We even know now: you do not need
a war to kill, to drape the field with
cloth-like corpses. We have attacked
the sky, the trees, the seas.
We have declared war
on the whole universe.
Einstein was right
the whole world has changed
since the A-bomb,
except our way of looking at it.
Fifty years have passed
since Verdun. The President visits
not those fields of Flander,
but SS officers buried nearby.
Another war, another century.
We escalate our atrocities.
We no longer need a war
to outrage the conscience
of those not yet too numbed to feel.
We buried that Armistice
at Dachau, at Biafra:
in perpetual war.
We’ve changed the name,
now, simply honoring the warrior,
the war, not the peace.
Peace itself has become
an anachronism: there is always
a war someplace
blood spilled, the homeless,
the dead.
Perhaps failure was inevitable,
man’s fragile hopes, like a butterfly
prematurely opened, struggle and die.
Maybe hope itself is a disease,
a shutting our eyes to the homeless
and weary, to the angry and disillusioned,
to those that hate.
Perhaps the Armistice itself is the mistake,
and only the threat of mutual destruction
can slake man’s thirst for blood.
To hell with Armistices.
To hell with dreams of peace.
Arm and die.
Is there another way to not become the fool?
I never knew my grandfather to have
a single friend.

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