Dulce Et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Before WWI, the Darwinian idea of evolution had moved into the popular culture.
Social Darwinism took different forms. WWI ended this idea of inevitable progress toward a utopian world.  Technology could be used against people as well as for them.  Remember those "Dow lets you do great things" commercials?  One of those great things was the production of napalm in the Vietnam war.  "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."  In WWI, the science of chemistry had discovered poison gas, and the chemical industry produced it.  So much for better living through chemicals.  What they got was more hideous dying.

In the old days, war could be glorified.  The industrial era ended that with its more efficient killing machines.  Men spent months in trenches & jumped out of them to run into a hail of machine gun fire.  The generation that fought WWI came out as pacifists - war was too terrible for sane people to want it.  A generation of passivists arose because of the meaninglessness of war.  Theirs was the generation that appeased Hitler Germany to keep peace, leading to WWII.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori -
"It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."
Horace. Odes. 2. 13.

In the same poem, Horace also wrote, "Let the youth, hardened by active service, learn to bear with patience trying hardships!  Let him, a horseman dreaded for his lance, harass the warlike Parthians and pass his life beneath the open sky amid stirring deeds!"