Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sunday afternoon essay: Musings on War, Poetry and Life

Timesonline (4 Jun 05): The kamikaze pilot who chose life before empire. Picture of 81 year-old Shigeyoshi san in the foreground; a salvaged Zero Fighter in the back. I'm particularly moved by the caption:
Shigeyoshi Hamazono survived two missions as a kamikaze pilot... The pilots, he said, were said to have saluted the Emperor before death, but they probably cried for their mothers instead.

I saw Shigeyoshi san on TV once. He cried as he recalled that episode in his life.

Once, on a plane, I conversed with a New Zealander about people and life in general. At one point, we talked about history and wars, where I commented that so long there was Man, there would always be wars. Because human memories are short.

History lessons, public education -- they all help to remind but I think our propensity to forget exceeds our comprehension of true suffering.

Time is a great desensitiser (this is neither good nor bad thing -- it just is).

Black flower in the sky: Poems of a Korean bridegroom in Hiroshima
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]
See also: Thunder gods: The kamikaze pilots tell their story

Museums, libraries and National Archives might slow down the "knowledge deterioration" but then these are not exactly the favourite hangouts for the masses, generally speaking. Such institutions also get destroyed in wars.

Even if museums and libraries are popular hangouts, there's still the fact that reading about history is different from hearing about it from people like Shigeyoshi san. I can see him cry. But how much can I appreciate why?

Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen: Selected poems
[Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

Here's a thought: Suppose Virtual Reality develops to a point like what they had in The Matrix(where Neo downloaded Kung-fu techniques and became an expert in seconds). I would imagine history lessons being "taught" this way. Experiential Learning brought to a higher plane. We might even experience the horrors first-hand. Scary thought, but then it's a price to pay for peace I think.
The Matrix (Warner Home Video, c2001)
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Humans turn war into something beautiful. It becomes romanticised.

Poems of Love and War/ A. K. Ramanujan
[See also: Poets of the Tamil anthologies: Ancient poems of love and war]

The Iliad of Homer/ Homer [Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

Here's a poem I wrote in May last year. It's not anti-war. More of a thought-experiment on what a young soldier might think in the midst of battle:
Soldier's Lament
Why did they lie to me so?

For God and Country
I was told

But when shrapnel's a-flying
And boys are a-dying

God is on vacation

The only land that matters
Is the sodden earth
In which they bury me

Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
See also: The poems of Wilfred Owen]

The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon
See also: Siegfried Sassoon: A study of the war poetry

Many years ago while holidaying in an overseas resort, I was asked by the resort owner, "If Singapore goes to war, would the people fight?". I said, "Yes" without hesitation.

I was 19.

I'll be in my mid-30s in a few years time. My answer would still be 'Yes'. It might not be what I really want, deep in my heart. But I'd do it anyway.

Because I, like the rest of us, am only human.
As a military pilot, there was no way to say no. I was grateful for my training, and the responsibility given to me, and my Zero fighter. This was my duty. That night all I thought about was my mission.” ~ Shigeyoshi Hamazono
How we remember and why we forget/ Rebecca Rupp
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Great poets of World War I: Poetry from the great war
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Poets of World War II
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Air combat paintings: Masterworks collection
[Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

Aftershock: Poems and Prose from the Vietnam War
See also: War story: Vietnam war poems

[Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

[Tag:, ]


  1. "If Singapore goes to war, would the people fight?"

    Not much of a choice is there?

    I have not looked it up, but I believe the penalties for refusing to fight as an involuntarily drafted conscript in the Singapore military are rather severe.

    Without a strong sense of nationhood, I imagine it would be rather hard to get people to willingly die for the "nation" - assuming they can get their physical selves (and closest loved ones) out of the way of immediate harm.

    Hard to get people to fight (and die) for 99-year-lease HDB apartment flats and 10-year-COE cars - as mrbrown so eloquently put it in one of his SNE episodes.

  2. I don't think people will fight (i.e. defend) for flats and cars per se.

    In truth, people would fight for the survival of their family and their homes. And ideas. That's what I meant by "I am/ We are only human".

  3. > Without a strong sense of
    > nationhood, I imagine it would be
    > rather hard to get people to
    > willingly die for the "nation"

    Well, look at it another way... which other nation would you to die for? (Eg, Australia?) ;>

  4. Omg you're a war nerd!

  5. I am a shriveling coward who happens to be highly allergic to small pieces of metal travelling at high speeds through my self. Massive loss of blood and body parts can really ruin my day.

    My doubt is with the effectiveness of a involuntary conscript force when getting shot at by real bullets and bombs. Not unless you plan to get us doped up first or hold our families hostage - like in the case of the child soldiers. The main question for most of us drafted serfs would be whether we fear the invaders more, or we fear the SAF penalties for desertion / mutiny more. Especially when the people next to you start dying like flies.

    There is a reason why regular infantry officers are taught not to lead a charge from the front, when your troops comprise of green and frightened civilians equipped with live ammunition.

    We can debate scenarios until the cows come home, but I suppose only when put in the real situation will we see who stands their ground and who deserts / mutinies.

    In any case, Australia does not require her citizens to be involuntarily conscripted. The Diggers have a long and proud tradition, and never had to put into effect the draft (even in WWII).


Join the conversation. Leave a comment :)

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.