Friday, May 29, 2020

The Glory of War

Thiepval, Dead German Soldier, by Ernest Brooks © IWM Q 1284
Bertram Lloyd was a member of the Humanitarian League* and a conscientious objector during the First World War. In 1919, he edited the anthology of war poetry, The Paths of Glory, including poems that protested “the false idealization of war.” Lloyd wrote that it was absurd to celebrate the peace while continuing to glorify war, “as if one should celebrate the return of soberness after a bout of drunkenness, while insisting none the less that the drunkenness too was magnificent.” The anthology included poems written by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Margaret Sackville, Fredegond Shove, and Alec Waugh. Lloyd stated in the book’s preface, “The writers whose poems are included in this collection may hold very diverse views on war. But they are nevertheless all agreed in believing that however much individual gallantry and self-sacrifice it may incidentally call forth, war must be regarded to-day as an execrable blot upon civilization.”**  One of the poems included was H.F. Constantine’s “The Glory of War”:  

The Glory of War

What does it matter if men are torn, and a village razed to desolation?
’Tis a little thing for men to die, and houses can be built of brick and stone;
The glory of a just war surely spreads its mantle over all.

Ruins, Battle of the Scarpe
by Ernest Brooks © IWM Q 1998
The battle is ours: our men rest where yesterday lay the enemy;
The village is ours (for torn earth and smoking bricks were once a village).
What is the cost? A thousand men are killed who did not want to die.
What does that matter? Their country needing them, they gave their lives,
Happy ones, though ignorant of their happiness, they died to make the battle ours;
And their bodies lie grotesquely on the torn slopes about the village.

A lad was shot, just as we started to move forward;
Perhaps you saw him where he lay, with eyes still open,
With eyes still looking out upon the world, dazed and horror-struck.
There lay a hero—who did not want to die.
My sergeant-major’s dead, killed as we entered the village;
You will not find his body tho’ you look for it;
A shell burst on him, leaving his legs, strangely enough, untouched.
Happy man, he died for England;
Happy ones are they who die for England.

Paths of Glory by CRW Nevinson
 © IWM Art. 518
Did he, did that poor lad, truly die for England’s sake?
Did all those thousands who are gone, did they all die for that bright cause?
All England wages war:
The flower of her manhood lies waiting in the cold pale days of Springtime,
Waiting for the harvest that reaps so many souls,
Some are brave and unafraid, some shrink in mortal apprehension;
But all are happy, for they know that by their efforts they are helping
So many of their fellow-countrymen to make their fortunes.
                                                February, 1918
            —H.F. Constantine

“The Glory of War” was first published by the English Review in September of 1918 and attributed to “Major H.F. Constantine.” The name is almost certainly a pseudonym, as no record of a man† serving under that name appears in the records of the British army lists nor in the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War. Directly below “Glory of War” appeared a second poem by Major Constantine, “William of Germany,” which blamed the Kaiser for “all that huge parade of soldiers, dead because of you.”†† A third poem, “The Use of War,” seems to have been the extent of his published work.††† 
*  Founded in London in 1891, the Humanitarian League sought “Greater Kinship” in its broadest sense: its members opposed capital and corporal punishment, advocated for animal rights, and campaigned against hunting for sport. The manifesto of the Humanitarian League proclaimed, “it is iniquitous to inflict suffering, directly or indirectly, on any sentient being, except when self-defence or absolute necessity can be justly pleaded.” Famous supporters included George Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant, Leo Tolstoy, John Galsworthy, and Thomas Hardy.
** Bertram Lloyd, “Preface,” The Paths of Glory, Allen & Unwin, 1919, pp. 7, 6, 10.  
† Although unlikely, it is possible that the author was a woman; in the November 1919 review “Soldier Poets” published in The American Review of Reviews, Constantine’s work is mentioned, along with that of other “living soldier poets,” including “W.M. Letts (author of “The Spires of Oxford”).” Winifred Mabel Letts was a British writer who served as a VAD and masseuse for wounded soldiers.
†† Major H.F. Constantine, “William of Germany,” English Review, Sept. 1918, p. 164.
††† Major H.F. Constantine, “The Use of War,” English Review, Nov. 1918, p. 318.