It wasn’t the first war, but it was
the first World War. It wasn’t
the last war, but it was the last
war in which guns in personal combat
were weapons of choice. Now
the choice seems to be bombs.
Nobody sees the impact & lives
to tell the tale, except perhaps
the cleanup crew, but that is
a different kind of impact.
But what do I know about bombs?
No kind of military historian,
I know so little I’d think bombs new
if the Star Spangled Banner did not sing
of “bombs bursting in air”. That is how
I know this beautiful terrible lighting
up of the night sky is not new at all.
So that wasn’t the first war, but it was
the first war in which medicine
had caught up with the damage
that could be caused to the human body
& leave it still recognizable
as a person if not the same person.
With bombs, people mostly just die
or walk away. With land mines,
a leg here or there, probably there.
With guns, that was the first war
when men came home with no mouths.
Before, wounds to the head were
more like bombs now, but one on one —
you usually just died. In that first
& only war when war was still
personal & we finally knew
how to save people from, well,
if a bullet took a man’s jaw off,
Kazanjian could save him, & send him
home to his wife & loved ones,
without a voice, without a smile
or grimace, without lips to kiss,
but alive. At least, if he lost his face
only from the nose down. This was
the birth of modern military dentistry,
when Kazanjian took his passion
for restoration to the Brits when
the U.S. refused to fight. Now another
Kazanjian, perhaps his son, perhaps not,
speaks about faces of war, faces
of peace, & beauty in difference.
But what do I know about war? Am I
a pregnant woman begging at a hospital
for a Cesarean section so that
I will not go into labor under
the expected bombs? Am I the doctor
who delivered a baby in the desert,
without water or gloves, second
hand American fighters overhead,
a baby probably now old enough
to fight in the current conflict?
I know a man who said, among our
friends, there were those present
for whom he would give his life.
This man, to whom ‘love’ is
a four letter word, grieves
for the broken beauty of Baghdad,
that can be repaired by no military
dentist or plastic surgeon. Grief
is the wrong word for this intense
and complicated emotion, but what word
should be used must be in a language
I don’t know. So, I wrongly say he grieves
for off camera death & injuries;
I wrongly say I grieve for his grief
and mine that I witness this breakage
and not the beauty. I know a woman,
an Army Colonel, who went to Bosnia
and told us, her friends, the barest
outside rim of what she saw there. Moses
was sheltered from his own spoken wish
to see God’s atomic glory, given only
a glimpse of his flank while He passed.
She is a mother, balancing sheltered and shown.
Do we really want to see? To watch? I hear
the newscaster describe a mushroom cloud
over Baghdad, speculating cautiously
on what armament was used and where.
The photos of men with no mouths hide
in old journals with almost forgotten titles
on shelves where few know to look. Their eyes,
angry helpless hopeless eyes never asked
to live the life they were left, never asked
to be a forgotten photo, and no one
anywhere has told the story of their lives
after they came home. My friend, where
she is now I’m not sure. I know she had
misgivings about this conflict, but still
will go if sent, or perhaps has already gone,
but wherever she is she will do whatever
good she can. She always does. In between bombs,
we hear the call to prayer. All around
the watching world, televisions flicker
with a lit-up night sky, family rooms
rumble with the drum-beating of bombs
threaded through with a clear reedy call
to prayer. It is said that God takes nothing
away without giving something in return,
although what is given may not seem equal
to what was lost. Those men with no mouths
have the most eloquent eyes on earth,
& they are still speaking, if we ourselves
have eyes to see, ears to hear, mouths to speak.
PF Anderson, March 2003