Looking at a Poem Revisited
The Gotcha! War and After
(previously in Roundyhouse)
This was the war
that tried to turn the clock back forty years,
though it seemed a hundred-and-forty;
that gave a failing politician eight more years
to divide her country.
This was the war
that launched a thousand atlases;
that tabloids were made for;
that Exocets and bunting flew for.
This was the war
that made me feel ashamed.
Twenty years on
there are two failing politicians.
the one seeking to exorcise a ghost bequeathed by his father,
the other to lay some more complex wraith
tempered in the Rock of Gibraltar,
though the stones of Las Malvinas mark its spawning.
The poor man's Hamlet may
this time spare his Ophelia, Laertes and Polonius.
This time, might the pale Ham let,
unscarred, his brothers Shem and Japheth live?
Even as, by the Waters of Babylon,
righteously, we lay down our weapons of mass destruction.
No marks for working out that this is a highly political poem! In 2003, I was struck by the similarities between what were termed at the time 'The Falklands Conflict' and, unbelievably, the Iraq 'War'. The two parts of the poem each focus on these military adventures. Part I is a fairly straightforward account of the conflict (as I saw it) in a part of the world of which few people were aware . In fairness, I should acknowledge that Thatcher was left with little choice in what to do about this colonial vestige. It has been conveniently forgotten, though, that soon after Thatcher came to power one of her favourite nasty boys, Nicholas Ridley, recommended that the Falklands should be passed over to Argentina. Whatever, the sovereignty of these windswept islands (called Las Malvinas in Spanish) should have been addressed well before 1982, by a Government of either hue.
But Thatcher, naturally, seized the opportunity with both hands. The worst legacies of 1982 were that:
* It gave the 'heroine of the Falklands' longer to wreak havoc on our society.We are still living with the divisions made so much worse in the nineteen-eighties.
* It means that we will be stuck with this vestige for the forseeable future and will just have to wait until another South American dictator gets restless. No politician would now dare to tackle the question of sovereignty for which so many soldiers gave their lives.
I don't expect everyone to agree with this!
This poem does not use rhyme or any kind of fixed form. However, I did make the first letters of each line spell out TUER, which is French for 'to kill' in the sense of 'to murder'.
Two decades later, brave soldiers were again sent out to lay down their lives in an unworthy political cause. There is a lot of wordplay in the second part of the poem, which deals with the Iraq adventure. The 'two failing politicians' are obviously the two Bs, Bush and Blair.
In this second part of the poem, I've used the 'Hamlet' motif. The 'ghost bequeathed by his father' is a reference to the 'unfinished business' left by George H Bush to his son Dubya. In Shakespeare's play, Hamlet was responsible for the deaths of Ophelia, Laertes and Polonius. In the Bible, Shem, Ham and Japheth are the sons of Noah, and so the supposed forefathers of the races of mankind. There is some dispute as to which son is the forefather of which race, so rather arbitrarily I have chosen the 'pale Ham' to represent Blair. The descendants of Shem are generally considered to be the Semites, or both the Arabic and Jewish people. My mention of 'Gibraltar' is simply because I see this colony as a kind of Falklands-on-our-doorstep. What are we doing with a colony on the southern coast of Spain? How would we feel if the Isle Of Wight were a Spanish colony because of events that took place hundreds of years ago?
The 'Waters of Babylon' are the Euphrates and Tigris, where the 'allies' used the only 'weapons of mass destruction' seen in this part of the world.