Saturday, May 14, 2011

The "Civilized" West vs. the "Uncivilized" Arabs

It is very easy for Westerns to look at the carnage in Libya, the slaughter in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen as distinctly Arab proclivities. What about Islamic terror against Christians recently enacted in Egypt? Putting the violent legacy of colonialism, military invasions, occupations, and imperialism aside, Europeans and Americans must not forget the barbarism we have enacted on ourselves. World War I and World War II somehow are viewed as mere aberrations of lost-soul aristocrats or non-human men such as Hitler and Stalin. The horrors of these wars can not be simply explained away to a few individuals. We must see that all humans can embark on heartless campaigns of carnage. It serves us well to take note of some poets responses to these events. Maurice Nadeau points of in The History of Surrealism(1965) that after WWI many surrealists became disillusioned with Western civilization:
They had fought in it by obligation and under constraint.They emerged from it disgusted.; henceforth they wanted nothing in common with civilization that had lost its justification, and their radical nihilism extended not only to art but to all it's manifestations.
André Breton,poet and one of the founders of surrealism, commented sixteen years after the Armistice:
I say that what the surrealist attitude initially shared with Lautréamont and Rimbaud and what definitively linked our destiny to theirs was the DEFEATISM of war.(45)
To illustrate by way of example episodes that lead to this cynicism,we must not forget the infamous 1916 Battle of the Somme that resulted in the death of nearly 60,000 British troops in one day.

I am posting two poems read on Youtube. The first is a reading from W.H. Auden's "SEPTEMBER 1, 1939" and the second is "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.

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