War Is Kind

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind,
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them.
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom–
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbles in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind!

–Stephen Crane, 1899

_____

When a first read Crane’s poem, I struggled to wrap my mind around it. What did it mean?

Initially, I saw his admonition that “War is kind” as sarcasm. After all, even those who have never been confronted with it know full well that war is anything but kind.

After reading it a few more times, I began to see it as something more pronounced–an offering of absurdly false comfort to those left behind.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

Weeks passed. I read the poem again. It was then that I began to see Crane’s poem as a compassionate insight into the long years of grief that were soon to follow a “Mother whose heart hung humble as a button / On the bright splendid shroud of [her] son.”

Perhaps compared to the future that mourners have to look forward to, war is kind. “Indeed,” writes Dr. Liam Corley, “death in war is kind in comparison to the costs borne by those left behind or those maimed and broken survivors whose damaged limbs or souls calls out the sympathy of all who see them.”

Let us recall, therefore, the words of President Abraham Lincoln and commit ourselves “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

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