For as long as war has carried on, men have written poetry about it. The world war narrative has boasted the work of such greats as Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Walt Whitman, Isaac Rosenberg, and Joyce Kilmer over the last hundred years. Now, as the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, we await the emergence of a new generation of war poets.
Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines — a Long Island, New York-based infantry battalion, my old unit, was fortunate to not have lost any Marines during our time in Iraq — March to August 2003 — but many units and Marines were less lucky. Marines were killed in combat. Marines were killed in accidents and by fatigue. We lost many Marines to fratricide. We lost Marines to weapons malfunctions, to gaps in body armor, to snipers, some to suicide bombers, to drowning, electrocution, and we’ve been losing Marines ever since. I’ve known a few of these Marines, most of those only in passing, but their deaths have left an indelible mark, especially now with the war ceaselessly raging in new forms on new and old battlefields. How does it end? How many lives on all sides will have to be consumed? I don’t know, but I’m compelled to think about memorialization. How do we mourn these people, our friends, our dead?
Soldiers have tried to preserve memory of wars for probably as long as we have told stories, whether oral or written; one has only to look at the writings of Sophocles for example. During World War I, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves both wrote and published while commanding troops on the Western Front. After World War II and Vietnam, service members such as Randall Jarrell and Kenneth Koch, Bruce Weigl, and Yusef Komunyakaa published poems almost immediately after the end of their respective wars. In our era of blogs, websites, and Youtube, the notion of a service member publishing while deployed or in the near return from said deployment has been renewed, energized, and democratized to an extent inconceivable to our predecessors.