American poet Archibald MacLeish served as an artillery officer in World War I. His brother Kenneth was killed in action on Oct. 15, 1918.
MacLeish authored a poignant poem, “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak.” In the poem, with the memory of his brother in mind, MacLeish stated, “Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say; it is you who must say this.”
What shall we say of the deaths of our “doughboys,” the 116,516 Americans who lost their lives in The Great War? What shall we say of the deaths of all our war dead, whose loss we are supposed to remember on Memorial Day?
A Canadian officer named John McCrae, himself a casualty of World War I, penned the iconic poem, “In Flanders Fields.” Like MacLeish, McCrae warned future generations, “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep…”
In 2023, we are awash in divisiveness, delusion, and disrespect. Will we be the ones to say that the lives and deaths of our fallen were for nothing? Will we break faith with those who die in such a way that the brokenness is irreparable?
MacLeish wrote, “Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.” It is time we listened to our warrior poets who speak to us from distant battlefields rather than to the demagogues who harangue us from the immediacy of our televisions, radios, and computers.