The Remembrance of War

Lest We Remember:

Ode to a Dawn Ceremony





War is young men lying in the mud with their intestines spilled on the ground crying for their mothers;

War is an unwilling conscript buried alive under tons of earth, his arms thrashing, his mouth filled with dirt as he slowly suffocates;

War is a father screaming beyond pain as his flesh caramelises in the fire to leave a blackened skull, teeth shining in the desert sun;

War is a young girl running screaming, her seared skin hanging off in strips;

War is a little boy with his arms blown off, screaming piteously as his world disintegrates into never-ending pain;

War is a man holding tightly to his daughter’s butchered corpse while he squats to defecate, his mind unhinged, unwilling to let go of his only child;

War is a little girl’s broken body lying under a pile of rubble, her eyes covered in dust, forever sightless;

War is a prisoner getting his throat cut open and bleeding to death to the sound of derisive laughter by his captors;

War is young soldiers playing football with the severed head of an enemy soldier in a dusty bush camp under a blood-red setting sun;

War is a sniper in a frozen trench shooting an old pensioner forced into the open in search of water, smoking while thin blood trickles among the cobblestones;

War is hooded, bound prisoners, squatting in the dirt, their trousers soiled with their fear, shivering with terror at every sound;

War is landmines designed not to kill but to so horribly mutilate the human body that those who witness the victim’s suffering shrink back in horror;

War is flame-throwers which soak a person with flaming material, sticking like glue to the skin as it burns;

War is a bomb exploding in a crowded street, tearing bodies to pieces with white-hot metal shards, leaving nothing more than chunks of meat and bloodstains on the pavement;

War is the torn flesh and organs of a daughter, son, brother, sister, cousin, friend, father, mother, workmate, boyfriend, fiance, husband…


War is more than a hundred million dead in the previous century, the most murderous period in all of human history;

War is hundreds of thousands of women and girls raped and sexually assaulted, ‘comfort women’ to the avenging gods of war;

War is tens of thousands of detainees tortured, abused and mistreated every day in casual violence by frustrated soldiers and systematically by desperate intelligence officers;

War is millions of ordinary people living under a daily blanket of suffocating fear, smothered in insecurity;

War is the destruction of incalculable fields, wells, homes, hospitals, stores, factories, schools, kindergartens, churches, mosques, offices, theatres, roads, power plants and countless other needful things which nourish and sustain human life;

War is tens of millions of families displaced from their homes, forced to leave everything they’ve known behind, compelled to live in tents and defecate in the open.


War is the suicide of a dozen veterans a day, morally injured by the violence they were forced to inflict on their fellow human beings, often for a cause they could barely comprehend;

War is lifelong nightmares, guilt, depression, and mental pain for anyone who has ever experienced it, practitioners and survivors alike;

War is the countless individual traumas which make up the collective shock of a society undone by the cruelty of mass violence;

War is thousands of maimed, amputated young people facing a future of predictable torments;

War is burying in the ground incalculable human energy, creativity, and potential, an uncountable loss to families, societies, the future;

War is thousands of the world’s greatest scientific minds working tirelessly to develop ever more lethal killing machines;

War is the application of creative knowledge to the practical challenges of killing fellow human beings in ever greater numbers and ever more ingenious ways, institutionalised in the scholarly disciplines of weaponology and killology;

War is the maintenance and continued development of hideously expensive weapons designed to incinerate entire cities and threaten all human life of earth;

War is billions of bullets, guns, and bombs which could have instead made farming implements for the world’s poor, chairs for school classrooms, medical instruments to heal the sick, wind farms for clean energy, computers for scientific research…;

War is trillions of dollars taken away from health, education, policing, science, the arts, overseas aid, drug rehabilitation, domestic violence programmes, mental health support…;

War is the perennial sacrifice of security, health, education, development, creativity, and progress, to the insatiable appetite of the military machine which feeds on the soft flesh of society’s scarce material and human resources like a plague of locusts;

War is the ultimate taxation of our collective future.


War is systematic, organised killing;

War is the industrialisation of harm;

War is the real terrorism;

War is the unmaking of the world through the infliction of inexpressible pain;

War is the bureaucratic rationalisation of calculated butchery, a murder industry;

War is a gross orgy of suffering, a celebration of hurt inflicted;

War is ritualised slaughter, human sacrifice on a grand scale, blood satiation to the gods of destruction;

War is Satan’s playground, a demonic symphony of pandemonium;

War is a death cult, nurtured by a culture of violence, overseen by high priests in uniform.


War is a vast system of forgetting, a massive conspiracy of silence at the heart of the patriotic imagination;

War is the re-writing of history;

War is living in a city of lies, a country of untruth;

War is the stench of violent death disinfected by the balm of sweet-smelling theology;

War is a massive cultural industry which glamorises, glorifies, and normalises the preparation for, and periodic practice of, ritual organised killing;

War is dawn parades, ubiquitous red poppies, statues in every village, and regular remembrance ceremonies, a cult of memorialisation aimed not at saving future generations from the horrors of war but priming the public to accept the sacrifice of their children in the next one;

War is the suppression of human empathy through the reality-obscuring language of ‘surgical strikes’, ‘operations’, ‘collateral damage’, ‘friendly fire’;

War is the dehumanisation of others through names like ‘hostiles’, ‘nips’, ‘krauts’, ‘gooks’, ‘rag-heads’, ‘terrorists’ in order to make it easier to kill, torture and abuse them;

War is the transmogrification of killing into a computer game where blood and torn flesh loses all colour, smell, sound, magically reappearing as purified ‘data’ on a computer screen;

War is the exploitation of distance to hide the truth of an artillery shell, the logic of a bullet, the certainty of a bomb;

War is wilful ignorance, the avoidance of inconvenient facts;

War is the scrubbing clean of all media reports so that the public never see death and mutilation, leaving them to eat their dinner undisturbed by the troubling sight of blood spilled in their names;

War is the active suppression of truth, the acceptance of distortion, the embrace of lies;

War is the ultimate injustice to its victims;

War is the adoption of logical fallacy as doctrine, the insane threat of global catastrophe as rational policy;

War is the deliberate creation of a situation in which cruelty and all forms of savagery are allowed to flourish, a moral vacuum designed to bring out the very worst of human behaviour;

War is sheer human ugliness obscured by the wreaths of pretty red flowers, the sound of infinite human suffering silenced by the haunting melody of a lone trumpet;

War is the sight of children’s blood and bones blotted out by brightly coloured fluttering flags and endless rows of red wreaths;

War is the unknown mother rotting in her unknown grave, the unremembered daughter killed by the known soldier with his medals shining on Remembrance Day.


War is the pathological embrace of self-destroying pessimism, the fantastical belief that there is no alternative to killing;

War is the irrational surrender of choice, the abandonment of individual will to fate;

War is the appeasement of bloodlust and aggression, the sacrifice of humanity on the altar of militarised patriotism;

War is surrender to intense hatred of the other, the absolute negation of humanity;

War is a kind of perverse childishness, the embrace of uncontrollable rage, resistance to reason, irrational pride, the lack of temperance and maturity;

War is the abnegation of kindness, mercy, empathy, love and the annihilation of human happiness;

War is the absolute failure of imagination and intelligence;

War is the vomit of malformed patriotism, the grossest delusion of glory;

War is the conversion of immeasurable human pain into the fiction of state power;

War is the ultimate perversion of humanity’s capacity for love and mercy;

War is acquiescence and passivity by those who could stop it;

War is our greatest shame, the colossal moral failing of the human race;

War is a stinking stain on every conscience;

War is distasteful, offensive, cruel, inherently ignoble;

War is evil, no less, no more.


War is sometimes unmade when people like you and me choose to live more fully inside the truth.


I wrote this ode for ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day, Armed Forces Day, Battle of Britain Day, VE Day, and all the other commemorations of war which function to help people forget the true nature of war and thus prepare them to accept and embrace the next war. Some of the statements in the first stanza describe events recounted to me by people who experienced war first hand; the rest come from media and historical accounts of war. They are far from the worst things that happen in war. War remembrance is intended to make us forget the horror of war by replacing those kind of images with memories of heroism and sacrifice instead. This ode asks us to resist this falsification and remember war for what it really is. I believe that only in this way – only by living within the truth of war – can we start to move towards leaving this immature, barbarous way of settling our conflicts behind, as we are slowly but surely leaving slavery, public execution, racism, sexism and other collective evils behind. The ode remains unfinished, as the evils of war can never be completely recounted.


About richardjacksonterrorismblog

I am currently Professor of Peace Studies and the Director of the National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Prior to this, I was Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. I study and teach on issues of pacifism and nonviolence, terrorism, political violence, conflict resolution and war. I have published several books on these topics, including: The Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies (Routledge, 2016); Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011; co-authored with Lee Jarvis, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth); Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Cases (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010; edited by Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy and Scott Poynting); Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009; edited by Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning); Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-first Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches (Ann Arbor MI: Michigan University Press, 2009; co-authored with Jacob Bercovitch); and Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counterterrorism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). I am also the editor-in-chief of the academic journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism. In 2014, I published a research-based novel entitled, Confessions of a Terrorist (Zed Books, 2014) which explores the mind and motivation of a terrorist.
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1 Response to The Remembrance of War

  1. alan says:

    War. Young men love it, and old men love it in them.

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