Many years ago, in my first year of secondary school in Leamington Spa I recited a poem in front of my English class. Our teacher had asked us to choose one from a collection and I picked The Soldier by Rupert Brooke. It seemed like a passionate poem and I felt I knew how it should be delivered. Even at 12 years old it spoke to me. My teacher must have agreed, he gave me an A+ and asked me to repeat it the following week as he was not a man given to awarding high marks!
The poem speaks to me still, especially today on the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1. Now I see this through a more critical lens however. I know now that Brooke was a local man, born to schoolteachers who worked at Rugby school, a local private school. He will have been educated to respect the his Country and no doubt he enlisted as part of the wave of nationalistic fervour that brought many into service for “King and Country”. He dies not in battle but as a result of septicemia after a mosquito bite. His brother was killed on the western front just a few years later. Now, when I contemplate the words written by Brooke I hear the cries of his parents, their family destroyed by their tragic loss. I feel the hollow waste that resulted from the nationalistic jingoism that took hold of ordinary folk, the empty promise of the “war to end all wars” which was only to be followed by even great devastation just a generation later. I am alarmed to by the attachment to a physical space – a country.
Where we are born is largely an accident. It is certainly something over which we have no control. We are all born somewhere. There are those who believe we should make that somewhere available only to a limited number through creating a “hostile environment” or building a wall. I am not of that opinion. We share one planet. If our leaders can’t figure out how we share it peacefully, they are not fit to be leaders.