—David Jones, In Parenthesis
Considering the wickedness of man on this, the one hundredth anniversary of the ending of World War I. It was the day on which Wilfred Owen’s mother received news (via telegram) of her son’s passing the week before.
The American president refused to acknowledge the event due to some drizzle. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alluded to his lethargy and dereliction by saying, “As we sit here in the rain, thinking how uncomfortable we must be these minutes as our suits get wet, and our hair gets wet… it’s all the more fitting that we remember on that day in Dieppe the rain wasn’t rain, it was bullets.”
Wilfred Owen would be the first to proclaim that he (and they) did not fight nor die for “the old lie: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Still, we bestow honorifics even though the cause was unjust. Yet the American president has even devalued a nation’s highest awards, with Miriam Adelson, wife of billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, receiving lately the Presidential Medal of Freedom, once considered the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The hypocrisy of awards and honors is never a new theme; but with such travesties (of protocol at least) Americans will have to find new means of honoring and a new class of persons to honor (other than celebrities for their success) if the word is to retain any meaning. The corruption of honors—“worm-infested, rotten from within”—called to mind Claude McKay’s sonnet “Look Within” published in 1945 toward the close of the Second World War:
Lord, let me not be silent while we fight
In Europe Germans, Asia Japanese
For setting up a Fascist way of might
While fifteen million Negroes on their knees
Pray for salvation from the Fascist yoke
Of these United States. Remove the beam
(Nearly two thousand years since Jesus spoke)
From your own eyes before the mote you deem
It proper from your neighbor’s to extract!
We bathe our lies in vapors of sweet myrrh,
And close our eyes not to perceive the fact!
But Jesus said: You whited sepulchre,
Pretending to be uncorrupt of sin,
While worm-infested, rotten from within!