The War Poetry Website
Kosovo War Poetry
The Kosovo War took place in 1999, the same year that this website began to be created so the website wasn't known as a place to send war poems.
The poems presented here are a few which I wrote and which appear in my book Kosovo War Poems These poems have gained a little fame.
I became concerned and even shocked about the war as it developed. It was presented to the world by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Madeleine Albright as humanitarian action, but it became clear that it was nothing of the kind. I explain some of the story on this page.
Making or Breaking
A poem from Kosovo War Poetry, which was published in 2000.
In 2016 the poem was set to music by Norwegian composer, Kim André Arnesen, with its premier with The Kantorei Choir in Denver, Colorado, 26 February 2016.
The music is available from Santa Barbara Music Publishing.Inc.
This song, together with a lyric I wrote entitled Infinity, was recorded in America and published on a Naxos CD.
Making or Breaking
I don’t know what thoughts this poem might inspire, but there are many ideas that were in my mind at the time that I wrote it. I have often thought about the topic of how most people strive to add to the well-being of the world whilst a minority seem to cause trouble - destroy things, start wars, become terrorists, hurt people. Often one person or a very small group of people can cause untold misery. At different times I have given varying accounts of ideas that are associated with this poem. The immediate stimulus for the poem is explained below.
The sources of this poem
December 1999, New Year's Eve was approaching and I thought of the dawning of a new century and a new millenium. This poem was in part inspired by the first pictures of the earth taken from space. For the first time we could see the whole earth in one picture, one planet for one race, the human race. In the simplest possible terms Making or Breaking sets out the choice before each of us. Further comments follow the poem.
MAKING OR BREAKING
We inherit the world,
the whole of history,
our place on earth,
our place in time,
our fortune, good or bad,
in one picture,
we see our entire planet:
for the first time.
for the breaking
12 December 1999
A violent or a peaceful world – the note that accompanies the poem, Making or Breaking, in the collection of Kosovo war poetry:
The promoters of narrow patriotism, nationalism and racism suffer from a moral short-sightedness which leads to the kind of misery and horror we have witnessed in Yugoslavia in the last 10 years of the 20th century. Not only Serbs in Kosovo but Albanians too acted on racist motives, but NATO nations, too. Leaders who base action on racist attitudes lack a vision of the world appropriate to the needs of their people and the world as a whole.
All races are in a minority. All need the support and co-operation of others. All could make better use of their time and talent if they directed their energies to co-operative problem-solving, rather than the harassment and extermination of others they have picked on to blame for their troubles.
The fate of the people of the world is linked. We prosper or die together. We have a choice.
The dawning of a new century
As a new century approached, one hundred years before my poem was written, Thomas Hardy had taken another view, a far more poetic response. See his poem, The Darkling Thrush.
Kosovo War Poetry by David Roberts is published in paperback by Saxon Books .
About Kosovo War Poetry (link).
An oft studied poem from Kosovo War Poetry.
The Pilot’s Testament
I seek no glory.
I bear no anger.
I hate no man.
I do the unspeakable
on behalf of the ungrateful.
I bomb targets chosen by others.
I have surrendered my will
to a higher authority.
I trust the cause to be right
and the methods appropriate.
There is no place for questioning.
There can be no other way.
I do my duty.
You can rely on me.
I will not let you down.
Though my task may be dangerous,
neither fear nor doubt
will prevent me.
Physically and mentally
my ability is exceptional.
My judgement and reflexes
are trained to perfection.
I am chosen from the elite,
the very best.
Many accord me
I possess power beyond imagination.
Like a god I roar through the heavens,
the earth beneath me,
the whole of creation
available to me,
awaiting my quick shot
of death and destruction.
My victims are unaware of me.
I am unaware of my victims.
They go about their lives
not knowing only a few seconds remain.
We are arriving
at the appointed time and place.
At a touch I fix their fate.
in mid conversation,
and they are gone.
I cannot pretend it was difficult.
Their will was done,
and I, merely an instrument of death.
I did my duty,
but I accept no guilt.
I come down to earth
as a man among men,
I easily blend.
I am not available for comment.
I am not an item of news. The story is elsewhere.
I return to my family
as if nothing has happened.
15-22 December 1999
Aleksinac, Serbia, 1999, where three civilians were killed when a NATO pilot aimed to bomb the Deligrad barracks some distance away.
See below for more information on what the bombing did to Serbia.
Sources of ideas behind The Pilot’s Testament
An influence in this poem was a conversation I had about 1981 when I chatted to a British bomber pilot in a squash club in Haywards Heath [UK]. I asked him if he he would hesitate to obey orders if he were told to drop a nuclear bomb. He said he wouldn't hesitate for a moment. It was not his job to choose the targets. It was not his responsibility. The system could not work if he could pick and chose the orders he would obey.
I asked, "What if thousands or tens of thousands were to die as a result?" He said he knew that he would only be asked to drop a nuclear bomb if it was necessary for the protection of Britain and he would never regret doing his duty.
Some readers will have noted the influence of Ted Hughes on this poem. See his Hawk Roosting.
NATO becomes an aggressive alliance
For more about the Kosovo War and the transformation of the NATO defensive alliance into an alliance prepared to fight wars of aggression please see my website, rememberingwar.co.uk
There Will Be No Peace
There will be no peace:
till attitudes change;
till self-interest is seen as part of common interest;
till old wrongs, old scores, old mistakes
are deleted from the account;
till the aim becomes co-operation and mutual benefit
rather than revenge or seizing maximum personal or group gain;
till justice and equality before the law
become the basis of government;
till basic freedoms exist;
till leaders - political, religious, educational - and the police and media
wholeheartedly embrace the concepts of justice, equality, freedom, tolerance, and reconciliation as a basis for renewal;
till parents teach their children new ways to think about people.
There will be no peace:
till enemies become fellow human beings.
22 July 1999
This is how the poem appears in Kosovo War Poetry, but I decided that this poem might be better expressed in a positive form ie "There will be peace when . . . " and so I re-wrote the poem. It can be read on a remembrance page of this website. (link)
About the book Kosovo War Poetry
ISBN 0 9528969 2 3
60 pages 178x112 mm
£4-99 (UK) Approx $8 (US)
KOSOVO WAR POETRY
By David Roberts
Thirty poems, plus an introduction to put the war into context.
Poems and satirical verse explore the propaganda, the human suffering, the moral arguments, and NATO’s “humanitarian” bombing campaign.
Making or Breaking
The Pilot's Testament
There will be no peace
Comments on Kosovo War Poetry
“Congratulations. Kosovo War Poetry shows the true situation in the Balkans,” member of Iris Society of Serbian Poets, Belgrade. (Comment based on the selection of poems then on this web site.)
“Brilliant, especially The Pilot’s Testament” Bruce Kent, Peace Campaigner.
“A wonderful anti-war book . . . I urge everyone to read it,” Alice Mahon, MP, Chair of the Committee for Peace in the Balkans.
“A remarkable collection of poems . . . expressed uncompromisingly . . . a minor epic.” Ronald Mallone in Day by Day.
"Powerful and moving." Tony Benn.
"I didn't like all of the poems, but some hit their targets . . . and did make me think again about that whole sorry and continuing business. In class, this book could become part of a collection which moved the consideration of war poetry beyond the classic texts and challenged young adults with other models and contexts which might develop their own explorations in writing. It also offers a fascinating text in terms of the interplay of genres." - - Gordon Hodgson, in National Association of Teachers of English web review on yahoo.co.uk
From an American Soldier - two letters
Hi! I know you do not know me but I was a female soldier stationed at Guardian base near Tuzla in Bosnia. I really enjoyed reading your poetry. Your exact words are words I use to tell my peers, other United States soldiers or NATO troops who didn't understand what they were doing there. Basically they didn't understand war.
I just want to say after being there I really began to understand war. My first reply to myself when I saw all the bombed out homes was what could make a person hate someone so much. The sad part humans have not evolved into full humans as I called, in which they get emotionally hijacked by their losses and grief that they want to hurt the very thing that hurt them. However, as my Social Psychology instructor put it destroying others is only destroying yourself. As a consequence of being there, and seeing all the things I saw, less than a year after I got out I suffered a nervous break down.
Although, it may seem that soldiers may dehumanize people sometimes soldiers are dehumanized as being people. For example, what impacts people more four civilians have been killed or four soldiers?
Have a great day. Again I really enjoyed your poetry. I hope you don't mind that I am using it on Tuesday to teach my college classmates what it feels like to be in war. At least try.
12 December, 2000
Dear David Roberts,
Thank you so much for writing back. The class loved your poetry.
In response to your question. I am graduating with my BA in Psychology. This is my final semester I took Child Development from a Global Perspective. That is the class I used your poetry for. I wrote a research paper on children in war. In fact, I didn't even realize I was a child soldier when I joined back in 1993, at the age of 17.
Again thank you for your kind letter.