War Poems 2010
War poetry sent to the War Poetry website in 2010
About this page
War topics explored here range widely, starting with the PTSD experienced by US soldier, Steve Carlsen in Afghanistan and include a Beirut doctor's experience of being spared by snipers.
By 2010 few poems submitted to this website were about the invasion of Iraq. In earlier years people and poets had vigorously expressed their anger and dismay at the illegal an immoral destruction of the Iraqi state and infrastructure and the takeover of Iraq's oil industry by the major oil companies and the sale of key assets to big corporations.
Iraq's society had been destroyed, fragmented into hostile groups. The once brilliant healthcare and education systems were in crisis. Violence made all but tiny safe areas no-go areas for western people.
Anger at America in particular but also other western nations was seething. The ground had been prepared for the development of anti-western terrorism.
This page ends with a video address by Barak Obama on the declared end of the combat mission in Iraq.
He doesn't mention the economic takeover by the US and others of much of the Iraqi economy.
Poets and poems on this page
Steve Carlsen -
Take your pills
We slept with our boots on
Thunder in the valley
Death of a hero
Henry M Bechtold -
Children in darkness
Boghos L Artinian MD (Beirut) -
The unknown snipers
Simulations of the Old Testament
Patrick Campbell -
Ambush of a bus in Baghdad 4 June 2006
Richard Y Ball -
O tempora, O mores!
Edward Porter -
A soldier's demon
David Roberts -
We bomb in peace
The trouble with terrorists
President Obama's speech about the end of US combat mission in Iraq, 31 August 2010
Some facts to follow up the views of poets on
the attack on Iraq of 2003
THE COST OF THE WARS IN IRAQ
Casualties of war - Iraq and Afghanistan
Deaths in War in Iraq 2003 to 31 December 2009
US soldiers killed - 4,300
UK soldiers killed - 241
Iraqi civilians killed - 100,000 approximately
Deaths in War in Afghanistan 2001 to 31 December 2009
US soldiers killed - 935
UK soldiers killed - 179 (299 18 June 2010 - BBC Radio 4, 6 o'clock news)
Afghan civilians - 30,000 approximately
Statistics from BBC programme, Defining the Decade, presented by Edward Stourton, Radio 4, 29 December 2009. (With one subsequent UK death added after the programme went out.)
Financial costs to the UK - £18 billion
In his answers at the Iraq War Inquiry (the Chilcot Enquiry), 5 March 2010, UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said that the two wars had cost "£18 billion in total in addition to the existing defence budget." The Iraq war had cost "some £9.2 billion".
When the war started Gordon Brown made it clear that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he agreed that the budget for the war was without limitation. The UK would pay whatever it cost. - Enquiry transcript pages 101, and 103.
Costs to the US and the rest of the world
The financial cost to the US has been enormous. This and other costs are analysed in a book by the former Chief Economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, The Three Trillion Dollar War.
Behind the war on Terror is a brilliant account of what happened in Iraq, the lack of concern for human rights, the ruthless pursuit of economic and political goals.
War Poems 2010
Steve Carlsen on his Afghanistan combat experience
About Steve Carlsen
Steve Carlsen was born and lives in Dowagiac Michigan. He joined the United States Army in October 2000 and went to Infantry Basic Training, and Airborne School in Ft. Benning Georgia. He then reported to D Company 1st battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. 82nd Airborne Division in Ft. Bragg North Carolina. He deployed to Kosovo in November 2001 as part of peace keeping operations. He Deployed to Afghanistan in of December 2002 where he participated in combat operations.
He was honorably discharged from the Army in 2003. He currently attends Southwestern Michigan College where his professor, Dr Michael Collins challenged him to write about his experiences.
Take Your Pills
I’m home now and every thing is supposed to be okay
As hard as I try I still feel so out of place
trapped inside of a world deep within my mind
My thoughts keep rewinding backwards to a distant time
Instead of being a fuzzy picture projected on a screen
I see a high definition massive war machine
We all have demons deep down inside
Mine just come alive when I close my eyes
I yell and holler and cuss and scream
I can’t wake up from my violent dreams
Smoke burns my eyes, I see the face of the dead
The war is still raging inside my head
Paranoia slowly sets in
Lock the door, check the door, check the door again
It’s impossible to fall asleep without a loaded gun
A gun is not a guarantee that sleep will even come
Take a number. Wait your turn. Go to the end of the longest line.
“After a review of your paper work son, we believe that you are just fine.”
“Take this pill, and every thing will be all right…
Don’t let your kids piss you off and try not to hit your wife.”
Their concerns are not for me. Its for every one else around
I try to tell them what is wrong but they never hear a sound
I am not the only one who has these thoughts and dreams
Our numbers are growing rapidly because of the war machine
With the sound of mortar rounds still ringing in my ears
The intensity of battle will stay with me for years
I’m expected to be, a functioning member of society
So I do what I can, to hide who I am, so I can be who they want me to be.
We Slept With Our Boots On
They unloaded the dead and maimed right before our eyes
They washed out the blood, we loaded our ruck’s and then took to the skies
Over the mountains, villages, and valleys we flew
Where we would land we had not a clue
Bullets are flying, the LZ is hot
We’re leaving this bird whether we like it or not
30 seconds they yelled, Lock N Load and grab your shit
Get ready to go and make it quick
My heart is pumping adrenalin through all of my veins
I run as fast as I can through the lead rain
The noise is tremendous, terror I can’t define
The only reason I survived that day was divine
I kept pulling the trigger and reloading and pulling some more
You do what you have to do, with that I will say no more
We fought from the valleys to the mountain peaks
From house to cave, to car to creek
Dirty and tired and hungry and scared
We slept with our boots on so we were always prepared
Those majestic mountains so steep, so high they kiss the skies
The Hindu Kush has changed so many lives
Up the mountains with heavy loads we trod
Who knew hell was so close to God
Beauty and terror are a strong mixed drink
So we drank it like drunkards and tried not to think
Good men and bad men, Mothers lost son’s
Everyone loses their innocence when they carry guns
Washed in the blood, and baptized by fire
I will never forget those who were called higher
They say blood is thicker than water, well lead is thicker than blood
Brothers aren’t born they’re earned. In the poppy fields, the tears, and the mud
And when I get to heaven to Saint Peter I will tell
Another Paratrooper reporting for duty sir, I spent my time in hell
Thunder in the Valley
Before the morning call to prayer, just before the dawn.
On an outpost in the middle of nowhere. In a valley high above the clouds.
We smoked cigarettes and talked about life, as we pulled guard all night
The whistle of incoming mortar rounds shattered the morning sleep
They fired rounds from atop a hill in a place we couldn’t see
They didn’t have a chance, once our guns were ready
As the 120’s pounded round after round, thunder echoed across the valley.
Lightning flashed from the mortar pits as hell was on its way.
They couldn’t run. They couldn’t hide. All they could do was die.
We helped them meet those virgins on their way to the other side
They said that there was nothing left. Barren all around
No stone unturned, not a leaf on a tree. Not a living thing could be found
Nothing left but ghosts in a dream before the morning call to prayer.
Death of a Hero
Clothes soaked with blood, and blood on his boots
As he breaths he gurgles blood
He lays in the shadow cast by a wall of stone
A million miles from home
Eyes wide with fright. His brothers by his side.
He quietly prays as he slowly dies
As blood drains from his body, color leaves his face
His blood waters the flowers in this God forsaken place
They hold him so he doesn’t die alone.
They hold him until they have to bag him and send him home.
Tears leave streaks down a dirty face
Sorrow and emptiness now takes his place
With the utmost care they zip up the big black bag
and wrap his body in an American flag.
A hero is going home.
Children in the Darkness
I was in Vietnam in 1967 - 68 and again in 1969. I go back often because my soul lives in Vietnam and I go back to visit it from time to time.
I was sitting in my hotel room in Saigon just before Christmas 2009 and I was trying to write a poem about the girls who work in the park and how badly men treat them. I was angry but unable to write anything that did not sound trite or weak. I looked at the TV and the news was on. I did not know what the news reader was saying but in the background was a photo of a small boy with a helmet and an automatic rifle. This poem flowed out. The words just came to me and I typed as fast as I could to get it all down.
Children in the Darkness
There are children in the darkness
Who have not seen the light
There are children in the darkness
Who someone will teach to fight
Chalk and blackboards will not be
To this door there is no key
From this life they can not flee
And these children are not free
Could we simply light a candle
Could we give them half a chance
Could we teach them how to read
Could we teach them how to dance
Or will a war consume them
Their body and their soul
Will their life and blood be poured
Down some endless thirsty hole
Back into the darkness
From which there is no flight
Back into the darkness
Into which there shines no light
Henry M Bechtold
The unknown snipers
The scene is Beirut - a poem about daily life in a war zone.
In some parts of the world people risk their lives daily. This poem is about living with a daily threat of death.
The author explains, "In 1975 we settled in Beirut where I started my private practice as a physician, after working in Saudi Arabia and England from 1969 to 1975. The civil war started in April 1975. From then on, I and also my wife, took the daily risk of crossing from west to east Beirut, where I worked for the Armenian Relief Cross and she taught piano playing at a music school, and back in the afternoon.. Crossing the green line was very tiresome and often risky from snipers who often stopped the crossing by wounding or killing a few citizens. We almost always crossed by walking, because cars often took two hours to cross.
We were just lucky not to have been shot or bombed. My brother was wounded by a Japanese sniper in front of the Holiday Inn Hotel on March 11 1976 but managed to drive to the American University Hospital for an operation. He left the country after a few months and is now living in New Jersey.
While crossing the green line at one of several locations I often imagined myself in the viewer of a sniper's telescope and wondered if he would decide to shoot or not.
In the poem I thanked them for not 'pulling the trigger'
Boghos L. Artinian MD
The unknown snipers
I will never know
how many times snipers had had me
clearly in their view,
yet for some reason had refrained
from pulling the trigger
to let me cross the green-line
twice a day, in fifteen years
of civil war.
For that kindness, many thanks
to the unknown snipers!
Boghos L. Artinian
Simulations of the Old Testament?
The midnight call from the British foreign office urging my son to leave the country(Lebanon) with instructions to be at a certain place next morning, and offering to also evacuate us(immediate family members), sounded much like the two angels urging Lot to leave Sodom and take his immediate family out.
Though the caller never mentioned that the God of the 'chosen people' will smite the inhabitants of Beirut with 'brimstone and fire' from above, the similarity of the situation rendered the intended implications.
Are we, the citizens of Lebanon, so base in the eyes of Jehovah that he intends to smite us with 'brimstone and fire' and to turn us into 'pillars of salt' while the rest of the world watches the unfolding wrath of those pseudo-deities?
A Citizen of Beirut - Boghos L. Artinian
About the above
The 2006 war on Lebanon by Israel which started on July 12, led to the urgent evacuation of almost all foreign nationals by land through Syria, or by sea via Cyprus. Our son, holding British nationality was advised to leave the country the morning following the midnight call from the British foreign ministry, the urgency of which I likened to the call on Lot by the two angels in the Old Testament. Since the whole family did not want to leave so abruptly with him, my son opted to stay with us. We witnessed 34 days of devastating war which cost 1500 lives. Fortunately the damage in North and West Beirut where we live was little compared to south Beirut and the rest of Lebanon. I had written the above short article in 2006 but couldn't have it published anywhere.
Boghos L. Artinian
Ambush of a bus, Baghdad, 4 June 2006
(Based on news reports of an actual incident)
What kills pity in a man?
Why, the cause.
In the cause we find strength.
Fifteen of the faithful,
We were ready to do God’s will.
A dozen boys and as many men,
Diminished by our Kalashnikovs,
Lined up by the roadside.
We inspected their ID’s
And told four to flee,
For they were of the faith.
The others, outside the fold,
Were ordered to their knees,
The whimpering schoolboys and the old.
Others, weaker, might have paused,
Afraid to spill the brains of boys;
But, rapt completely in the cause,
We scarcely heard the sobbing of the young
Nor their whispered prayers.
Nor the pleas of the old men
For the young to be spared.
And when the rifles spoke,
Blind were we to the twisted faces
Of the student infidels
As blood-red death crept up their line,
Leaving them still, one by one,
Meeting their fiery Hell.
It was a brave action,
But, brother, between me and you,
From whom I can conceal no truth,
Just for a moment I paused
When I saw in one of those traitorous youths
A likeness to my own dear son.
But I did not fail the cause.
He fell like a slaughtered lamb.
Note: Patrick Campbell explains
I am retired from the Diplomatic Service and can claim no military experience save national service in the RN back in the fifties. I live with my wife in Alicante, Spain, having decided to stay on here after my posting as consul here.
(with apologies to Rudyard Kipling and the modern Army)
They flew me ‘ome from Baghdad with a bullet in me chest.
Cos they’ve closed the army ‘ospitals, I’m in the NHS.
The nurse she ain’t no Britisher, so she ain’t too impressed.
It’s like I’m some street corner thug who’s come off second best.
Yes, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “You’re not welcome ‘ere”.
But when Saddam was collar'd, they was quick enough to cheer.
They’re proud when Tommy Atkins ‘olds the thin red line out there,
But now he’s wounded back at ‘ome, ‘e has to wait for care.
Some stranger in the next bed sez, “Don’t you feel no shame?
You kill my Muslim brothers!”; so it’s me not ‘im to blame!
An’ then the cleaner ups an’ sez, “Who are you fightin’ for?
It ain’t for Queen and country ‘cos it’s Bush’s bloody war!”
It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’“Tommy what’s that smell?”
But it’s “God go with you, Tommy,” when they fly us out to ‘ell.
O then we’re just like ‘eroes from the army’s glorious past.
Yes, it’s “God go with you, Tommy”, when the trip might be your last.
They pays us skivvy’s wages, never mind we’re sitting ducks,
When clerks what’s pushing pens at ‘ome don’t know their flippin’ luck.
”Ah, yes,” sez they, “but think of all the travel to be ‘ad.”
Pull the other one! Does Cooks do holidays in Baghdad?
It’s Tommy this, ‘an Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, know your place,”
But it’s, “Tommy take the front seat,” when there’s terrorists to chase,
An’ the town is full of maniacs who’d like you dead toot sweet.
Yes it’s “Thank you Mister Atkins,” when they find you in the street.
There’s s’posed to be a covynant to treat us fair an’ square,
But I ‘ad to buy me army boots, an’ me combats is threadbare.
An’ ’alf the bloody ‘elicopters can’t get in the air,
An’ me pistol jammed when snipers fired. That’s why they brought me ‘ere.
Yes, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, “We ‘ave to watch the pence”;
Though bold as brass the P.M. sez, “We spare them no expense.”
But I’ll tell you when they do us proud an’ pull out all the stops,
It’s when Tommy lands at Lyneham in a bloomin’ wooden box!!!
O tempora, O mores!
Splintered buildings, ruinous trees:
Arms stretched heavenward.
Mirrors their prayer,
Reflecting the stench of death.
Prostrate in homage to Mars.
Created in love by Love,
With families and friends,
Libran had been their living.
Then Jupiter’s son’s cavalcade came,
Calling them forth
To join him
In heroic acts.
It was cataclysmic.
Sheets became bandages, shrouds,
Furnaces ceased their roar, and
Fields grew like scrub.
Man glared at man
Through previously welcoming eyes,
Now blind to Love’s command.
Why can we not learn?
Thousands of years ago
Isaiah foresaw a remarkable re-forging:
Swords and spears into ploughshares and pruning hooks.
We know the score!
Yet Discordia’s shrieks still overcome
Concordia’s sweet song.
Littering the land,
The rotting corpses
For them, no joy of human interaction,
Of shared experience and achievement,
But enforced carriage to the Styx,
Tongues tainted by a coin.
Richard Y. Ball
Richard Y. Ball - Biographical note:
I qualified in medicine in 1979. After house jobs, I trained as a pathologist and undertook research in cellular pathology, becoming a consultant pathologist in Norwich in 1990. Until recently, my writing has taken the form of professional reports and papers. In October 2009, I attended a meeting that included a short session on creative writing. Such was my enjoyment of it that I have continued to write for pleasure ever since. My scribbling has been fairly crude, but guided by friends, I think that it is beginning to improve. My profession and Christian faith inform my outlook and are important influences on such writing that I manage. I wrote this poem, one of several, in response to a request by a local priest, who is holding a meeting between his church and members of the local Unitarian Chapel on the eve of Remembrance Day to discuss issues to do with war, remembrance, and so on.
Notes on O tempora, O mores! :The idea was to provide something for a church congregation to reflect upon the evening before Remembrance Day. I thought that it would be interesting to add classical allusions to biblical references. The reference to astrology was a late change, but an improvement on what went before.
O tempora, O mores – A sentence of Cicero (“Oh the times! Oh the customs!” or, more freely, “Oh what times we live in!”) uttered during his denunciation of Cataline, who had conspired to overthrow the government of Rome and to kill Cicero. An expression of the evil of the present time.
Mars – Roman god of war (and many other things), son of Jupiter and Juno, father of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, and husband to Bellona, a war goddess.
Libra – Weighing scales, a constellation and a sign of the Zodiac. It is said that Librans are sensitive, cooperative people, who avoid conflict and try to be cooperative and to compromise in disputes.
Jupiter – Roman ruler of the gods, the patron god of Rome. Married to his sister, Juno, and father of Mars.
Isaiah – See Isaiah 2: v4 (And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. King James version)
Discordia – Roman goddess of discord or strife; warlike and ferocious.
Concordia – Roman goddess of harmony. Her emblems included an olive branch, symbolising peace, and a cornucopia, representing the abundance produced by people working harmoniously together.
The Styx – The river in Greek mythology forming the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. Charon, the ferryman, is believed (erroneously: in most sources, it was the river Acheron) to have transported the souls of the newly dead across this river into the underworld. Placing a coin in the mouth of the dead body was thought to pay the toll fee.
A great bird lands and
Gathers strength after its flight.
Her oviduct contracts,
Discharging precious cargo,
Covered in a bright membrane.
It is carried shoulder-high
By adopted brothers.
Once nurtured in a mother’s womb,
Now enveloped in wood.
Safe from life’s buffeting,
It is sterile.
Nothing will erupt from its shell.
Instead, it focuses a nation’s awe,
The nidus of a family’s grief.
Richard Y. Ball
A Soldier's Demon
In the fog of war
Believe me, unfortunately I know...
A lot can happen in an instant
In the instant after clear and present danger reveals itself…
Time then slows down, way down
You hear bullets and shrapnel whizzing past you in slow motion,
As if you could reach and pluck them out of thin air...
It is in this moment that you realize that you may be dead…
Before your next thought is able to collect itself in your conscience.
Your finger reaches for the trigger...
You start shooting before you even aim...
As if your entire existence depends on firing your weapon...
You cannot think about anything other than survival...
Not your past, not your family, and not your wife and kids...
All the training means ABSOLUTELY nothing...
No one in your training was willing to die in order to kill you…
Now you start to see red. Different shades of red.
You feel anxious and cosy simultaneously.
You feel inside of the whirlpool and yet on the outside of it as well...
YOU FEEL PROFOUND AND SHALLOW AT THE SAME INSTANT...
BRAVE AND COWARDLY AT ONCE...
Right and wrong means nothing...only alive and dead are on your mind.
WITH A WICKED DEMON AS YOUR SOLE COMPANION...
While you wish for an angel in flight to pass by.
As the dust settles you wonder when, how and why
Your mind is dull, yet your body could begin to fly
Is this the end or just another nightmare that will pass by …
No telling apart the screams of the enemy from a friend’s death cry.
About Edward Porter
Edward Porter lives in Los Angeles, California. He has provided the following notes about himself and what inspired him to write the poem.
I am an Ex Brit who has been a US Citizen since 2000. Born in Tehran, Iran in 1971 to an Azerbaijani mother who is a proud British Citizen and who is fluent in French culture/language (more than anything she is a French woman). Raised by my maternal grandparents in Iran until 13, I saw firsthand the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war (it being the 3rd bloodiest war of the 20th century). As a pre-teen, I escaped a war-torn and revolutionary Iran to live with my mother and my British step-dad who then subsequently moved the family to the USA.
I have many friends and family in the US Armed forces and their experiences are routinely conveyed to me through firsthand accounts from places like Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Being a trained and passionate writer, I do not have to experience an event firsthand myself, in order to be able to write about it as if I had...
I have been there in my thoughts, in my dreams and unfortunately in my childhood.
I have been a writer for over 25 years now, mainly of Novels, Scripts and hundreds of poems. While being fluent in French, Azari and Farsi, I have a love and fascination for the English language which I consider my mother tongue, (in which I am currently writing a Novel about my experiences regarding my transition/experiences from my childhood in pre/post revolutionary Iran to my new homes in Europe and the USA). I am also working on two other Novels in addition, simultaneously.
I live and work in Los Angeles, CA as a Realtor and a Landscape Contractor. I also serve on our School District's Governing Board as an elected Trustee.
My family and I live on a ranch in the mountains above Los Angeles in an area called Santa Clarita. Prior to becoming a Realtor / Landscape Contractor, I was employed in the Film Industry in the areas of Post Production, Production and Distribution.
I consider myself a patriotic American while being quite fond of our "Closest Friend and Ally", the United Kingdom where my siblings and parents reside, not mentioning a small piece of my heart.
Unthinking and unchallenged support for violence
Why do we go along with the idea that our bombing is always for the good of people, time and time again?
We bomb in peace
the bombs of goodwill
are falling still.
Fall friendly bombs
destroy the threat.
Will what we sow
Be what we get?
So that tyranny may cease.
We bomb with love.
We bomb in peace.
1 January 2010.
The trouble with terrorists
The trouble with terrorists
that they have sunk to the level
of their enemies
condemning whole peoples
on the basis
of the actions
of a few
and with almighty arrogance
have assumed the right
to allot punishment –
torture, trauma and death
almost at random
as if they themselves
Let them forsake their hysteria
stop the rant
state their aims
make their case.
20 February 2010
Background to The trouble with terrorists
For background to this poem which particularly concerns US and UK foreign policy, please see, for example, the books, Killing Hope - US and CIA Interventions since World War II by William Blum, and Lawless World - America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules by Philippe Sands.
President Barak Obama's speech from the Oval Office on the end of the combat mission in Iraq, 31 August 2010
Over 4,400 Americans were killed in Iraq
Part of what President Obama said (He reflects a little on the cost to the US economy and public services.)
"Two weeks ago, America’s final combat brigade in Iraq -- the Army’s Fourth Stryker Brigade -- journeyed home in the pre-dawn darkness. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles made the trip from Baghdad, the last of them passing into Kuwait in the early morning hours. Over seven years before, American troops and coalition partners had fought their way across similar highways, but this time no shots were fired. It was just a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.
Of course, the soldiers left much behind. Some were teenagers when the war began. Many have served multiple tours of duty, far from families who bore a heroic burden of their own, enduring the absence of a husband’s embrace or a mother’s kiss. Most painfully, since the war began, 55 members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice -- part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq. As one staff sergeant said, “I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot.”
Not looking after America - spending a trillion dollars on war
"Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity. We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle-class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk."
Parts of the statement of President Barak Obama in his address to the American people. (See video above.)