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Twentieth Century Chivalry

Remembering Hiroshima
lines on the fiftieth anniversary

O, fortunate man:
Wrists bound, knees bent, head bowed,
Staring into the shadowed trench
;
The blade is swift, the slice is sure.

Sightless, he sees what might have been.
Crushed into a basket, the wicker constrains
The drowning mans despairing, hopeful struggle,
While the clear salt water scalds his lungs.
. . . Or,
Trailed behind the boat as sharkbait,
Leaking blood to attract the sport
And excite the laughter.
Perhaps, at dusk,
Strung by his thumbs to a branch,
(His toes, even with the rocks attached,
Yet still failing to reach the ground)
He awaits the mornings bayonet drill.
His friends had had it worse. Old Joe,
Trussed with barbèd wire, mouth stopped,
Pumped through his nose with water,
Died beneath the boots that jumped and split
His distended stomach open
To their wearers laughter.

But the destruction of the body is nothing.
The ritual is spiritual. They do it for the pain
;
And, yet, better, for the agony
And for the ecstasy the agony gives them.

O, how they love their cruelty,
These little yellow men.

Thank God
: he hadn’t been a woman,
A pleasured nurse, gang-raped through the long night hours,
Tortured near to death,
Taken to the beach to wash
Irremediable stains
From broken body,
And machine-gunned standing in the surf.

Or, disembowelled to win a bet
:
The soldier won (it was a boy)
;
The woman lost (the child, her life)
As Gods blood dripped into the gutter.

And now, in the last few seconds of a lifetime,
Deep inside that shadowed trench
He sees his children playing in the sand,
Their mother, mourning, watching.
The blessèd blade sings its dirge
:
The blood spurts, mushrooms,
Driven by the final heartbeat.

The trench is black. His head
Falls into the abyss.


This is an extract from BEYOND THE BAMBOO SCREEN edited by Tom McGowran, OBE, and published by Cualann Press at £ 9.99

The author of this poem reported that he was persuaded to write it for two reasons. First was the memory of a photograph, seen in a book published by the British Government during the war (a book of which all copies to be found were withdrawn from circulation in 1951), featuring a row of Australian prisoners in the process of decapitation. He reflected at the time that perhaps they were the lucky ones, and in later years, as reports of officially sanctioned sadism entered the public domain, he learned they had indeed suffered a much less painful death than many thousands of others.

The essential feature (he wrote), still so foreign to the sensibilities of the survivors that many can scarce allow themselves to recall its awfulness, is that so much of the cruelty, excused as Bushido, or as the consequence of not being covered by international treaty, or as behaviour typical of soldiers of all nations, was driven by a compulsive, addictive drive for pleasure. Continually, as the reports are analysed, the full horror of this obscenity burns into the consciousness: these cruelties were for enjoyment.

The second reason (he wrote) was the shameful insistence by “Tony Benn” (alias the Right Honourable Anthony Wedgewood Benn, P.C.), when speaking on the BBC Radio Four service, that the attack on Hiroshima was unnecessary, that the Japanese had already agreed to surrender, and that the use of the atomic bomb was part of an American conspiracy to terrorise the rest of the world with this manifestation of its power. That it is possible for a man who has been a Cabinet Minister in a British Government to publish, with the help of the BBC, such lunatic nonsense as this, conclusively demonstrates that the true facts of the Japanese war are still relatively unknown, and that such comparatively well-informed audiences as those of Radio Four are deemed by the BBC to be ignorant of the truth, known to all survivors, and testified by the many surviving Japanese documents in the possession of British, Dutch and American governments, that orders had been issued for all prisoners to be murdered as the Japanese Army withdrew from their conquered territories.
Page 1 ~ Bushido
Page 3 ~ The article
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