The Pity of War: A Centenary of Shame

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Grandpa.jpg

Philip Hudis, bottom left, Isaac "Jack" Hudis top left.

My grandfather, Philip Hudis, was an intelligent, deeply caring and highly ethical man. He was also extremely tense and prone to pacing the room in agitation. He seemed most comfortable with Uncle Jack, his elder brother and war buddy in the Middlesex regiment, or with his friend Mr. Bunn, a First World War poet. While Grandpa's anxiety could have been a result of parenting styles he experienced, I have often wondered what he would have been like without the trauma of his wartime experience. As a French translator, Grandpa was not in the trenches himself. Yet he found the so called Great War a horrific and senseless experience, pointing out to my cousin that the soldiers on the other side had families who loved them, just like 'our boys.' The war violated my grandfather's innate sense of basic human decency and created memories he could not live down and rarely voiced. He carried the sadness of this betrayal of humanitarian values to his dying day.


On the other side of the family, my grandfather Joe Board entered London Regiment as a stretcher-bearer at the tender age of sixteen. Joe survived, but his elder brother Albert did not. My great-uncle was killed in action at Loos in 1916. His death did  not only rob my great-grandmother of her son. War steals from the future as well. The great-uncle I never met would have been a beloved relative and positive influence in my life, had he not been killed in a senseless war thirty-five years before my birth.



Albert.jpg

Albert George Board


My grandfathers and their elder brothers were just four of the sixty- five million men mobilized to fight in the1914-1918 war.  The war left millions of mothers grieving their sons. Many millions of veterans came home maimed in body and spirit and millions of civilians died due to crimes against humanity or starved to death.


The so-called war to end all wars served only to inflame geopolitical tensions, setting the stage for the unspeakable death and destruction wrought by the Second World WarAnd the struggle for global dominion and control of resources continues today in the form of proxy wars--millions of Syrians suffering in refugee camps or starving in besieged cities, Ukraine on the verge of disintegration, endless war in the Middle East and Iraq.


The generation that fought in World War I have left the stage. Their children, the World War II generation, are slowly dying out. It falls to my generation, the grandchildren of the veterans of such horror, to hold the memory, to bear witness to the pain of the survivors and to mourn the loss of those we never had a chance to meet.


Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.

                                                  
      -T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


To Philip Hudis, any inhumanity was unbearable. As a civil servant in the Home Office, he fought for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, doing whatever was in his power to redress the wrongs he experienced in his wartime youth. Beauty can come forth from the senseless suffering of war; the beauty we make by raising our voices for the voiceless and opening our hearts to those who suffer today in a seemingly endless cycle of global conflict.


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This page contains a single entry by Alakananda Ma published on April 26, 2014 1:30 PM.

Reflections on the Empty Tomb was the previous entry in this blog.

Reflections on the Taurus New Moon is the next entry in this blog.

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