Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ...

Jetzt wollen wir sie dreschen is a graphic by Max Liebermann, the famous German impressionist painter, on the occasion of the start of World War I. It shows the kaiser on horseback attacking the enemy.

Now we will thrash them (©MoMA)
I found this picture in an article in Freiburg's Sunday paper Der Sonntag dealing with the involvement of German artists in WWI. Is that the same Liebermann who said when he observed Hitler's SA hordes marching through the Brandenburg Gate on January 30, 1933: Ick kann jarnich soville fressen, wie ick kotzen möchte (I can't eat as much as I would like to puke)? At the age of 86 Liebermann had learned his lesson.

Is the same true for the American author Ezra Pound who under the impression of the horrors of WWI wrote his poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley while in England in 1920?

THESE fought, in any case,
and some believing, pro domo, in any case . .
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . .
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

Died some "pro patria, non dulce non et decor". .
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy....

THERE died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization ....

Is Ezra among those learning later ... ? We read in Wikipedia: Outraged by the carnage of World War I, Pound lost faith in England and blamed the war on usury and international capitalism. He moved to Italy in 1924 and throughout the 1930s and 1940s embraced Benito Mussolini's fascism, expressed support for Adolf Hitler and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Oswald Mosley. During World War II the Italian government paid him to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jews, as a result of which he was arrested by American forces in Italy in 1945 on charges of treason. What to do with such a person? Deemed unfit to stand trial, he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years. You may like to read more.

What, however, impressed me most in Pound's poem and rang a bell was the line: Died some "pro patria, non dulce non et decor"... This is a corruption of Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ... taken from Horace's Odes. The Latin translates into It is sweet and fitting to die for your country. With Horace's maxim in mind many rulers have since then convinced their young male subjects to die as objects on the field of honor.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori was carved into the marble of the entrance hall of Munich's university, the same place where in 1943 the Geschwister Scholl (Hans and Sophie Scholl), members of the White Rose - a non-violent resistance movement in Nazi Germany -, had launched flyers against the war from the upper floor.

When I arrived in Munich in 1958 a student had covered the inappropriate inscription with a banner: Turpe et stupidum est pro amentia loqui (It is infamous and stupid to speak in favor of madness). Demonstrating students demanded that Horace's maxim be erased, others suggested replacements. To some the proposal of the Catholic fraternities Vitam impendere patria (To sacrifice his life for his fatherland) sounded even worse, for in Germany in the years after the war the word Vaterland had an absolutely negative connotation. Following endless discussions somebody translated the German phrase Die Toten verpflichten die Lebenden (The living are obliged to the dead) into Latin: Mortui viventes obligant. Eventually the students approved this proposal supported by the Rektor (director) of Munich's university. So it be, amen!

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
at the entrance to the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington (©Wikipedia)

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