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Monday, September 24, 2012

Elizabeth Samet Reviews Kevin Powers's "The Yellow Birds" | The New Republic

Elizabeth Samet Reviews Kevin Powers's "The Yellow Birds" | The New Republic:

 "The book disclosed to me a lie at the heart of popular representations of war: what Wilfred Owen, in his anthemic World War I poem called “the old lie.” No one who had witnessed the death of a soldier poisoned by gas, insisted Owen, could ever again say to glory-seeking children: “Dulce et decorum est/ pro patria mori”—it is sweet and beautiful to die for one’s country. The Latin lines comes from Horace, whom Owen uses as something of a straw man; the Roman poet’s thoughts on dying for one’s country were rather more complicated. But the mendacity of war was no secret to Horace or, for that matter, to Homer. Listen carefully to Achilles in Iliad 9, as translated by Robert Fagles: “The same honor waits/ for the coward and the brave.” The dissonant counter-narrative of war is as old as the old lie itself. But only after the unprecedented horrors of World War I did exposing the old lie become the central project of Anglophone war literature."

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