War Is Kind: A Poem for Memorial Day

Stephen Crane made his literary mark at age 23 with his brilliant book on war, The Red Badge of Courage. Though he was rejected for service for poor health, Crane saw more than his fair share of the horrors of war as a correspondent covering conflicts in Greece, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Cuba. His realism regarding war and its carnage, and his disdain for the penchant – especially of those who authorize war – to romanticize conflict, marked Crane’s career from The Red Badge of Courage to his last collection of poetry which included “War is Kind.”

On this weekend in the Unites States we remember and give thanks for those who have served their country and who have given their strength, their limbs, and their lives for this nation. And it is right that we do. But for their sake we should also remember the reality, indeed the horror, of the conflicts to which we send those in our military lest we forget and, all too willing to authorize more war, unwittingly dishonor the sacrifices of those we remember.


“War is Kind”

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind,
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them.
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom–
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbles in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind!

Stephen Crane, from War is Kind and Other Lines (1899).