On Pinter's Poem About War in Iraq

Today in The Guardian, playwright Harold Pinter published a poem about America's intended military confrontation with Iraq. Instapundit says he agrees with blogger Chris Bertram that it is "scraping the bottom of the barrel."

Here's the poem:
Wednesday January 22, 2003
The Guardian

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America's God.
The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn't join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who've forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America's God.

© Harold Pinter, January 2003

We'll admit, we didn't care much for the imagery in the poem. But we knew if anyone would defend the poem it would be TalkLeft's sister, who is the Bibliographical Editor of The Pinter Review and has published a book and otherwise written extensively about him. So we asked her what she thought. She sent us to a message board on Pinter where she had posted her detailed response earlier this morning. Her post is in response to a poster who had written (in response to yet another poster,)
"Please feel free to hit that highway, both you and the idiot Pinter (what the hell is "sniff only the pong of the dead"). Those of us who are left will do what has to be done. I won't bother to argue with either of you, might as well argue with bricks.
Here is her reply:
The word "pong" (British usage) means odor. The word appears in The Dumb Waiter (regarding the possibly unchanged bed sheets/linens) and relates to The Caretaker, where Aston complains about Davies' "stinking" the place out. I think it also is used in The Dwarfs (novel and play).

I just saw the poem "God Bless America" today too. I think it is another one of Harold Pinter's powerful indictments of the hypocrisy of the current (and past) American "Administration."

It continues his critique of American political and military policies and practices exposed in his poems "Partners," "American Football," "Death," "After Lunch," and in other recent poetry, speeches, essays, and letters to newspapers, and in the dramatic works The New World Order, One for the Road, Mountain Language, Party Time, and Press Conference.

I think that "God Bless America" merits rereading from the perspective of those who are not citizens of the United States and who are urgently opposed to an America-led war on Iraq as well as from the perspective of those who are citizens of the United States and feel equally appalled by President Bush's drive toward "conducting" this war. The poem also addresses past actions by the United States and their dire consequences.

The "head" alluded to repeatedly in the last verse paragraph recalls the horrific image that Harold Pinter has described of the child's head literally blown off by an American bomb in the Serbian marketplace in Nis.

There is a documentary film about that war:
"The documentary traces how crucial mistakes by the West]particularly Germany and the US[ led to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991, culminating in the devastating NATO bombing campaign of 1999. "Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War" traces the role of Western intelligence agencies in arming separatist groups in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The film also examines media manipulation by the warring sides which helped shaped policies which prolonged the war."
Will we in the years to come be lamenting "The War in Iraq: The Avoidable War?" Better to avoid it now than to be sorry about not having done so later--if we are all still here to be able to lament.

In my own view, there is much more danger of a nuclear catastrophe resulting from engaging in a war on Iraq (which will polarize even more terrorist groups who may actually have access to nuclear and chemical weapons of mass destruction) than there is from a nuclear catastrophe resulting from dealing with Iraq's breaches of UN resolutions by other means. The US is not alone in the world now; it is part of the United Nations. I think that it needs to act accordingly. Otherwise, it may very well be alone--or not anywhere, as all of us will be too--no matter where we live--we'll all be dead, as Pinter's poem implies.

Susan Hollis Merritt, Ph.D.
Bibliographical Editor
The Pinter Review

[edited jan. 26]

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