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Big Break

He sipped in cafés in the afternoons;

He’d been below the average at school.

Tradition made him thrash away at life,

Despite this, he was no more than a fool.


Then suddenly he had his first big break;

A full-blown, bloody war had to be fought.

His doomed adventures did not matter now;

All trails of damage added up to nought.


A strange equality in times of war

Means anyone can scheme or kill or die;

No bomb or bullet will discriminate.

In all the mess, some low achievers ply


Their gormless trade and wave a magic wand,

While those more worthy end up in a pile

Of bones and flesh immobilised in time.

The opportunists grab it by a mile.


And so our café friend would seize his chance

And wielded his connections and his charm.

He slipped beneath the radar’s vacant space

And waited for the suckers to disarm.


◄ His Finest Day

Chemistry ►


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Stephen Gospage

Wed 10th Jan 2024 21:18

No need to apologise, Carlton. Your responses have been fascinating and have added to the poem. Thank you.

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David RL Moore

Wed 10th Jan 2024 12:47

Thanks for your response Stephen,

I think I interpreted your poem as was intended, I hope so.

I was a little unsure if some of the respondents had veiwed it in the same way. Of course all things are open to interpretation and rightly so. My concern is with stereotypical profiling of groups of people, the military is particularly vulnerable to this.

I used to keep my mouth shut but realised no one would speak on my behalf, I make a point of challenging things which seem and often are unfair or incorrect.

Thank you for your poem.

I apologise if there is a perception that my responses have detracted from your work, it was not my intention. Rather the opposite.

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Stephen Gospage

Wed 10th Jan 2024 07:17

Thank you, Carlton and Uilleam.

Carlton, I salute and admire your service in the military and would agree that it is usually non-combattants and well-connected chancers who exploit conflicts for their own benefit. I hope that my poem reflected, or at least hinted at, this.
It is a matter of shame that our society treats soldiers and ex-soldiers so badly while others move in and cream off the profits made from wars.

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David RL Moore

Tue 9th Jan 2024 17:32

Just some notes to qualify my feelings on this subject.

Having served a full career in the Army I can say that on several occasions I did meet a few people I thought were fit only for the Hitler Youth and The SD, those occasions were few and some of those people were weeded out and dealt with appropriately.

It was absolutely my experience that those exploiting conflict were most often not professional soldiers but exploitative incomers in the guise of corporate businesses or illegal enterprise, often government officials, the types with power but not the courage to pick up a rifle to defend something or someone. That, and those who served in conscripted armies or paramilitary groups raised in times of war.

There is huge absence of knowledge regarding military service among those who have not served, I sometimes feel many honourable men and women are dismissed by employing lazy stereotypes conveniently replacing reality.

Yes there are thugs in the military, yes there are people with limited intelligence and low morals (whatever they are, according to anyones particular set of rules) there are no more or less than exist in the rest of society and in most part they are better regulated by their peers.

Throughout my service I spent years standing between people less able to defend themselves and those who would do them harm, even defending those who despised my uniform against others in fractured civil societies who would kill them and did when given half a chance. Hated by those who I represented and by those opposed to what I represented. If those dynamics do not cultivate and inform a mind in respect of the futility of war I'm not sure what could. A civilian watching it all in safe comfort thousands of miles away on his/her TV? convincing themselves they see and understand it so much better, and then judging, do me a favour!

And yes, there were times when I found myself on the wrong side. On some occasions it only became obvious retrospectively. On occasions it was obvious there are things a soldier can do to not support his orders, one would be to leave, the other to disobey his orders or simply not carry them out as instructed. Suprisingly some soldiers are equipped with independent thought, some armies encourage it more than others. Certainly The British Army would outshine the US army in terms of soldiers thinking for themselves.

Yes, war is futile, evil and ridiculous. Unfortunately those descriptive terms sum up mankind in general terms, until such time as we eradicate them war will continue. The absence of men and women offering themselves up to fight would be an ideal solution in many ways, but then who is going to defend you when those who do take up arms come to burn your villages and rape your women?

I cosole myself in the knowledge that I saved more lives than I damaged, I did so for no more than a working mans wage and a lifetime there-after of self medicating fragility and a shit pension. I should have been a farmer or a journalist, but hey-ho life's shit then you die.

PS, I can only speak of my experience in The British Army, I have worked with many others including The US. I despise terrorism and would agree terror can be imposed on civilians by standing armies. I believe that The British Army has been guilty of such terror in recent history. I do not support the killing of civilians who are not involved in terrorist activity. I do not believe in the casual dismissal of murder by the use of terms such as collateral damage. If terrorists/enemy hide behind civilians or in their midst it does not mean it's a free fire zone. It means you have to find another way to prosecute your mission.

I'm so glad I no longer do that for a bloody living.

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Uilleam Ó Ceallaigh

Tue 9th Jan 2024 16:23

"And wielded his connections and his charm."
Reminds me of a few demagogic characters here in the UK; plastic patriots who would run a mile if asked to put their money where their mouths are.

Who was it who said: "...if they don't deliver this Brexit that I spent 25 years of my life working for, then I will be forced to don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines."

Incitement to riot or what!

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Stephen Gospage

Mon 8th Jan 2024 08:01

Thank you, Carlton, for your fascinating comments based on your own experience of war situations, and to Tim and RG for their views on this. I am pleased to contribute to the provocation of thought and in this poem a lot of details are left deliberately vague.
The main point is that wars claim the lives of many brave, dedicated people, while others, due to accidents of birth, connections or simple good luck, come out with their status enhanced.
War is fundamentally bad and unfair, not to say evil.

And thanks to Stephen A, Nigel, Holden, Steve, K Lynn, Manish, Jon and Nila for liking.

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Reggie's Ghost

Sun 7th Jan 2024 18:09

Soldiers tend to be recruited from the more deprived areas and are often under-educated with low expectations of life and low morals. However with the right training those people can be transformed into highly disciplined individuals. But where they are thrown into combat with very little training it is no surprise when their newly found power goes to their head and results in ill discipline and atrocities.

It must also be very difficult for an individual soldier to do the right thing when the rest of his unit are doing the opposite.

I will however say that I have no first hand knowledge of combat and that my knowledge is home-spun as I suspect is most WOL contributors.

Tim Higbee

Sun 7th Jan 2024 15:44

I agree with Carlton that provocation of thought is the merit of poetry. Your poem exemplifies this. Carlton's comment for me demonstrates the thread of unseen narrative that takes place in the spaces between the lines. His comment expanded the provocation of thought your poem initiates. Well done, Stephen.

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David RL Moore

Sun 7th Jan 2024 10:21

I had to read that a couple of times to adjust my focus.

War is a wonderful opportunity for exploitative chancers. A marvellous cover for all kinds of self seeking betterment at the expence of others.

War will expose the true nature of people, those concerned only with thier own selves will utilise the chaos of war for their own ends.

Rules are reset during conflict, murder within flexible criterea is permitted thus facilitating ample opportunities for dispatching rivals of many kinds. I saw "rival dispatching" in almost every conflict I was unfortunate enough to deploy to, The Balkans and multiple territories in Africa being particular regions where it proliferated.

I worked with friendly forces some of whose members would concoct elaborate lies about personal rivals in order that they be removed from their playing field (our battlefield) I took a dim view of such behaviour and did all in my power to expose their treachery, needless to say in war things get missed and wicked people exploit that fact.

Unfortunately many dullards exit periods of conflict having elevated their status by expoiltation. Often they retain their new privileged positions and attain further positions of influence and authority which in the absense of chaos they would never have achieved.

Society would do well to bear in mind the possible paths to great fortune which may have been travelled by those we without question elevate because of their family name or awarded titles. Many of the landed gentry and well known British families built their fortunes during wartime and periods of historical chaos, some did so by exploitative and criminal means. America mirrors Europe in this regard.

It is of course to be expected that such things happen, it is unfortunately human nature.

I recall Trump disclosing his disdain for anyone who might fight for their country or perceived righteous cause, thinking them to be fools because there is no personal gain in it for them. Men like him become our leaders, of course his Grandfather exploited the Goldrush by running a whore house in a frontier town. What should we expect of descendents born of such enterprise except further villainy.

Regarding your poem, it's merit lies in its provocation of thought. That in my mind is the most important thing.

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