I attended a small, Christian all-girls private school from the time I was in 4th grade until I graduated high school. The great education I received was shadowed by an environment that (whether knowingly or unknowingly) attempted to crush all individuality and voices of dissent. I was a freshman in high school when we first entered the war in Afghanistan. Having a mark of the activist in my 14-year old self, I was very vocal about my opposition to the war and it definitely wasn’t easy being in a conservative oppressive environment. I was so upset, so hurt, so confused by the racist, ignorant, intolerant, and hateful comments that would float in the halls among my pious southern belle classmates regarding Muslims, Arab-Americans, and the inverted support of peace for our country through war with another. What could I say to make them hear my side? To make them really listen to me?
Writing has always been such an important part in my life and that is exactly the medium I turned to during that time to explain my pacifist stance that was so callously disregarded, ignored, or perhaps just misunderstood by my peers. In an assignment in class when we were asked to reflect on the national tragedy on 9/11, I opened my essay with the words of Wilfred Owen, I am the enemy you killed my friend. I remember those words to this day from the poem “Strange Meeting.” I am the enemy you killed my friend. I chose those lines in a desperate attempt to make my classmates see people as members of a human race instead of subcategories of race and religion, markers of difference that since the beginning of time we have used to justify attacking and killing one another. I am the enemy you killed my friend. I couldn’t explain it more articulately than Wilfred Owen did, and to me the message was and is in the poetry.
What could I do to make them listen to me? To make them hear me? To make them understand me? These must be the questions that all great anti-war poets have had to ask themselves at some point. The function of political art and poetry is essential in our movement against the war. We can speak in numbers, statistics, figures and politics but there is power in the poetic word, and paired with a message or a cause it becomes extremely poignant. The ability to create art within a movement is a spirit we need to keep alive. Sometimes we just need poets, like Wilfred Owen, to speak beyond logic to a different part of us, to remind us that we are all human after all and of the simple universal truth that violence and war is bad. If the thought of the sound of the guns and bombs don’t make you deplore war, then perhaps sullen poetic words describing it will echo and resonate within your soul. After all, the pen is the ultimate anti-thesis to the sword.
To Read Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting” (1918) Click Here: