“The Fury of Aerial Bombardment”
By Norah Christianson
The Fury of Aerial Bombardment
By Richard Eberhart
You would think the fury of aerial bombardment
Would rouse God to relent; the infinite spaces
Are still silent. He looks on shock-pried faces.
History, even, does not know what is meant.
You would feel that after so many centuries
God would give man to repent; yet he can kill
As Cain could, but with multitudinous will,
No farther advanced than in his ancient furies.
Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
Is the eternal truth man’s fighting soul
Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?
Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,
Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall
But they are gone to early death, who late in school
Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl.
Eberhart wrote this poem in 1944 while a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy teaching aerial free gunnery to boys during the Second World War. He would frequently read on the death lists the names of boys he had trained. In the poem, he sees God as indifferent, silent. He sees man as not having evolved since Cain, and wonders if the truth of the matter is that man’s soul is, and always will be, a “fighting soul.”
The names Van Wettering and Averill on a death list are the names of sailors he taught about the belt feed lever (a lever that releases the bullets from the belt that feeds into the machine gun) and the belt holding pawl ( a bar or catch the prevents the belt of bullets from proceeding (as I think I understand it).
According to various sites I found on Google, there are 27 to 32 current wars going on right now in the world. They are of different types: there’s plain old regular war (e.g. Ukrainian-Russian War), there are civil wars (e.g. Syria), terrorists insurgencies (e.g. Chad), drug wars, (e.g. Columbia) and ethnic wars (e.g. Sudan), and so-called “conflicts” (e.g. Israel-Palestine).
And all over the world we humans go on building our beautiful monuments. On our own Academy Hill there is— beside the elegant monuments for the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War— a small grey granite cube carved with the words “Stratford Veteran’s Memorial” for “…services given by members of the Armed forces from Stratford during time of national crisis.” On the front of the cube are paler grey brick-sized rectangles, each carved with the names of our “conflicts”—Libya, Grenada, Lebanon, Iraq, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Persian Gulf, Haiti, Dominican. And there are two more rectangles—left blank—awaiting the names of future wars/conflicts, which will surely come. As Plato said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
The American poet Richard Eberhart was born in Austin, Minnesota in 1904. During World War II, he held the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Eberhart was the recipient of many of the literary world’s greatest accolades. He was the United States Poet Laureate under Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and the recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He died in Hanover, New Hampshire at the age of 101.