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The War Poetry Website© David Roberts, 2016
The War Poetry Website

Making or Breaking

The following is a poem from Kosovo War Poetry, which was published in 2000.

In 2016 the poem was set to music by Norwegian composer, Kim Andre

Andresen, with its premier with The Kantorei Choir in Denver, Colorado,

USA, 26 February 2016.

I don’t know what thoughts this poem might inspire, but there are many ideas that were in my mind at the time that I wrote it. In particular I have often thought about the topic of how most people strive to add to the well-being of the world whilst a minority seem to cause trouble: they destroy things, start wars, become terrorists, hurt people.  Often one person or a very small group of people can cause untold misery. At different times I have given varying accounts of ideas that are associated with this poem. The immediate stimulus for the poem is explained below. December 1999, New Year's Eve was approaching and I thought of the dawning of a new century and a new millenium. This poem was in part inspired by the first pictures of the earth taken from space. For the first time we could see the whole earth in one picture, one planet for one race, the human race. In the simplest possible terms  Making or Breaking sets out the choice before each of us.          MAKING OR BREAKING We inherit the world, the whole of history, our place on earth, our place in time, our fortune, good or bad, pure chance. Now, in one picture, we see our entire planet: one world, one race, one future, bound together for the first time. Ours for the breaking or making. David Roberts 12 December 1999 A violent or a peaceful world – the note that accompanies the poem, Making or Breaking, in the collection of Kosovo war poetry: The promoters of narrow patriotism, nationalism and racism suffer from a moral short-sightedness which leads to the kind of misery and horror we have witnessed in Yugoslavia in the last 10 years of the 20th century. Not only Serbs in Kosovo Albanians acted on racist motives, but NATO nations, too. Leaders who base action on racist attitudes lack a vision of the world appropriate to the needs of their people and the world as a whole. All races are in a minority. All need the support and co-operation of others. All could make better use of their time and talent if they directed their energies to cooperative problem-solving, rather than the harassment and extermination of others they have picked on to blame for their troubles. The fate of the people of the world is linked. We prosper or die together. We have a choice. The dawning of a new century As a new century approached, one hundred years before my poem was written, Thomas Hardy had taken another view, a far more poetic response. See his poem, The Darkling Thrush. Kosovo War poetry by David Roberts is published in paperback  by Saxon Books     ISBN 0 952 8969 2 3   £4-99 (UK), Approx $8 (USA)   Available Worldwide

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From Kosovo War Poetry

The Pilot’s Testament

I seek no glory. I bear no anger. I hate no man.  I do the unspeakable on behalf of the ungrateful. I bomb targets chosen by others. I have surrendered my will to a higher authority. I trust the cause to be right and the methods appropriate. There is no place for questioning. There can be no other way. I do my duty. You can rely on me. I will not let you down. Though my task may be dangerous, neither fear nor doubt will prevent me. Consider me. Physically and mentally my ability is exceptional. My judgement and reflexes are trained to perfection. I am chosen from the elite, the very best. Many accord me great respect. I possess power beyond imagination. Like a god I roar through the heavens, miraculous, immaculate, invulnerable, supreme, the earth beneath me, the whole of creation available to me, awaiting my quick shot of death and destruction. My victims are unaware of me. I am unaware of my victims. They go about their lives not knowing only a few seconds remain.  We are arriving at the appointed time and place. At a touch I fix their fate.  Moments later, in mid conversation, a flash, and they are gone. I cannot pretend it was difficult. Their will was done, and I, merely an instrument of death. I did my duty, but I accept no guilt. I come down to earth as a man among men, unmarked, unrecognised, unremarkable, unnoticed: I easily blend.  I am not available for comment. I am not an item of news. The story is elsewhere.  I return to my family as if nothing has happened.  David Roberts   15-22 December 1999 Aleksinac, Serbia, 1999, where three civilians were killed when a NATO pilot aimed to bomb the Deligrad barracks some distance away.
Comment and background to the poem An influence in this poem was a conversation I had about 1981 when I chatted to a British bomber pilot in a squash club in Haywards Heath. I asked him if he he would hesitate to obey orders if he were told to drop a nuclear bomb. He said he wouldn't hesitate for a moment. It was not his job to choose the targets. It was not his responsibility. The system could not work if he could pick and chose the orders he would obey. I asked, "What if thousands or tens of thousands were to die as a result?"  He said he knew that he would only be asked to drop a nuclear bomb if it was necessary for the protection of Britain and he would never regret doing his duty. It seems to be necessary to point out that when NATO bombers bombed Yugoslavia no NATO country had been attacked or even threatened by Yugoslavia. Self defence is the only acceptable reason for waging war under the |UN Charter which 188 nations have signed up to. [Written 2000] The NATO Treaty which governs the military actions of NATO countries also only permitted war in self defence. However, this was changed without it being brought to the attention of the public or even members of the British parliament on 24 April 1999 when a new NATO agreement was signed in Washington. NATO ministers agreed to act illegally under the UN Charter and wage war for a variety of non- defensive purposes. The bombing of Yugoslavia was a practical demonstration of this new willingness to act illegally. It is often claimed that the bombing, though illegal, was carried out to avert a humanitarian crisis. In fact, thousands of bombs dropping on a country itself causes a humanitarian crisis, and the flight of both Serb and Albanian refugees from the Kosovo province began after the start of the bombing. The first victim of war is morality. Wars are always failures -  failures of diplomacy, failure to see the interest of the enemy is tied up with ourselves, failure to understand that we are all bound together as members of the human race. The fighter in any war faces difficult moral questions. Anyone who believes that organised aggression by states may sometimes be wrong has some serious thinking and explaining to do about this military action. Sadly, some people have unswerving faith in their leaders, believe that they can do no wrong, and therefore have no need to question any of their actions. People who pay taxes that fund wars and live in countries that declare war on others cannot evade their moral responsibility. Do they condone aggression by pretending that nothing has happened or do they take steps to make their opposition to violence abundantly clear to their government and other people. Are some kinds of warfare more moral than others? Some readers will have noted the influence of Ted Hughes on this poem. See his Hawk Roosting.  Kosovo War poetry by David Roberts is published in paperback by Saxon Books It includes the two poems above and 29 others. There is a nine page introduction.   ISBN 0 952 8969 2 3   £4-99 (UK) Available Worldwide Useful links for this and other war poetry titles on the bookshop page.  

Kosovo War Poetry