War Child by Phoenix

Spotted in no man’s land 
searching the dead picturing a future junkyard
with him in the middle an everlasting element
something to sell and perhaps something edible
no sell-by date can frighten that old hunger
in this young skinny belly, a monster terrified more
I skipped the scope and held the binoculars
I had the best view in the house
to watch him live like a saint and die like a criminal
it was a trigger away from the truth
I held my nerves and bit my orders
to see who this angel could be
so bereft of the very low measures of humanity
no formal introductions, no manly fear
no one to hold on to; all the dear have gone
so blatantly pickpocketing robbed thieves
lying too dead to be said who stole life from whom
like all gathering in a big dark room
their knives so sharpened to hit and miss
for some, it may have felt like a kiss
coming from a brother
now the mixed hatred in the blood mudded the soil
what a tree in there may grow
but the boy... has gone...
replaced by men with arms
all pointing at me ready to take me down
I don’t blame them for I have taken many
but not this time as I say every time so confidently
I fired with all my expertise so quickly
no rock or tree would let men hide from me
all lay dead, as if they were not, as if I were not
we’re already fighting in the underworld
I finally turned toward that little con
For a moment that little pup I could not see
in a war too big for him to understand
nor does he the word collateral casualty
he grew smaller and smaller with time
then his eyes met mine through the scope of death
unafraid like before, he bent down to pick a flower
onto which was stuck dead a butterfly
that at that time interested him more
I froze and felt it was me there on that flower
and I could not pull the trigger... I could not.

“War Child”: Witnessing the Unbearable

The poem “War Child” paints a bleak and unflinching portrait of the horrors of war through the eyes of a soldier. It’s a visceral and unsettling account, forcing us to confront the devastating toll conflict takes, not just on combatants, but on innocent lives caught in the crossfire.

The Dehumanization of War

The poem’s speaker describes the act of killing as routine, mechanical. The chilling lines, “I fired with all my expertise so quickly… all lay dead” reveal a soldier desensitized to violence. The enemy is a faceless mass, not individuals. Yet, there’s a nagging sense of guilt beneath the surface, hinting at a lingering humanity.

The Cost of Innocence

The poem’s focus shifts to the “war child,” a young boy scavenging in a desolate no man’s land. His innocence amidst the depravity makes him a heartbreaking figure. He is oblivious to the political forces tearing his world apart; his focus is simple survival – finding food, and the childlike distraction of a butterfly.

The Moment of Choice

The poem’s climax hinges on a single act. The soldier, with the child in his sights, ultimately cannot pull the trigger. This pivotal moment challenges the dehumanization of both the soldier and the enemy. In the child’s innocent focus on a flower and a butterfly, the soldier glimpses a reflection of his own lost humanity.

Legacy of Conflict

Beyond the immediate tragedy of the child’s possible death, the poem hints at a greater, insidious evil. Wars leave poisoned legacies. “What a tree in there may grow” suggests that future generations will be corrupted by the violence and hatred the conflict has sown.

Provoking Questions

“War Child” doesn’t provide easy answers. Instead, it leaves us with unsettling questions:

  • Can true humanity survive amidst the brutality of war?
  • How do we break the cycle of violence that destroys the lives of innocent children?
  • What is the ultimate cost of conflicts that devalue human life?

The Power of “War Child”

This poem’s strength lies in its unflinching portrayal of war’s devastation. It forces us to acknowledge the human cost, particularly the shattering of innocence. While bleak, it sparks imperative reflection on the choices we make that lead to such suffering and the potential for compassion even in the darkest of circumstances.

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