to secure from them information of any kind whatever.” – Article 17,
Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War ”
A poem by Chengde Chen
|Yugoslavia, sometime in World War II. A refugee family in Serbia|
Understanding the Geneva Convention
We are enemies –
why can we kill in war but allow no torture?
Does physiology regard death better than pain –
the struggle for survival is a race to the end?
Or philosophy holds ends higher than means –
loving God requires rushing to heaven?
Anyone who can prove either of these
proves Geneva is larger than the world; otherwise,
aren’t the Conventions like the RSPCA of carnivores –
protection ensures slaughtering only the undamaged?
This humanitarian law, solemn and noble as it is,
is just a desperate supplement to a Platonic maxim.
Although “only the dead have seen the end of war”,
let’s conduct barbarity in the most civilised manner –
seeing the gaps between battles as peace, or the seconds
between drawing the sword and striking as kindness.
War, however, has to be the war animal’s way of life –
no matter how we pursue “off-battlefield humanity”.
Part-time animals are animals still, hence a red cross –
to acknowledge the bloodiness of humanitarianism!
Words can’t redeem the mountains of white bones,
because ideals can’t domesticate genes.
Our ability to idealise ourselves
can only deepen the tragedy of civilisation.
Oh, the ever extending ripples of Lake Geneva,
you are not leisure waves by wind flirting with water,
but man’s unending hopelessness about human nature.
If you aren’t the longest sighs of the hopeless,
you must be the deepest sadness of the sighs.
Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today: philosophical poems. Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here