Monday, 28 December 2015

Understanding the Geneva Convention

“No physical or mental torture may be inflicted on prisoners of war
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

11 comments:

  1. Our ability to idealise ourselves
    can only deepen the tragedy of civilisation.

    - I really think this is one of Chengde's best poems - and I include those in his famous book too, in that assessment. This line, I think, qualifies as 'an aphorism' all on its own!

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    1. Thank you, Martin, for liking it, though sadly it accepts our hopelessness about human nature.

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    2. I appreciate the beauty of the piece, although this aphorism captures the opposite of what I firmly believe -- we can and should idealize ourselves. Caught up since the first years of our lives in educational conditionings that make us depressed, anguished, competitive, indifferent or cruel (and almost incapable of accepting the possibility of an other life), we should allow ourselves to imagine what we really are, even if it may look like idealization. Another civilization is possible.

      Finnish early childhood education emphasizes respect for each child’s individuality and the chance for each child to develop as a unique person. Finnish early educators also guide children in the development of social and interactive skills, encourage them to pay attention to other people’s needs and interests, to care about others, and to have a positive attitude toward other people, other cultures, and different environments. The purpose of gradually providing opportunities for increased independence is to enable all children to take care of themselves as “becoming adults, to be capable of making responsible decisions, to participate productively in society as an active citizen, and to take care of other people who will need his [or her] help.” -- Education in Finland

      I see the ordinary horror of indifference, self-centeredness and frank cruelty in many around me. In all those cases, I see a system that has failed the child, and allowed psychopathic tendencies to thrive (because of the toxic notions of "discipline", "politeness", "adaptation", which allow to integrate society without challenging psychopathic tendencies, and which rather act as prisons systems -- i.e. schools of crime.)

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    3. Dear Perig, your interesting comment has made me think the matter further. The poem is to reveal the essence of the Convention: “let’s conduct barbarity in the most civilised manner.” The issue of treating POWs wouldn’t exist without the existence of war. I’m not against idealising humans or moral education, whether it is that of the Finnish style you quoted or of the thousands of years of Christianity or Confucianism, but would like to point out the “tragedy” that the higher we stand at, the lower the reality looks. The Convention, in this sense, is actually exposing human barbarity through idealisation.

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    4. I see. Okay, I understand your perspective.

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  2. Dear Gentleman,
    What I note is that whatever we write about, we always have reactions that move beyond the, let's say, 'outlines' of the words. We draw outlines to be specific? Though everything is connected and an outline is never representing the "in-lined" in the outer outlined. In this sense, your poem Chengde, offers the reflection about building 'separate' entities to represent something that is illusionary, for you cannot place "a little paradise in hell" how noble the thought may be?

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    1. Yes, Tessa, even if there was “a little paradise in hell” then it should be understood as a little paradise in hell and no more. Unfortunately we often think of the Convention over highly, while it is in essence a bit of self-consolation of a bunch of war animals.

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  3. Hi dad, thank you for sending me the link to another one of your works, and i hope to see more in the new 365 paged book that is this year.

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  4. Thanks Ke, this sounds rather poetic.

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  5. The Geneva Convention itself puts it like this, in the opening paragraph of its website: "People have always used violence to settle disputes. And all cultures have always had the idea that there have to be limits on that violence ..."

    Does the mind rule over the heart, when one goes to war, or the heart over the mind?

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    1. It could be eitner. Neither the mind nor the heart is strong enough to beat human nature, though it might be temporarily so.

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