April 27, 1937

General Ludendorff, two years before,

Had pushed the concept in his Total War,

And so it seemed a perfect time to see

If one could undermine an enemy

By striking its civilian population.

This proved a most effective innovation,

As the defenseless ancient Basque town learned:

Three quarters of its buildings bombed and burned,

Its children and young wives were blown to bits

Or gunned down, when they fled, by Messerschmitts.

Shocked condemnations poured forth from the press,

But Franco triumphed; and, buoyed by success,

The Luftwaffe would similarly slam

Warsaw and Coventry and Rotterdam.


Berlin cheered these developments; but two

Can play such games—and usually do—

No matter how repellent or how bloody.

And Churchill was, as always, a quick study

And would adopt the tactic as his own,

Sending the RAF to blitz Cologne.

Devising better ways to carpet-bomb

(Which later were employed in Vietnam),

The Allies, in a show of aerial might,

Incinerated Dresden in a night

That left the good and evil to their fates,

While back in the untorched United States

Others approved an even darker plan

To coax a prompt surrender from Japan.


That day in Spain has taught us, to our cost,

That there are lines that never should be crossed;

The ignorance of leaders is not bliss

If they’re intent on tempting Nemesis.

Each day we rise, and each day life goes on:

An author signs beneath a colophon;

Trucks carry freight through waves of desert heat;

A bat cracks, a crowd rises to its feet;

Huge jets lift to the sky, and, higher yet,

Float satellites that serve the Internet.

But still, despite our cleverness and love,

Regardless of the past, regardless of

The future on which all our hopes are pinned,

We’ll reap the whirlwind, who have sown the wind.


from Toward the Winter Solstice, 2006