Original: Fall, 1950.




I'll run, America, before I fight, 

Before I kill a man in bloody war. 

I'd wear the uniform to make it right, 

But in my naked flesh I'd feel the wrong. 

No matter what you say the killing's for, 

You will not get my mind to march along, 

You will not get my hand to shoot the gun. 

Although I am of age I'm still a boy,

The only thing that's left for me to do is run!

Listen to the above poem / Éist leis an ndán thuas




'Sé m’intinn rith, a Mheiriceá, ón gcath,

Roimh fhear a mharú ins an gcogadh dom.

Bheadh culaith orm óna dtiocfadh cead,

Ach i mo chraiceann d’aithneoinn an chearr.

Cibé an chúis leis, é is cuma liom;

Ní oibreofar ar m’aigne siúl chuig ár;

Ní scaoilfidh mé le gunna fear ar bith,

Bíodh gur in aois ach gas6ir mé,

Nil aon ní fágtha fúm le déanamh ach a rith !

Listen to the above poem / Éist leis an ndán thuas



Version in Irish: 24 January, 2005.                                                  Raymond J. Clarke / Réamonn Ó C1éirigh


Comment:   I had received notice of being drafted into the army during the Korean war.  Because I was still in school, it was deferred until I would graduate in June of 1951. I was worrying about it.  I had two worries really.  I was worried about killing and about why I wasn't more patriotic.  So I wrote a poem about killing as if it was spoken to America


It might look like I had a fully-developed anti-war idea here, but I didn't.* It wasn't a religious matter or a moral question for me It was entirely personal.  There was something in me that told me I wouldn't be able to kill a human being. I knew they wouldn't condemn me for killing because I wore the uniform. In fact, they might be more likely to condemn me for not killing. I think there was a bit of shame in this poem and that's why I fell back to saying I was still a boy.


I never thought of really running away, but to avoid being drafted for a three year hitch in the army, I volunteered for a four year hitch in the navy.  My thinking was that I would less likely face and then fail the test of killing in the navy than I would in the army.  It was worth an extra year of my life away from home.


And there was a second thing I did I almost forgot about.  I believe I performed well on my written navy tests and was doing well in my tasks at the basic training camp.  Chief Garcia was in charge of us in our barracks.  He was gruff on the outside but good-natured underneath.  He used to growl and say he was a Mexican from Texas and there was none tougher than that.  One day he took me into his quarters and told me I could qualify for officer training school.  He would sign a recommendation for me.  I shook my head, thanked him, and said no.


He didn't give up.  Somehow he found an officer, Frank McDonough, who went to the same college I did. He showed up and took me over to the officers' quarters.  I knew him slightly.  He tried for over an hour to convince me to go to the officer school.  I turned it down.  I made up lame excuses.  I didn't tell him what was really in my mind in fact, I didn't tell anybody until now.   I didn’t want to order anyone to kill, either.  I would have been ashamed to say it.   So, McDonough couldn't figure me out.


Otherwise, I probably would have accepted.  I grew to like the navy - the hard work, navigation, ship design, the new electronics. and the sea.  I might have made it my career.  But I knew I had a flaw that they wouldn’t want to hear about.


This is a third type of poem.  It’s a sort of argument.  In that way, it's like prose or plain talk. Though I didn't think of doing it ahead of time, I used a lot of contrasts in it: wearing a uniform then naked flesh, running but not marching, right but wrong, mind and hand, and finally, boy instead of man. These turn out to be part of the argument.  It's a bit of fancy talking, but it's serious.


* I was slow in coming to the idea that war in general should be opposed In later years, I was influenced by those who opposed war because of the human beings killed.  All the while, however, I contained to feel that killing was even worse than being killed.  For some years now I have been interested in the question of how war becomes ‘lawful.’  In a way, I suppose, I'm asking. How did thit uniform give me the right to kill?