A surprising number of visitors to this site have been seeking information about Hugh MacDiarmid's 'Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries', written in 1935. This morally corrosive poem may have wormed its way onto some benighted syllabus as an example of anti-war poetry.
Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
It is a God-damned lie to say that these
Saved, or knew, anything worth a man's pride.
They were professional murderers and they took
Their blood money and impious risks and died.
In spite of all their kind some elements of worth
With difficulty persist here and there on earth.
I argued in an earlier post that MacDiarmid was (at best) historically ignorant in his attempts to rebut Housman's 'Epitaph'. 'These' were the Old Contemptibles, the British Expeditionary Force sent in 1914 (by a democratic government and with the overwhelming support of the population) to repel invading Prussian forces and protect the sovereignty of occupied nations. To call our soldiers 'professional murderers' is merely to make the same crude allegation against professional armed forces throughout history. Are we encouraged to understand that amateur murderers are more acceptable?
MacDiarmid minded some murderers less than others. His apotheosis of Stalin, which endured even beyond the Hungarian Revolution (1956), contaminates much of his poetry and prose from the 1930s onwards. As far as MacDiarmid was concerned, Stalin helped 'elements of worth' to 'persist on earth'. Better to murder cold-bloodedly for ideology, than to 'murder' in battle for pay; and so, MacDiarmid's 'Epitaph' would have us believe, a soldier fighting in defence of his own or another nation is worse than a genocidal dictator.