Led from a Distance by Harry Newman

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Led from a Distance by Harry Newman is a powerful collection of political poems about the moral bankruptcy and emotional numbing of war. The book is completely written in lower case, an effective device for the poet to remind us that the masses are powerless and small, when juxtaposed against the power, money and secrecy of the Military-Industrial complex President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about before he retired. In his poem titled “The Front at Home,” we watch the entrance of a network of tunnels, which is the last enemy stronghold attacked with missiles. In a neatly packaged and edited clip, narrated by a casual, unemotional voice the TV bathes us sitting on our soft couch in deadly blue-white light. If we’ve had enough killing for one news broadcast, we only need to change the channel:

we were silent too watching missile
after missile hit closer to the entrance
murder televised so casually while
the reporter talked about payloads
throw weight guidance systems
with the cool practiced anticipation
of a golf announcer this is the world
we’re making I think we’re part of this
and nowhere felt safe or far enough
not the couch we’re on not the home
we will build not love as a missile
struck and the entrance exploded

In Newman’s poem titled “Led ( Camp X-ray, Jan 2002 )” there is the disconnectedness of viewing war prisoners on night vision goggles being led to captivity?, execution? But instead of lessening the impact of witness, it is heightened:

I know I should
feel protected now
the men with guns
are my men and the men
in chains the enemy
but I feel shackled
instead shackled
with them and led
from a distance
to a place so dark
it will never be seen
not with night vision lenses
not on television never

More from Newman on the numbing effect of slaughter and body counts in his poem titled Soon:

we have grown so fat
with violence we need
our murder super-sized
before we can feel it

when the smaller deaths
the ones on the ground
the cameras won’t see
will never be counted

Eventually, the last drop of blood is spilled, every cemetery filled, Memorial Day parades are well stocked with disabled vets, and the Pentagon budget is reduced. New weapon systems have proved to be a good investment, and the peace candidate wins in a landslide. In his poem titled “Mercy,” Newman powerfully demands to know why it takes so much death for war to end:

this is the time
when stars grow dim

and turn their light
to the other side
of the sky when

the sun won’t shine
from heartache
and only the moon
can bear to rise

when trees must
grow downward

to keep from being
gallows and iron
refuse to temper

into bullets
truncheons blades

this is the time
when the ground itself
too full of bodies

bursts open when
the dead refuse

to rise and we must
swallow our tongues
to keep from screaming

The lessons learned in Korea’s frozen hills were ignored in the Sixties. The body counts in Vietnam’s steamy jungles taught us nothing. Then we endured Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq again.


Who is to blame? With eloquence and economy of language, Newman captures guilt with a sniper’s accuracy in his poem titled “Blood”:

everywhere death’s
impossible geometries
and everywhere

our fingerprints
our name
in the blood

Wars are rationalized, planned and led from a distance, but the dying and collateral damage is local. Even the weapons used are increasing deployed and directed from a distance (drones and cruise missiles.) From 1961 to 1971, American forces sprayed an herbicide developed by Dow Chemical Corporation over vast areas of what was then South Vietnam. Its brand name was Agent Orange, it included dioxin, one of the most toxic carcinogens known to science. It was used to strip bare all vegetation, denying the enemy cover. The problem is that dioxin stays in the environment and exposure leads to several cancers, Parkinson’s Disease, birth defects, and other diseases. The American government, knowing dioxin’s effects and resulting health issues, made a decision from a distance to spray this deadly chemical also on our troops and Vietnamese civilians. Disease and birth defects continue to devastate the population of Vietnam. As a disabled Vietnam Veteran undergoing treatment for illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange, I am reminded daily of the duplicitous nature of corporations and government when they form a partnership. This powerful book is written with an economy of language, yet screams volumes about what happens when we turn a blind eye to the unholy alliance of power, greed and politics. I highly recommend this book, not as casual reading, but as a mandatory civic duty, in the fervent hope that future generations will benefit from the harsh lessons my generation so cruelly learned. Buy this book.

Bill Wunder is the author of two volumes of poetry, Hands Turning the Earth (WordTech Editions, 2014), finalist for The 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and Pointing at the Moon (WordTech Editions, 2008,) as well as the chapbook Kingdom of Heaven (Aldrich Press, 2015). In 2004, he was named Poet Laureate of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His poems are widely published and have twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry. Bill, a Vietnam veteran, serves as Co-Poetry Editor of The Schuylkill Valley Journal, and lives with his four Labrador Retrievers in the wilds of Bucks County. More from this author →