What a poem for the ages! Today, as American soldiers fight in a foreign land, the acceptance of this poem's message might stop that war and prevent other occurrences. After surviving World War II as a conscientious objector, James Kirkup hoped that he had endured his last world conflict. Of course, he was wrong. Fortunately, for the reader, he expressed his feelings in a moving free verse poem, "No Men Are Foreign." The poed speaks to the almost universal themes of the equality of men, and though outwardly diverse, inwardly, the sameness of humanity. Kirkup rails against the treatment of one man toward anther, asserting that we hurt ourselves more than we hurt our enemies.
In the 1980's television program, Colonel Potter, one of the main characters, states: "Sometimes I think it should be a rule that you have to see somebody up close and get to know them before you shoot him." This certainly might stop the killing. Are men taught to hate one another? According to Kirkup, it would seem so.
...we are told
To hate our brothers' it is ourselves
That we shall dispossess...
Unfortunately, in many countries, men demonstrate a xenophobic attitude toward foreigners. This intense dislike or fear of strangers manifests itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of the in-group versus the out-group. These feelings involve a fear of losing identitiy, suspicion of activities, aggression, and a desire to eliminate the presence of the foreigner to secure a presumed purity. Xenophobia is at the heart of most wars. In the Broadway musical, South Pacific, one of the songs speaks to the this issue:
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
What we do not understand we dislike. What a sad commentary on the brotherhood of men! The lesson that Kirkup hopes that the reader will absorb into his soul is that one man is no differeent from another. We breathe the same air, have the same hopes and desires, and endure the same hardships. When we kill, pollute, and violate other people and countries, it is then that we become different.
Why would I recommend this poem to someone to read? The poem's beautiful comparisons and word choice, his universal theme, the poet's deep hope for an improvement in mankind's relationsips, and his understanding of the reasons that men fight one another...this makes a poem for the ages! Kirkup summarizes his philosophy when he repeats:
Remember. no men are foreign,
and no countries strange