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Bad Year, Bad War: New Year’s Card

Without the shedding of blood
there is no remission of sins.”
—Epistle to the Hebrews, 9:22

That was the year of the bad war. The others—
Wars, that is—had been virtuous. If blood

Was shed, it was, in a way, sacramental, redeeming
Even those evil people from whose veins it flowed,

Into the benign logic of History, and some,
By common report, even the most brutalized, died with a shy

And grateful smile on the face, as though they,
At the last, understood. Our own wounds were, of course, precious.

There is always imprecision in human affairs, and war
Is no exception, therefore the innocent—

Though innocence is, it should be remembered, a complex concept—
Must sometimes suffer. There is the blunt

Justice of the falling beam, the paw-flick of
The unselective flame. But happily,

If one’s conscience attests to ultimate innocence,
Then the brief suffering of those incidentally innocent

Can be regarded, with pity to be sure, as merely
The historical cost of the process by which

The larger innocence fulfills itself in
The realm of contingency. For conscience

Is, of innocence, the final criterion, and the fact that now we
Are troubled, and candidly admit it, simply proves

That in the past we, being then untroubled,
Were innocent. Dear God, we pray

To be restored to that purity of heart
That sanctifies the shedding of blood.

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