the first world war
the second world war
crimes against humanity
the nuclear age
The hand that signed the paper GO
The Castle GO
The Voice of Authority GO
The Responsibility by Peter Appleton
I am the man who gives the word,
If it should come, to use the Bomb.
I am the man who spreads the word
From him to them if it should come.
I am the man who gets the word
From him who spreads the word from him.
I am the man who drops the Bomb
If ordered by the one who's heard
From him who merely spreads the word
The first one gives if it should come.
I am the man who loads the Bomb
That he must drop should orders come
From him who gets the word passed on
By one who waits to hear from him.
I am the man who makes the Bomb
That he must load for him to drop
If told by one who gets the word
From one who passes it from him.
I am the man who fills the till,
Who pays the tax, who foots the bill
That guarantees the Bomb he makes
For him to load for him to drop
If orders come from one who gets
The word passed on to him by one
Who waits to hear it from the man
Who gives the word to use the Bomb.
I am the man behind it all;
I am the one responsible.
Once one has got one's head round who each 'him' is, the point is clear: if we don't want bombs we shouldn't let our taxes pay for them. But look at the order of events. The poem doesn't stick to a chronological sequence. If it did, the loading of the bomb would precede the dropping of it. The chosen order stresses two things. First: the Bomb is made - already the chosen weapon - long before the top man 'gives the word' to use it. Its very existence means that it's always in the equation. Second: it's the people's money 'that guarantees the Bomb' is made.
The last two lines give another choice. Who is the speaker? The man who has just been speaking, the taxpayer? Or the first speaker, the man who 'gives the word'? Or another, more shadowy figure ? If 'the man behind it all' is a new speaker, who might he be? And is the poem's ambiguity about this an accident or a design? We're certainly provoked into thinking about responsibility, and how even one man's refusal to take part in the chain of command could change everything....