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November 11, 2003

Ghosts of the Great War, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 11:11 AM *

“We’re not making a sacrifice. Jesus, you’ve seen this war.
We are the sacrifice.” Ulster regiment, marching toward the Somme
Eleven eleven has come round again, when we remember what used to optimistically be referred to as the last great imperialist war. Many of my links are repeated (with adjustments for link rot) from last year. What the hell; they’re still relevant. Maybe more so.

World War I was what got me started reading history. I was at home with pneumonia, and somehow picked up a copy of a Penguin illustrated history of World War I. I was horrified: They did what? Then amazed and horrified: And then they did it again? And finally plunged into a profound mystery: And they kept doing it, again and again, for years? In some ways, all my reading of history thereafter has been an attempt to understand the information in that one small book.

In memory of the men who fought, a jolly contemporary folksong: Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire.

Have a look at Tony Novosel’s two pages of spooky, evocative photos of Great War memorials:

Painting: Menin Gate: The Ghosts of Ypres

The actual Menin Gate, on which are carved the names of the 54,000 Missing from the Battle of Ypres.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. There are 73,350 names on its panels.

Kathe Kollwitz’ Grieving Parents, near the site where her son and his comrades are buried.

The Silent Sentinels, Langemarck German cemetery in Belgium.

The Sentinels again.

Watching over the German graves at Langemarck.

Le Mort Homme (The Dead Man), Verdun.

Another view. “ILS N’ONT PAS PASSÉ” means “They did not pass”.

The Guardians of Verdun.

Views of the war: John Singer Sargent does one of each.

Wilfred Owen’s grave.

Not pictures: A pertinent selection of Wilfred Owen’s poems. And a bit of Philip Larkin.

The Lost Poets of the Great War website, with its calculation of total casualties.

One of whom was young Umberto Boccioni, Italian Futurist artist. This is his “States of Mind” series: The Farewells. Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. There aren’t many paintings by Boccioni. This is a piece called Unique form of continuity in space. There is even less sculpture by him.

If there are universes with multiple branching timelines, there are thousands of them very much like ours, except that in them no one’s ever heard of J. R. R. Tolkien. The destruction, the toll of the dead, is as difficult to comprehend as the Black Death.

At one point I looked up the history of Tolkien’s unit, the Lancashire Fusiliers. First they significantly distinguished themselves at Gallipoli. Then they significantly distinguished themselves at the Somme. Here they are, about to be killed. No wonder Tolkien came back from the war saying, “Everyone I know is dead.”

An account of the Newfoundlanders.

Bad place to make a landing, Gallipoli. A few words from the last surviving ANZAC. And the other last surviving ANZAC.

There is great generosity in the monument to the dead of both sides at Kabatepe Ariburun Beach, inscribed with the speech Ataturk made in 1934 to the first ANZACs and Brits who came back to visit:
Those heroes that shed their blood And lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well
An affecting, low-key page about New Zealand public memorials: Lest We Forget: War Memorials of the First World War.
The New Zealand war memorials of the First World War have become part of the common fabric of our lives, like stop signs or lamp-posts. Virtually every township in the country has one, usually in the main street. Excluding the many honours boards and plaques in schools and churches throughout the country, there are well over five hundred public memorials to the soldiers of the Great War. Despite their numbers, the memorials are not boring or stereotypical. This was because New Zealanders showed much inventiveness in remembering the dead of the Great War. By the time the war ended, over 100,000 young New Zealanders had served overseas and some 18,000 had lost their lives. Sacrifice of this magnitude engendered enormous emotions.
One of my two favorites is the Kaitaia memorial, in Maori and English. The other is the annual ceremony at Piha. Every year there, at low tide on Anzac Day, they process out across the sand to lay their wreaths on Lion Rock ; and then the tide comes in and carries the wreaths away.
Comments on Ghosts of the Great War, 2003:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 12:54 AM:

Boccioni is my favorite Futurist painter, ever since I saw his 93Dynamism of a Soccer Player94 at MoMA a few years back. They also had the 93States of Mind94 triptych up on an adjacent wall, and some of his sculpture work.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 12:57 AM:

54,000 Missing from the Battle of Ypres. That works out to around 5,000 tons of human flesh and bone mixed inextricably with the mud.

#3 ::: catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 12:59 AM:

Thanks for posting. Le Mort Homme is breathtaking.

#5 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 01:43 AM:

We still remember, we who dwell....
Ah Elbereth, Gilthoniel
(from memory, without references to hand, and thinking also of Wm Hope Hodgson as well as JRRT)

#6 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 04:15 AM:

When I visited New York, last year, I remember finding a WWI war memorial in the museum above Fraunces Tavern, and two things about it immediately struck me:

1. The list of names was very, very short.
2. The dates of WWI given on the memorial were 1917-1919.

There are war memorials dotted all over Edinburgh - there's a big metal plaque in Waverley Station, with the names of all the railway workers who died, with the jobs they'd one. The war memorial in the Castle is the main one, though - and every year there's a ceremony which all surviving veterans of either world war may attend, but which is primarily, these days, representatives from regiments and military organisations to lay wreaths.

One of the senior activists in Edinburgh's gay liberation movement was Ian Christie, a WWII veteran: every year he'd attend the memorial ceremony and lay a wreath of red poppies with pink triangles in memory of the lesbians and gays killed - the queer soldiers that the military had always pretended weren't there.

They couldn't stop him: he had a right to go and lay his wreath. They could, and did, promptly remove it as soon as possible afterwards.

After he died the organisation he belonged to, Scottish Homosexual Rights Group, kept up the tradition for a while, but it was tricky, because there were no other military veterans: plenty of ex-soldiers, but they'd all been dishonorably discharged for being gay.

Of course, as of 1 January 2000, officially the UK armed forces are no longer allowed to pretend that none of them are queer - nor to get rid of those who come out or who are drummed out of hiding.

#7 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:18 AM:

We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beyond the trees,
Thy starlight on the western seas.

#8 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:24 AM:

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda"... I was recently present when a friend of mine heard this song for the first time and thought it was the most bitter and depressing song he'd ever heard. The site below has a transcription of the lyrics and a live audio performance with spoken introduction by Eric Bogle. ("I get quite heated about this subject.") The song says it all.


#9 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:42 AM:

Leslie Turek said

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda"... I was recently present when a friend of mine heard this song for the first time and thought it was the most bitter and depressing song he'd ever heard.

Prophetically, the song ends:

"But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday, no one will march there at all."

And, in Real Life:

May 17 2002

The last of the Anzacs, Alec Campbell, died peacefully in Hobart last night. He was 103. . .

"Not only is he the last Australian Anzac, he is also the last known person anywhere in the world who served in that extraordinarily tragic campaign," [Prime Minister John] Howard told parliament last night.

We may never see their like again. I hope we may never have to.

#10 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 07:27 AM:

" ...
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. "

Progress, justice, the dignity and security of all persons, those are not things as need not heroes, neither today nor anytime soon.

The faith is there to be kept, if we will keep it.

#11 ::: Tony Cullen ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 08:04 AM:

For me it began in 1994, watching the D-Day memorial events and realising that that year would also see the 80th anniversary of the beginning of WWI. So I started reading the very excellent books of Lyn MacDonald. Not great as military history, it helps to have some idea of what was going on at the time, but unequalled (in my admittedly limited experience) in terms of what the men on the ground experienced. She has had an obsession with tracking down as many WWI veterans as possible and getting their experiences recorded.

I don't have the guide book to hand to check the fact, but when I visited Ypres I seem to remember that the Menin gate is a memorial for all of the British missing of WWI (or, at least, for those missing in Western Europe). Or it would be, if there was room for all the names, the Thiepval memorial is the overflow. And I remember the quite profound chill that ran through me when I saw that one of the names was 'John Cullen' (my name, my father's name and his father's name).

#12 ::: Robert Maughan ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 08:49 AM:

Yonmei: Technically WW I did end in 1919. The fighting ended in 1918 but the peace treaty was signed in 1919.

#13 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 09:00 AM:

A different war, and a different country.

When I was fifteen my family went with my father to a medical conference in what was then Leningrad. One of the activities available to attendees and their families was a trip to the World War II memorial for the city. Please bear in mind that I am, on purpose, doing this based on memory, because it's the emotional impact I want to remember--not the precise physical details.

After a fairly long bus ride, we got out in a peaceful country setting. We were just off a quiet back road, and the major elements outside the wall were trees, wind, birdsong, and a hint of classical music. When we went inside, there was a small museum where one could also buy postcards. Not much in the way of what we usually think of as souvenirs.

Beyond that was a large space, with a wide path progressing between regularaly spaced mounds toward a monument. The monument was a pretty spectacular piece of Soviet art. I remember that it probably should have impressed me more, in some way. Maybe for being pretty, or ugly, or depressing, or something. But I don't remember it at all clearly. I do remember the eternal flame in front of it.

And I remember the moment, after I'd been walking for a minute or so, when I realized that each of the mounds I was walking past, each about fifty by a hundred yards, was marked off by a marble block with a year on it. And that these mounds went off for some distance to either side of the central path. And that, after having walked through several rows of these mounds, they still said 1942. And that each of these mounds was a mass grave. And that there were still two more years of graves to walk through.

Inside the walls, the only sounds were wind and the classical music that was quietly piped through the entire memorial. Even the Intourist guides were quiet here. The bright sun and blue sky seemed utterly inappropriate.

The memory still makes me cry.

No people should ever have to create such a memorial again. Why does the human race keep doing this to itself?

#14 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 09:26 AM:

They shall not grow rich, as we that sent them there grow rich
They shall not pledge cash, nor their votes count them
At the raising of the funds and at the luncheons
We will forget the dead and remember Halliburton.
(Steve Bell)

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 10:00 AM:

The original, for those unfamiliar with it:

They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 10:04 AM:

Here's the statue Elric refers to: it's called Motherland

#17 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 11:14 AM:

Least we forget, every year on Armistice Day I play Eric Bogle's other famous song, "No Man's Land," from a Clancey Brothers recording that I need to replace sometime soon.

And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.


#18 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 11:26 AM:

Elric, you remind me of my trip to Eastern Europe in 1968 (we left Prague about 4 days before the Russian tanks came in). These are my emotional impressions, from the days of my youth, that have not vanished after 35 years.

Warsaw felt to me like a city of memorials to WWII. There were still bombed-out blocks from that era, and the lowering gray skies intensified the feeling that the city was continuing to mourn. Leningrad was a city of museums, and history that went farther back -- they loved their background, and cared about all of it. The Russian city that brought much more of WWII home was Volgograd, and the memorial there, with the eternal flame and all -- it felt more kind, somehow, than Warsaw, in that the memorials were more wistful than accusatory.

And the Eric Bogle songs remains one of the great anti-war songs. I remember him singing it at one of the Julie's Place concerts in Berkeley. Just plain chilling.

I am not a veteran. In this place, on this day, I just wonder -- how do we know when to stop? Sometimes fighting is justified. Sometimes we can prevent more death by causing some deaths. Sometimes we can make better lives for many by making things worse (temporarily, with luck) for a few. But how do we know?

Rhetorical question. No answers expected, because any answer will be as simplified as the question.

Deep in thought,

#19 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 11:31 AM:

Um, LNH, that's not Bogle's only other famous song.

"Nobody's Moggy" has a great deal of notoriety, for example.

Pedantically, and outside the serious discussion,

#20 ::: Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 11:54 AM:

The General (Sassoon)

91GOOD-MORNING; good-morning!92 the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 92em dead,
And we92re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
91He92s a cheery old card,92 grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

It's interesting to note that in the past few years the two minute silence at 11.00 on 11/11 has made a comeback in british public life. It almost feels as though it is a compensation for the fact that the veterans themselves are with us less and less. Fewer people to remember; more institutionalised remembrance. There are alternative explanations, I'm sure. Anyway, it interrupted the press briefing on teh upcoming Mars missions I was at in a simple and dignified way, and it wouldn't have happened a decade ago.

#21 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 12:07 PM:

I had an extraordinary European History professor; and it turned out that the Great War was one of his passions. He only took two days to cover it; but on the second day, where he described the conduct of the war, I walked out of the lecture hall with tears streaming down my face.

No one person or group of persons planned it as such. And the aggravating crimes of antisemitism and race hatred were largely absent. In my view, though, the trenches of the Western Front were every bit as much organized and systematic murder factories as were the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz. It may even be true that the experience of the Great-War-as-death-factory played a large role in making the Holocaust something that people could be capable of planning.

#22 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 12:47 PM:

The Globe and Mail has, partway down the page, something called the "Memory Project," where Canadians sent artifacts from the Great War. There are some amazing stories here.


#23 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 01:12 PM:

All I posted today was In Flanders Fields; I'm glad you had so much on it, Teresa. I've been avid about studying the history of WW1 for years, and still shudder at the horror of it.


#24 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 01:14 PM:

The best links I have to contribute are for the excellent site Aftermath maintained by Mike Roden (just finished reading his article on the Unknown Warrior) as well as the site for the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. (Who knew there was an American military cemetery in Mexico City?) The equivalent seems to be the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

#25 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 01:31 PM:

Sorry for not combining this into my previous post, but I just ran across two bits while taking a last browse through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.

The first is a statement about the number of British military cemeteries:

The highest concentration of cemeteries in the care of the Commission is in that band of 70 miles that constituted the British sector of the Western Front in the Great War, It runs in a line north west to south east from Belgium to France. Here some of the cemeteries are so close to each other, one can stand in one and look into another. Eighty years after the reversion of the land back to agriculture, and after many years of ploughing, the unerasable continuous scar left by the trenches on the landscape can still be clearly seen from the air.

And one photograph showing how the circle closes: Troops from 19 Mechanised Brigade at the Stone of Remembrance, Basra, Iraq, September 2003.

#26 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 01:38 PM:

All I posted today was In Flanders Fields; I'm glad you had so much on it, Teresa. I've been avid about studying the history of WW1 for years, and still shudder at the horror of it.


#27 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 02:17 PM:

Robert Maughan: Technically WW I did end in 1919. The fighting ended in 1918 but the peace treaty was signed in 1919.

It's just how different nations look at it: for the US WWI started in 1917 and ended in 1919 when the soldiers started coming home: for the other Allied nations, WWI started in 1914 and ended in 1918 when the soldiers stopped getting killed.

Google hits can be indicative: 21 000 for "World War I" "1914-1918", 9,200 for "World War I" "1917-1918", 8,280 for "World War I" "1914-1919", and 3,170 for "World War I" "1917-1919".

#28 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 03:29 PM:

One of the most stunning war memorials I've ever seen wasn't very big. It was in a small New Zealand town (can't remember which), and it simply had all the names of the young men who had left for WWI. Every single one of them had died.

What hit me even worse, was the fact that the momunt was standing next to a similar one for the WWII casualities. Here there might have been some survivors, but the simple fact that the town still sent troops even after what happened during WWI simply left me speakless.

#29 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 03:30 PM:

momunt = monument of course.

#30 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 04:23 PM:

Thanks for the links, Teresa. I now feel an urge to go back and sit down with Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory again.

There's also a WWI memorial in Washington DC, although not many people know about it, I think. (Some of my own thoughts on the subject, here.)

#31 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:01 PM:

Kipling wrote a poem called Mesopotamia

We now call Mesopotamia, Iraq.

#32 ::: Jay Manifold ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:23 PM:

What I believe to be the only substantial WWI memorial in the US is in the city where I live; you can read about it here.

#33 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:43 PM:

Not the same thing but I wouldn't knock Cantigny - I first saw it on a cold gray morning with an armored column looming out of the mist:

The First Division Museum at Cantigny is dedicated to the history of the Big Red One, the famed 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army. The museum is located on the Wheaton, Illinois estate of the late Colonel Robert R. McCormick. During World War I, McCormick, later the long-time editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, was commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, part of the First Division. He renamed his estate Cantigny in honor of the first American battle of the war. At his death in 1955, McCormick left Cantigny to be managed as a recreational and educational park.

There have been other smaller but still impressive things, the Yale Commons for instance.

#34 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:48 PM:

That's sad, Karin.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the upkeep of the WWI graveyards across Europe - this derives from the original British War Graves Committee, of which Rudyard Kipling was a member. (He picked out the quote from Ecclesiastes, "Their name liveth forevermore", which you see on all the CWG WWI war memorials, and wrote a couple of short stories - one rather sentimental one about a small boy in India being told about George V's pilgrimage to the graves of the war dead, and one which is among the best he ever wrote, "The Gardener".)

"We can truly say that the whole circuit of the earth is girdled with the graves of our dead... and, in the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war." (King George V, in Flanders, 1922.)

#35 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 06:50 PM:

I'll add The Maple Leaf Legacy Project to the list, too. Canadian war graves overseas, photographed for those who can't visit them. We took a picture of one while in Scotland and will be submitting it shortly. There are also links at the bottom of the page to similar projects elsewhere.


#36 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 08:55 PM:

I've heard this sentiment for years, but I was astonished to find out who wrote it (Grantland Rice).

Two Sides of War

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

In order not to lengthen the comments, the remaining three stanzas can be found here.

#37 ::: Dop ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 05:30 AM:

Following on from Claude's comments, the BBC have a news story about the service of remembrance which took place at the Basra War Memorial (Taken down from Basra in 1997 and painstakingly rebuilt brick by brick half an hour out of Basra in the desert).

#38 ::: Nigel Quinlan ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 05:52 AM:

John Condon was the youngest soldier to die in World War One. He was 14 years old and came from Waterford. Few Irish people have ever heard of him, Ireland having a somwhat jaundiced view of Irishmen who went off to fight for the British, particularly during the Great War which coincided with the 1916 Rising. Returning war veterans were not treated with much respect, and the same was true following WW2. Condon, however, was not forgotten in Flanders, and when his surviving family went there with RTE to shoot a programme, they were stunned at how his memory was revered. I think two books have been written abut him, neither of which is available in Ireland. Nor, when I set out to post this, could I find anything written in the Irish media about him other than a piece reporting the mildly squalid haggling over a memorial to Condon in Waterford city, so I'm sorry if the story is frustratingly incomplete and vague, I just find it quite moving and wanted to share.

On the other hand, I promise not to start singing 'Willie McBride.'

#39 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 11:45 AM:

As the Confederate troops were falling back from "Pickett's Charge" at Gettysburg, British observer Lt. Col. [Arthur] James Fremantle said "I wouldn't have missed this for anything," to which Lt. Gen. James Longstreet replied "The devil you wouldn't! I would like to have missed it very much . . . !"


The Brits sent the wrong observer; they should have sent someone who thought more like Longstreet.

Fremantle, having observed Pickett's Charge failed to draw the correct conclusion -- that you can't send men upright in lines across open ground at a prepared position. That was against muzzle-loading rifles with a few breachloading repeaters. Fifty years later, with breach loading repeaters supplimented by machineguns, the odds of a Napoleonic infantry charge working had sunk even lower. It just flat can't be done.

LCOL Fremantle's unit was the Coldstream Guards.

They were chopped into chutney at the Somme.

#40 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 12:14 PM:

If you're interested learning more about the effect of WWI on J.R.R. Tolkien's work, there are two books coming out soon: John Garth's _Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth_, due out from Houghton Mifflin in December, and my own _War in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien_ in March 2004 from Greenwood. I was inspired by Paul Fussell's _The Great War and Modern Memory_, which was mentioned above -- a fascinating look at the literary response to the war, and my first real exposure to WWI history.

Teresa mentions Tolkien's unit -- if he hadn't been sent back to England with trench fever in late 1916, he might have been slaughtered with the rest of them at Chemin des Dames in May 1918. Last seen surrounded by German forces, it was reported, "Nothing further has been heard of the battalion, and it is presumed they have been taken prisoners or killed." Only those left behind the lines survived.

#41 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 03:13 PM:

Nice text on the Southern defeat out of Alabama called Attack and Die which suggests some blame for failure in 1861-1865 can be laid to efforts - by the same officers now in gray rather than blue -to repeat successes in their last war. In Mexico forming up was at 100 yards and charging meant drawing one volley and closing with troops who had just unloaded and not yet reloaded.

I haven't heard anything to contradict the notion that Haig died quite persuaded he had always done precisely the right thing in command.

#42 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 03:18 PM:

In spite of all the fluff that's been talked about the influence of WWII on Tolkien, WWI always seemed the deeper influence to me. The collapse of old civilizations; the withdrawing of things innocent, and magical and bright from the world, the general melancholy. When Frodo says "I am wounded, wounded, and I shall never really be healed," the words sound in my head like an echo from the trenches.

#43 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 03:32 PM:

Paul -- absolutely! WWII had its influences, but it was really WWI that I think shaped Tolkien's world. He had a very sympathetic understanding of the psychological cost of war, which you can see in Frodo's suffering and withdrawal after his return to the Shire. Tolkien knew what shell-shock and PTSD were like.

#44 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 03:56 PM:

Well, Bogle's other famous song of the Great War.


#45 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 05:36 PM:

Infantry Charges

The whole history of warfare from the emergence of percussion rifles through to WW1 was an effort to work out how to beat firepower in the attack. There were several distinct threads to the theory, and various bloody was which suggested the solutions could work. The French had the logical idea of running faster in the attack. The British, after the Second Boer War, developed fire and movement. The Japanese showed everyone that infantry attacks still worked, against the Russians.

The British tactics depended on having well-trained infantry, and by 1916 we didn't have any left. The French hadn't allowed for barbed wire. And the enemy were not the Russians.

The Generals had thought about the problems, and thought they had answers, but they were thinking of a mobile war, not a siege.

#46 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 07:18 PM:

No one predicted the continuous front.

Everyone knew that mobility was absolutely critical; that's what wins wars. To get mobility, you pin and flank, or go where you're not expected; it is only when you must that you try to break the line.

With a continuous front, that gift of the industrial age, you have to break the line, because the line is all there is.

With mechanization, the continuous front itself moves, and grinds all beneath it into dust.

#47 ::: Caroline Yeldham ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 11:23 AM:

Paul's "The collapse of old civilizations; the withdrawing of things innocent, and magical and bright from the world, the general melancholy." is a very idealistic view of Edwardian Europe which could only apply to gentry and aristocrats. Have a look at

40% of the recruits were rejected on health grounds. State educated men were 5 inches shorter than those educated at public school.

90,000 men women and children died in mining accidents 1850 - 1914

Please don't fall for the glamour.


#48 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 12:06 PM:

Why, gosh, Caroline Yeldham, you're absolutely right! What with going over the top at the Somme being merely three million times as costly in British lives, day for day, as working in a coal mine, the Great War couldn't possibly have has profound an effect on people's view of the world as the naysayers and peaceniks have been making it out to have done.

#49 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 12:10 PM:

Whoops, I got confused between "casualty" and "dead". The death rate of the initial assault of the battle of the Somme was only one million times as high as that of late-nineteenth-century coal mining. I hope my initial post isn't taken by the Right as yet another exaggeration if not outright lie of the peace movement.

#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 12:11 PM:

"Not falling for the glamour" should not include insisting that the people who where there at the time did not feel that they had lost something important, either.

Nor should anyone make the mistake of thinking that Tolkien's lament is all allegory, or even mostly allegory, a matter entire of mourning for the days of his youth.

In the end, it really is a lament for the elves, the ylfe of the old tales; they are there as themselves, far more than they are symbols of anything.

#51 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 12:31 PM:

Great Big Sea recorded a song about the Royal Newfoundlanders

... The stone men on Water Street still cry for the day
When the pride of their city went marching away
A thousand men slaughtered, to hear the King say
Enlist ye Newfoundlanders and come follow me...

And it's over the mountain and over the sea...

I can't remember when I last saw a WWI veteran at a Rememberance Day service. And yet, I used to take them for granted; when I was growing up there were still so many.

Hell had given them back once, and it seemed as though they'd live forever.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 12:35 PM:

Paul -- absolutely! WWII had its influences, but it was really WWI that I think shaped Tolkien's world. He had a very sympathetic understanding of the psychological cost of war, which you can see in Frodo's suffering and withdrawal after his return to the Shire. Tolkien knew what shell-shock and PTSD were like.

This is why I'm appalled that Peter Jackson is reputedly leaving The Scouring of the Shire out of The Return of the King. It's the most important part of the book, in my opinion (if not the most fun to read). It has something to say to our time, something important. Lotho Sackville-Baggins lives today...I wonder if he knows what the forces manipulating him have in store once their power is cemented in place?

#53 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 04:01 PM:

Xopher -- you are right about the Scouring. I never thought much about it when I was younger -- it was just there at the end of the book, kind of interesting, but a bit anticlimactic. I wondered at one time why Tolkien wrote it. As I get older, every time I read it I see more and more how central it is to Tolkien's themes of sacrifice and loss, the proper conduct of war, the unavoidable cost of even a defensive war, the strengths and shortcomings of pacifism, the problems of socilism, maturity through leadership, and more. He said it was the logical conclusion of what he was writing from the start -- "foreseen from the outset," as he put it -- and I understand better now why he said that.

So how is Jackson going to end the series? I read some early scripts for unmade movies at Marquette earlier this year. The infamous Zimmerman script (extracts of Tolkien's critique of this script are published in his Letters) has Frodo awakening in Minas Tirith after Aragorn's wedding and leaving for the West immediately. I bet Jackson does something like that -- sending Frodo straight from the Field of Cormallan to the Grey Havens, perhaps, or maybe the Eagles will just take him directly to Valinor. Rumor has it Saruman will die in quite a different and messier way than in the book. It will be a far weaker film series than it already is if it skips the Scouring.

#54 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 04:14 PM:

Reportedly, Peter Jackson has himself said that the Scouring is out as part of his response to the whole Christopher Lee/Saruman flap:

We have decided to save the Saruman sequence for the DVD. It's a great little scene. 7 mins long. Chris is wonderful, as usual. Brad is in about 6 shots. It was a film maker decision - nothing to do with the studio.
The problem is that the sequence was originally shot for The Two Towers, as it is in the book. Since The Two Towers couldn't sustain a 7 min "wrap" after Helm's Deep, we thought it would be a good idea to save it for the beginning of the Return of the King. The trouble is, when we viewed various ROTK cuts over the last few weeks, it feels like the first scenes are wrapping last year's movie, instead of starting the new one. We felt it got ROTK off to an uncertain beginning, since Saruman plays no role in the events of ROTK (we don't have the Scouring later, as the book does), yet we dwell in Isengard for quite a long time before our new story kicks off.
(emphasis mine)

I'm still digesting this, but I don't like it on first blush.

#55 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 05:15 PM:

Sigh. He did such a good job in so many ways. The Scouring is the POINT of the book. It's what the book is REALLY about, to paraphrase LM Bujold.

#56 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 07:15 PM:

Thank you Theresa.

Veteran's Day has always bothered me (we have Memorial Day, and that is enough for me).

Some of it is that I think WW1 needs to be remembered in it's own, horrible, right/rite.

Part of it that my Grandfather fought in it, and, quiet man though he was on the subject, one could tell he had been forever changed by it.

Most telling, perhaps, he encouraged his children to learn to shoot, but never touched a rifle again in his life.

For me the most moving of Owen's poems (and I love him, moreso now than a year ago) has always been, "Apologia Pro Poemate Meo" which ends,

" have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears. You are not worth their merriment."

Terry K

#57 ::: davidbilek ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 07:22 PM:

The Scouring simply would not work within the confines of a three hour movie. It's important to remember that films have different imperatives than books as well as different strengths and weaknesses.

But it should be possible to address those themes in other ways and I expect Jackson will do so. If you watch the full length ROTK trailer this is quite clear.

#58 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 10:05 PM:

Alan, I think you've misread Caroline. She was talking about the tendency to idealize the prewar Edwardian era as the last sweet afternoon of Western civilization, and ignore its glaring injustices and inequities. Which were certainly there; ask me sometime about Irish crochet teagowns. It takes really systematic starvation to produce a five-inch difference in average height between men educated at state schools and those who attended public schools.

Myself, I think that everyone who laments a general loss of innocence is actually mourning their own.

Paul, of course WWI had more influence on Tolkien. He served in it. He was there.

James, the matter of massed charges into heavy fire from a prepared position has been one of the features of WWI that's haunted me. By the end of the Civil War, every private on either side knew what that one got you. The European powers had plenty of observers at the Civil War. They also had War Colleges whose business it was to study such things. And what did they do when the Great War started? They launched Napoleonic-style attacks. It can't all have been Haig's stupidity, though he had plenty; the other nations did the same thing. And then, everybody did it again. And again.

What evil thing is this? Is it related to miners dead for want of a few shoring timbers, and seamstresses to the luxury trade paid wages that were subsistence-level over the short term and starvation over the long?

Terry, that's striking. I take it that while I may come away from that poem knowing more than I did going in, I'll never know all that's in it.

I was much struck by this one:

"Facts are mere accessories to the truth, and we do not invite to our hearth the guest who can only remind us that on such a day we suffered calamity. Still less welcome is he who would make a Roman holiday of our misfortunes. Exaggeration of what was monstrous is quickly recognised as a sign of egotism, and that contrarious symptom of the same disease which pretends that what is accepted as monstrous was really little more than normal is equally unwelcome."

Max Plowman, from Subaltern on the Somme

#59 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 11:06 PM:

My maternal grandfather "Curly" would never talk about his war experiences in The Great War, with two exceptions.

One was when my little brother rudely complained about the wonderful food that my grandmother (a spectacularly good cook) served us one day. Curly began describing in rivetingly vivid terms the months he spent in the trenches at Aix-la-Chappelle, under nearly constant German bombardment, men around him dying in hideous ways. There was a long time when they were completely cut off, and resorted to catching battlefield rats, fattened on corpses, skinned them, and roasted them. "Don't you ever complain about food again," he concluded. We complied.

The other was his tale of seeing a small slice of chaotic Europe before he came home, the high point of which was his stepping into a room that had a famous Cellini sculpture in gold. His face lit up, as he told how the room was lit up by that sculpture, which proved to him that there was still beauty in the world.

My grandfather fought in WW I. My father fought in WW II. So I grew up expecting that I'd fight in WWW III. In a sense, I have. But that's another story.

Albert Einstein said (I slightly paraphrase): "I know not which weapons will be used to fight World War III. But I do know the weapons that will be used in World War IV. Sticks and stones."

Is it true that even the Dalai Lama admits that violence may be needed to thwart terrorism, or is that another newly coined urban myth?

Is it true that the only century of peace in Europe was about 100-200 A.D. under the Roman Empire? Does Emperor George Bush II think that an American Empire can bring the same sort of peace? In an empire, there are no citizens, only subjects.

#60 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2003, 02:45 AM:

There were so many poets the world could better afford to lose, and only one Wilfred Owen.

#61 ::: Caroline Yeldham ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2003, 05:21 AM:

Thanks Teresa, you have diverted me from being very rude to Alan!

I will just say that my family all come from Lancashire, and worked in mines and woollen mills (and my grandmother in a millinery shop). I don't know if any of my extended family were in the Fusillers but my grandfather was gassed during WW1. There are very good reasons for the development of unions and 1918 - 1979 English political history.

I love history, my hobby is living history (15th and 16th century domestic). With all our problems, I wouldn't want to go and live there.


#62 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2003, 07:27 AM:

My paternal grandfather was kicked by an Army mule during WWI, for which he wore a truss ever after, and my dad says that this was (probably) the reason why he was discharged relatively early on in 1919. (My maternal grandfather died around the time of WWI - of diabetes.)

#63 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2003, 01:42 PM:

James, the matter of massed charges into heavy fire from a prepared position has been one of the features of WWI that's haunted me. By the end of the Civil War, every private on either side knew what that one got you. The European powers had plenty of observers at the Civil War. They also had War Colleges whose business it was to study such things. And what did they do when the Great War started? They launched Napoleonic-style attacks. It can't all have been Haig's stupidity, though he had plenty; the other nations did the same thing. And then, everybody did it again. And again.

Teresa, you might be interested in a book called The Ideology of the Offensive: Military Decision Making and the Disasters of 1914, by Jack L. Snyder. It's been a while since I read it, but from what I recall Snyder's argument was that the various militaries decided on offensive tactics and strategies as a means of institutional self-defense. Arguing for the offensive meant that professional armies still had a place in the world.

As for why they continued to make the same mistakes over and over again, that's a mystery to me as well. I think part of it stems from the fact that the decision-makers were famously isolated, but even in the Civil War, when the generals were at the front, it took years for the message that frontal attacks were doomed to sink in.

And there were people who understood what was happening even before the war. Pe9tain taught a more defensive posture, and emphasized the importance of overwhelming firepower, while he was a teacher at the Ecole Supe9rieure de la Guerre.

#64 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2003, 03:05 PM:

Anecdote, then to response: One of the few quirks my grandfather had was his coffee. It seems he learnt to drink it in the trenches, and as a result took it, to his dying day with condensed milk(well, not quite, seventy years of cigarettes, a couple of doses of gas and who knows what all else contributed to the lung cancer which killed him).

The trenches. I got my only rasseff award from writing on the trenches (pats back). The generals never got it. Even after the war they didn't get it.

They had seen the U.S. Civil War, they had seen the Crimea, they had seen the Russian and the Japanese, and the Russians and the Turks, but they believed in the offensive.

Even the Germans (who did a better job than the British of using fire and movement and VERY open order) still relied on massed charges.

Some of it was misunderstandings (they thought traditional artillery would clear wire, they were wrong) some of it was haste (they needed an attack NOW, and so the shells to cut the wire were not enough) some of it was damn-foolishness (they felt that this time the front MUST break).

Much of it was technological failure. When the weapons and the tactics worked, no one knew. The Germans had a six-mile breach, the day they first used gas. They stopped for follow-on forces and were pushed back.

The British had the same problem more than once on the Somme, and in Ypres. No way for the guys at the front to get word to the rear, and so the plans went as written, and they were written for a much slower advance (or for a follow-on unit to take over) and so both sides held victory, glittering and trembling in their hands, only to lose it in the mud.

Terry K.

#65 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2003, 05:54 PM:


You got the thesis of the Snyder book exactly right.

I'm not sure whether I buy it or not, but he made a good case.

#66 ::: David Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2003, 04:19 AM:

May I recommend this link to the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines. An attempt to draw some good out of the whole bloody mess of WWI

#67 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2003, 07:56 PM:

I haven't read 'Battle Tactics of the Western Front, 1916-18' by Paddy Griffith, but suspect that it may help to answer the questions raised about tactics; certainly there is nothing to match his 'Battle Tactics of the American Civil War'.

I was in Ypres last Sunday, two days before Armistice Day. I missed the Last Post, but did visit a couple of cemeteries - at the British one there were six fresh graves, examined some newly excavated trenches, and spent some time at the Menin Gate. It was an extraordinarily sad day. I've written about it at length on my blog, with a few photographs I took.

#68 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2003, 08:58 PM:

I don't mean to make a big issue of it, but I had exactly the same reaction to Caroline's original post that Alan Bostick did, and I think Alan's comments have been unfairly traduced, including by Teresa.

Caroline is certainly right that the Edwardian era was hardly the paradise that nostalgia makes it out to be. But nobody here was claiming that it was. What was being discussed was something as real as the chair I'm sitting on: the general and widespread sense of desolation and loss that followed the disaster that was World War I. To talk about that isn't to "fall for the glamour," and nobody in this conversation needed to be lectured as if they were ignoramuses about the real material conditions of the time.

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