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November 11, 2005

11-11
Posted by Patrick at 01:12 AM * 65 comments

No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re “longing to go out again,”—
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

(Siegfried Sassoon, “Survivors,” October, 1917)

Comments on 11-11:
#1 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 01:50 AM:

Dulce et Decorum est por Halliburton Mori.

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:04 AM:

Does anyone have the guts to write stuff like "Survivors" any more?

To call bullshit on all of the jingoists' Turn the Tables cards, like "They're fighting for your rights!" or "He died a hero!" that superficially honor soldiers but whose real intent is to shield the bastards who start wars from culpability?

#3 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:11 AM:

There are poets even now, today speaking about war and the individual cost war.
I invite everyone to take a look at www.voicesinwartime.org.

If you feel so moved, you can post your own poetry/essays/experiences at this site. And they will welcome any support that people can contribute.

Thanks!

#4 ::: Manon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:13 AM:

*shivers*

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:32 AM:

Which movies set during the Great War would you consider to be the best, with War not as a setting but as the very subject? The Grand Illusion and Paths of Glory are the first that come to mind for me.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:58 AM:

"The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
-- Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

#7 ::: Bosh ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 03:56 AM:

Happy Peppero Day to one and all!

Sweet sweet delicious pepperos!

#8 ::: hk-reader ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 05:20 AM:

Movies?
Well, the TV series "Testament of Youth" was very moving, made from Vera Brittain's autobiography
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078699/

The novel, Regeneration, by Pat Barker was made into a movie.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120001/
I haven't seen it yet, but would very much like to get the DVD.

#9 ::: Fernmonkey ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 05:43 AM:

Stefan Jones: I don't think anyone will ever be a more eloquent war writer than Sassoon.

This one has always stood out for me.


Lamentations

I FOUND him in the guard-room at the Base.
From the blind darkness I had heard his crying
And blundered in. With puzzled, patient face
A sergeant watched him; it was no good trying
To stop it; for he howled and beat his chest.
And, all because his brother had gone west,
Raved at the bleeding war; his rampant grief
Moaned, shouted, sobbed, and choked, while he was kneeling
Half-naked on the floor. In my belief
Such men have lost all patriotic feeling.

#10 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 06:28 AM:

Sassoon's Declaration against the War makes for thoughtful reading as well.

That's why I read this blog: I was ignorant of Sassoon's story. And of Richard Thompson. And Joss Whedon. And the many wonders of prime numbers. Etc etc - thanks to all, and a thoughtful Armistice Day, 2005....

#11 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 07:38 AM:

Does anyone have the guts to write stuff like "Survivors" any more?

I'm readig a lot of stuff like tht having to do with the survivors of the Pakistan earthquake.

#12 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 07:47 AM:

If I'm not misremembering, Sasoon was one of the people that Robert Graves wrote about in Goodbye to All That. He seemed a very impressive young man, whose life was ended way too early.

#13 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 07:49 AM:

Mark D., thanks for the link to Sassoon's declaration. I hadn't heard of him either. When I read all these voices from the near and distant past referring to circumstances similar to those we face, I feel comforted and I feel despair.

The comfort comes from knowing that others have felt this way, that I'm not crazy for thinking about how awful the lies are or how our politicians are decieving us. The despair comes from the fact that I'm shocked, over and over, by how these things are perpetrated. You'd think I'd stop with the shock and outrage, but I swear the duplicity and dishonesty and meanness are a constant revelation.

In Stoppard's play, "The Real Thing" the character Henry gives a speech about a war resister who is a prisoner and has written a very poorly crafted political play. Henry has this to say about it, and about bad writing:

" Because it's balls. Mary's part is the least of it - it's merely ham-fisted. But when he gets into his stride, or rather his lurch, announcing every stale revelation of the newly enlightened, like stout Cortez coming upon the Pacific - war is profits, politicians are puppets, Parliament is a farce, justice is a fraud, property is theft... It's all here: the Stock Exchange, the arms dealers, the press barons... You can't fool Brodie - patriotism is propaganda, religion is a con trick, royalty is an anachronism... Pages and pages of it. It's like being run over very slowly by a travelling freak show of favourite simpletons, the india rubber pedagogue, the midget intellectual, the human panacea..."

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 08:06 AM:

I think that the First World War hit practically everybody, and the effects pervaded all of society. Maybe the politicians didn't go off to war themselves, but their sons and nephews and cousins did, and not to cushy, safe, jobs behind the lines.

And, when it all ended, there was nothing really to justify it, except the supposed beastliness of the Hun. The Mobilisation of 1914 was somewhere between a Cold War scramble of nuclear bombers and an actual missile launch, only nobody seemed to have worked out how to stop.

It seemed far more futile than WW2, and the next twenty years made it seem a very hollow victory, and that has affected the image of that war in popular culture.

And Sassoon, as a survivor, was a part of that.

#15 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 08:34 AM:

Kristjan: You may be thinking of Wilfred Owen, who is often associated with Sassoon; he died a week before the Armstice, on November 4th 1918. Sassoon lived until 1967, in his eighties.

(I worked briefly at Napier University, which occupies the old neurasthenia hospital where the two lived and worked; the small collection of War Poets material there is quite remarkable.)

Never such innocence again

#16 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 08:50 AM:

The odd thing is that Graves and Sassoon didn't get to know each other because they were both poets: they were in the same battalion (1 Royal Welch Fusiliers) and Sassoon and Owen were of course at Craiglockhart Hospital together. How odd that the three best British poets of the war should have been thrown together like that...

#17 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 09:26 AM:

"Testament of Youth"? Thanks for the tip.

By the way, I once read soneone who said that Lord of the Rings was heavily by Tolkien's own experiences in the Great War. Is that just one interpretation of the story, or is there any record anywhere of Tolkien actually saying so.

There's one thing I remember very clearly from reading The Return of the King almost 30 years ago, which was how, even though Frodo did make it back to the Shire, the War had changed him.

#18 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 09:37 AM:

I recently re-read Tolkien's biography (as a result of the Tolkien discussion we had here recently.)

He was in combat a couple times, got wounded (I think, or else got sick) and sent back to hospital in England.

And there he stayed. Every time it seemed like he might be well enough to be sent back to the front, he got sick again. His biographer insists that he wasn't malingering - his body was simply reluctant to endanger itself again, and staying sick was the best way to prevent that.

He lost two of his closest friends, and saw a lot of destruction and carnage, but his personal experiences in WWI were probably not as bad as some others'.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 09:54 AM:

Thanks, Laura. I had heard that Tolkien had encountered mustard gas or some similar nasty stuff back then.

#20 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 10:39 AM:

Gray, right you are. I was mixing up the names.

#21 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 10:55 AM:

If you want to know about Tolkien's war experience in greater detail, read John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War. (He wasn't wounded -- came down with trench fever, which was nasty enough -- and two of his three best friends died in combat. C.S. Lewis, whom he had not yet met, WAS wounded and was standing next to one of his friends when he was killed.) Shameless self-promotion warning -- if you want to read more about how Tolkien's war experiences influenced his writing, try my book, War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien. It's not just a simple matter of "he was in the Great War, so he wrote this"; he was also the father of two sons who fought in WWII, and he was steeped in the ancient literature of war from the Iliad to the Battle of Maldon. He denied that the Great War was a direct influence, or that his story was an allegory of any war in particular, but he could not deny that an author's experiences all go into the soil from which a story springs.

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 11:06 AM:

Thanks, Janet. The shameless promotion is duly noted. Heh heh heh...

After seeing A Very Long Engagement, where Petain shows up in a less than flattering role, I asked my friend Elisabeth whatever had happened to that bastard after WW2. She says he never went to jail, because he was so old by then, but I understand that his last years were not happy ones.

#23 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 11:08 AM:

The Dead Marshes are an almost too obvious reference to Passchendaele. Reading what I wrote above about the sense of WW1 being a futility, I think that there's a streak of that in Lord of the Rings: perhaps not the futility of wars, but the missed chances to achieve peace, of which the failure to cast the Ring into Mount Doom is the obvious instance.

#24 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 11:21 AM:

Was the Great War the apotheosis of the ancient wars, where it seems like the prime motivation was the acquisition of territory and resources? And was ideology the main motivation for what followed? (Just asking, just asking...)

#25 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 11:44 AM:

Serge --

Not that simple, by a long chalk.

The Great War was just another European control-of-trade war -- huge differences between wars for territory and wars over control of trade -- except there was industrialization, railroads, and the consequent logistical capacity to create a continuous front. That had never happened before. There's an alternate history where the Peace of Vienna was not a success, and the Great War didn't happen because the continuous front had the opportunity to not be a surprise, in that time and place. (Anyone who wants to point to the ACW as an obvious precursor has to explain why the various European powers involved were supposed to give more credence to minor features of that war than the dozen-odd each they'd fought in the meantime.)

Twentieth century wars don't categorize neatly; there were an awful lot of them. ("rebellion, or police action, containment or crusade") The influence of ideology wasn't increased; the influence of much better command and control technology was. (In part because the institutional memory of having none, zip, nada during mass battles lasting days during the Great War remains to this day.)

#26 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 12:01 PM:

Thanks, Graydon. I knew when I posted those comments that it was way too simple a depiction of things. But, up to a point, I was right when I said the Great War was also about the acquisition of resources. That's not exactly the same as control of trade, but close.

In a way, I wonder if the technology that made the Great War possible also caused that war. I am reminded of Sam Neil in Reilly, Ace of Spies where control of oil resources in the East was considered vital.

#27 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 12:32 PM:

Serge --

It's not that close.

Resources are only valuable if you can move them, or what you make with them, to where they are more valuable than they are now. (Otherwise you can't get mutually beneficial trade going, on the scale of nations, and otherwise you can't get the iron ore and the coal in the same place, etc. on the scale of industry.)

So, basically, who cares about control of resources if you can control how they are moved around? That's what 'control of trade' comes down to, and at the time, the British Empire had every major ocean strait and passage on the planet (with the partial exceptions of Panama and the Carribean approaches to the Gulf of Mexico) bolted down.

Which meant that they had substantially control of how trade worked, and the new German Empire had a sufficiently stupid head of state that they wound up trying to change this by fighting a land war.

(Oil, as the prime energy source that enables stuff to be moved around with the infrastructure we've got, is in something of a special mental category that it doesn't really deserve.)

#28 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 12:48 PM:

This morning, in response to questions (sincerely meant) over on LiveJournal, I have explained, briefly, the connection of poppies to Flanders and both to the war, and why World War I is much more important to Canada than to the United States.

I am glad people are asking, and glad to be able to explain. (The question about the poppies was from an 18-year-old in Georgia; I'm not surprised it wasn't in her high school curriculum.)

#29 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 12:56 PM:

I just ran across a quote by Kipling of all people on WWI that definitely increases my respect for him:

If any question why we died,
It was because our fathers lied.

I think there was some mention of his son dying in WWI, but I could be misremembering.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 12:56 PM:

"...who cares about control of resources if you can control how they are moved around?..."

I never thought about it that way, Graydon. Thanks.

(You know, Teresa & Patrick, this is one of the many things that are great about your site. This is the place to be if we want an education. And it's fun too! Planning to issue Diplomas from the Making Light Institute?)

#31 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 01:22 PM:

Lisa: Yeah, Kipling was a huge supporter of the war - until his son came up "missing, presumed dead".

Funny how that works, eh?

#32 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 01:51 PM:

Vicki:

It's interesting that the first real account of WWI I ever read, though fictionalized, was from the Canadian point of view. When I was a kid I adored the Anne of Green Gables novels, and the last book in the series takes place during the Great War.

And, well. Let's just say that one got a little soggy. I hadn't even realized previously to that that Canada had fought in WWI.

(Of course, I was, like, nine years old, and was still a little unclear on, um, everything.)

#33 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 01:56 PM:

Different war; but song with some appropriate lyrics.

Patrick: chords here.

#34 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:08 PM:

Sassoon not only survived the War, he lived to a good age, dying in 1967. His all-but-autobiographical novels Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston's Progress are a rather different view of the world than Graves' Goodbye to All That. The scene in which the Graves-like and Sassoon-like characters appeal to the Bertrand Russell-like character in support for their antiwar action is a marvel.

#35 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Grantland Rice was best known for sportswriting, but he wrote one heck of a poem about that war (any similarities between now and then duly noted):

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.

But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life's vanished toys,
I've noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

~Grantland Rice

From Poetry of the First World War.

#36 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:46 PM:

Graydon said:
So, basically, who cares about control of resources if you can control how they are moved around? That's what 'control of trade' comes down to, and at the time, the British Empire had every major ocean strait and passage on the planet (with the partial exceptions of Panama and the Carribean approaches to the Gulf of Mexico) bolted down.

Which meant that they had substantially control of how trade worked, and the new German Empire had a sufficiently stupid head of state that they wound up trying to change this by fighting a land war.

Which makes it rather odd to realize that Britain was basically the last major European power to get caught up in the war, and that various elements of the German government (including the Kaiser) seemed to have believed and even hoped that Britain would stay out.

I certainly wouldn't deny that economic and trade motives were important at some level, but I have a bit of trouble with the idea that it was "just another European control-of-trade war."

#37 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:51 PM:

Not exactly the same, but the one that killed me this morning on the radio:

VIMY
(Steve and Rob Ritchie)

CHORUS
Raise your flask; aim your rifles high
I've had a dream, I've seen we three should have no fear at all
You'll die in Kenora, Billy; you, Jim, in Winnipeg
And I will end my days in Montreal

These people come to see me in my bedroom
With faces dim and names I can't recall
Some woman with a golden ring she comes to comb my hair
Then she dresses me and walks me down the hall
Well I can still put one foot before the other,
If someone points the way for me to go
Today the sun is shining and a crowd has gathered 'round
They put circles of red flowers on the stone

Chorus

Old Jim Rankin stood behind me in the tunnel
Spat on his bayonet and he wiped it with his hand
And he rocked from heel to heel, blew out his cheeks and whistled
While we waited for the signal to advance
Jimmy Rankin he was twenty and we thought him an old man
He said he'd fathered children by the score
By girls back in Winnipeg and girls in Calais
And he bragged, by God, there'd be a hundred more

Chorus

And Billy Whitefish from Kenora: jet black hair and eyes like coal
We all called him 'Chief' behind his back
He never smiled or laughed or joked or spoke that much at all
Just sat and smoked while we waited to attack
Well they poured shells over our heads into the hillside
In thirty yards our kit and boots were full of mud
But as we made the ridge, Jimmy went down on both knees
And he coughed into his sleeve and there was blood

Chorus

The last sound I ever heard was an explosion
And bodies flew like apples thrown by boys play
When I could see again, I was alone Jimmy wasn't there
And a crater marked the hillside where he'd lain
And Billy Whitefish from Kenora wound up in a German trench
Where he captured their machine gun all alone
And held them off until his ammunition was all spent
And they swarmed around and they hacked him to the bone

Chorus

Now every day I still remember what I told them
My two friends who that day from this earth were torn
And the craters and the trenches where they died now bear the names
Of the cities and the towns where they were born

Chorus

#38 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 03:18 PM:

Lisa: It wasn't just that his son died, though that would have been tragedy enough.

He'd fought to get his son a commission - pulled strings to get him through the medicals (he had terrible eyesight), arranged matters to get him into a front-line regiment, because it was what Kipling himself wanted. The fact that John was there to be killed was, in many ways, Kipling's doing alone. And then he died; he died wastefully, pointlessly (as did everyone in 1915, I suppose), and in the worst possible way from the point of view of his parents - there was no body, no closure that he was known to be dead, but there were reports of people who had seen him, grievously injured and in great pain, so even the comforting lie of "at least he died quickly" wasn't available. The self-loathing that came after that is entirely unsurprising. But the writing is powerful - Epitaphs of the War (which you quote one part of); My Boy Jack; The Children (the latter sums it all)

There's a comment above that he was for the war until John's death, which is a bit iffy. He still supported the war - I'm not sure he could do otherwise - but in a much more complex manner, and it shows in his writing. You still had cheerful things like The Irish Guards (I sing this in the shower sometimes), but it was tempered with work like Children, above, or Beginnings, or Death-Bed...

#39 ::: Bernita ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 03:23 PM:

One of my House lies near the Menin Gate.
The Second Battle of Ypres where the Canadians withstood 16 days of chlorine gas attacks.
There are 170 military cemeteries located in and around Ypres.

#40 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 03:39 PM:

Thanks, Sean B. I believe Art makes for bad preaching generally, whether in religion or politics (with some obvious exceptions: the Isaiahs, Bach, and so on.)

And thanks, Linkmeister, for a startlingly profound Grantland Rice poem. It touches the same core as this Wilfred Owen gem, which Britten sets most powerfully juxtaposed with the Agnus Dei in his War Requiem. If you don't know it, run, don't walk (and get the composer conducting - no other performance stacks up.)

At a Calvary Near The Ancre

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ's denied.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 04:34 PM:

When TCM started showing Chaplin's The Great Dictator a couple of years ago, they had documentary on the movie's making, and on the world's reaction to it. My favorite part was a short interview with someone who actually had worked for Hitler. According to him, Hitler was quite dismissive of Chaplin's portrayal of the Dictator. Yeah, right... The ultimate Nazi not minding that a Jew was giving him the finger?

#42 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 06:18 PM:

Wilfred Owen is my favorite poet. My favorite of his poems is probably Abraham and Isaac, which after telling the biblical story, with a couple of minor variations (Abraham builds an altar, but also trenches and parapets; the ram is called the Ram of Pride), but it comes to the same point, where the angel says no, kill the ram instead. Then the last two lines are:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

#43 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 07:36 PM:

Xopher:

In 1989 Derek Jarman actually made a film of Britten's War Requiem. It is an extremely odd piece of work, both metaphorical and literal at the same time. I ordered it through inter-library loan last month, and the choices he made to visualize Britten's setting of that Abraham and Isaac text are...most disturbing.

For all its weirdness, though, the movie has some extraordinary performances. Sean Bean (Sam, from LOTR) is in it; Laurence Olivier has a cameo; but Tilda Swinton is really remarkable as Wilfred Owen's sister (? Nurse? Lover? It's all very ambiguous.)

#44 ::: jGraydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 08:06 PM:

Which makes it rather odd to realize that Britain was basically the last major European power to get caught up in the war, and that various elements of the German government (including the Kaiser) seemed to have believed and even hoped that Britain would stay out.

Well, yeah -- the High Seas Fleet wasn't done yet. (Rather like the German General Staff a generation later having a planned kick-off date of 1945, things started a little earlier than expected.)

And yes, another European control-of-trade war, like the 100 Years War, not a war over the definitions of society or legitimacy of power, like the 30 Years War.

The carnage was a surprise; it wasn't supposed to be possible to sustain that intensity of combat. (Nor were the various high commands at all indifferent to it; the common understanding isn't all that accurate, having been set half a generation later through the filter of other crises.)

Someday, I'll figure out why it's so much easier to co-operate, to hold to duty beyond life or reason, in wars, in a despair of mud, than in the hope of a better world. (It might be as simple as the prospect of death acting to concentrate the mind.)

#45 ::: bob mcmanus ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 08:35 PM:

I'm not sure that I can explain why, but I vastly prefer Owen to Sassoon. I understand Sassoon is supposed to be technically superior, and maybe that is my difficulty. I read Sassoon, and I see an anti-war poet that would be accepted and approved by polite society, all listeners suitably chastened and saddened in the salon.

I read Owen, and I am trying to stuff my best friend's intestines back into his belly.

#46 ::: Alan ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 01:34 AM:

Sean Bean was Boromir in LOTR.

It's been mentioned above, but I really cannot recommend Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy highly enough.

The first, Regeneration is centred around the period when Sassoon and Owen were at Craiglockhart hospital,the second, The Eye in the Door, is a fascinating look at the Home Front in the latter stages of the war, and The Ghost Road, the third in the trilogy is altogether a great book.

Do yourself a favour, read these books.

#47 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 01:54 AM:

Xopher, here's the full Abraham poem by Owen. I used it for my remembrance today.

#48 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 03:23 AM:

For anyone looking for a single-volume history of the war, covoring all aspects (not just the military) I would suggest Hew Strachan's The First World War. He's very good on the political messes that began the situation, and spends more time than usual on the lesser-known fronts, the aftereffects from which are still bleeding ulcers in a lot of places. Its greatest weakness is crummy maps.

There's a TV adaptation that's been running on various of the History Channels -- ten one-hour parts, right now running Tuesday evenings on the Military History Channel (in the US, anyway). It's all right, and again spends much time on the "faraway" fronts, but it's mostly a narrator and stock film (though, ironically, its maps are quite good).

Of course, this book is a short version of the three-volume general history Strachan is working on -- the first volume is out, and is, alone, four times the length of this one (making this, as someone noted, a Borgesian condensation of a book that does not yet exist). That may well become the standard long history, if it's ever actually finished.

Uh, speaking of which, Igor go defile paper with ink now.

#49 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 05:11 AM:

John M. Ford said:
Of course, this book is a short version of the three-volume general history Strachan is working on -- the first volume is out, and is, alone, four times the length of this one (making this, as someone noted, a Borgesian condensation of a book that does not yet exist). That may well become the standard long history, if it's ever actually finished.

You may be thinking of Adam Gopnik's review in the New Yorker last year, where he suggested that Strachan was "giving us, with a slightly Borgesian note, the popular synopsis of a trilogy of books that does not, as yet, actually exist." As I mentioned in the other WWI thread, it's a very good review (covering several recent books on the Great War), and definitely worth reading.

Gopnik was quite impressed with Strachan's book, so when I add in your recommendation, I find that I must add it to my list of "next things to order from Amazon"....

#50 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 07:37 AM:

Re: Owen's Abraham and Isaac, and the Britten (again). The poem is placed in the Offertory movement of the Requiem and is preceded and followed by a text recalling God's promises to Abraham. That text is set in fugal style. Before the Owen poem it is loud, brash, even crass. Following the shocking reversal, "But the old man would not so, and slew his son..." the music is an identical reprise* precisely inverted. What was up is down. What was loud is soft. The message could not be clearer: the natural order is perverted and overturned. It's a brilliant piece of craftsmanship.

*10 bars excised to maintain formal tension.

#51 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 08:08 AM:

Have people here all heard Ellen Kushners' Sound and Spirit program about WW1 called To End All War? It's aired for memorial day. There is an amazing song sung by June Tabor.

http://www.wgbh.org/pages/pri/spirit/2005index.html#111

#52 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 08:18 AM:

Was it H.G.Wells who referred to the Great War as 'the war to end all wars'? Not one of his better predictions, if true.

That reminds me of the French comics weekly Spirou from 30 years ago. One of its features was an illustrated history of firearms, going wayyy back. Every once in a while, a drastic new improvement would come up and the narrator would unfailingly exclaims:

"With such a weapon, War has become impossible!"

#53 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 09:47 AM:

One of the bits of WW1 history which was covered on British TV in the last week was Gallipoli, which was Winston Churchill's pet project, and which failed for all sorts of reasons, including what looks like some pretty basic incompetence by the senior officers commanding operations.

Churchill eventually resigned, and went off to France to command an infantry battalion.

A part of the argument of the programme was that this experience greatly influenced the D-Day planning, with Churchill determined not to see the disaster repeated. Which is partly why the British and Canadians used so much of the specialised armour, and why there was so much emphasis on getting troops inland as fast as possible.

That argument may have been exaggerated, but I don't doubt that Churchill, and the British armed forces, was influenced by that experience.

Another comparison: infantry casualty rates in the NE Europe Campaign, D-Day to VE-Day, were pretty close to the long-term average on the Western Front. But the ratio between infantry and others had changed a great deal.

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 01:43 PM:

Last month, Turner Classic Movies had one day consecrated to people fighting back against the Nazis. The day's title?

Resistance - Not So Futile After All

#55 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 05:31 AM:

Well, hell, even on ST:TNG resistance turned out not to be futile.

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:24 AM:

Indeed, David, but what made me laugh about TCM's 'Resistance' comment is that the Borg's usual announcement has become a joke of popular culture.

#57 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:43 AM:

One way of looking at WWI is that it's the war fought because the planet was full. All through the previous century, from 1815 on, all the wars (except the US civil war) were between people at disparate tech levels. Nobody had a chance against Europeans, and the countries of Europe never quite needed to fight each other much (the Franco-Prussian war was over very fast) because there was room for them to carve up the world, until there wasn't.

There never was such a useless war.

It would be a very different world now if Britain had said in 1914 "OK, fine, have Belgium, have France, who cares about the Continent anyway, you want to conquer yourselves another couple of French provinces every forty years until the end of time, no problem." The more I look at WWI and what came out of it, the more that looks like a sensible strategy.

#58 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:52 AM:

Jo, has anybody ever written an alternate-History novel that goes along the lines of what you proposed?

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Anyway, Jo, I can't imagine that any country that's the top dog of a planet would let someone else become that big a competition. Still it WOULD be an interesting what-if to speculate about. Would Hitler have managed to make people take him seriously if that History's equivalent of the 1929 Crash had happened but without Germany's humiliating defeat after the Great War?

#60 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 03:14 PM:


One way of looking at WWI is that it's the war fought because the planet was full. All through the previous century, from 1815 on, all the wars (except the US civil war) were between people at disparate tech levels. Nobody had a chance against Europeans, and the countries of Europe never quite needed to fight each other much (the Franco-Prussian war was over very fast) because there was room for them to carve up the world, until there wasn't.

I have to apologize in advance; adjectives like "all" tend to bring out the pedant in me ;-)

There were a passel of nationalistic wars in Europe during that period: either wars of liberation/unification (e.g., Italy, or the various Prussian wars) or wars of aggrandizement (e.g., various Balkan nations trying to recover their Glorious Lost Empires).

There were also various independence struggles in Latin America, followed by wars between Latin American states and civil wars and revolutions within them.

Some other wars between technologically more-or-less equal combatants:
The Crimean War
The Spanish-American War
The Russo-Japanese war -- which could, if you like, be seen as an early sign of the planet getting too full -- two expanding empires colliding.

It's perhaps worth remembering that the Afghans were eventually able to defeat the British, and that the Ethiopians were able to defeat the Italians in the 1890s.

#61 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 03:24 PM:


It would be a very different world now if Britain had said in 1914 "OK, fine, have Belgium, have France, who cares about the Continent anyway, you want to conquer yourselves another couple of French provinces every forty years until the end of time, no problem." The more I look at WWI and what came out of it, the more that looks like a sensible strategy.

Wasn't there a British historian who argued recently that Britain should have done just that, in part because it would have let Britain hold on to its empire longer? (As well as the argument that then Hitler wouldn't have amounted to anything more than a failed painter.)

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 04:42 PM:

It's been 30 years since I read Spinrad's Iron Dream, which pretends to be an SF pulp written by Hitler after her emigrated to America early in the 20th century. If I remember correctly, there is a comment at the end about there having been a World War in the Forties in spite of that, with the Bolsheviks.

So, even if you remove someone, it doesn't mean that History won't bounce back to the same overall sequence of events.

(Still, I'd like to see what would happen if someone from the Future snatched away Dubya, Cheney and Rove.)

#63 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 05:06 PM:

For Britain to say: "OK, fine, have Belgium....." implies "OK, fine, have the Congo......." which carries the possibility of subsequent conflicts far afield where once more the peasant in his fields might neither know nor care that his country was at war.

There was also a background noise of conflict over coaling stations as control of the seas. See the voyage of the Russian fleet to meet the Japanese with Russian routing so well covered in the press.

I'd sooner argue the US Civil War was between disparate tech levels than argue the South matched Northern technology. One very quickly begins to either confound or distinguish technology and industrial base - both the Boers and the Spanish had superior technology but it wasn't their own.

Some say the German war aims of 1914 were as much control of the Allied colonies as of the Allies; as a continental power Gemany could not attack in the colonies and so attacked at home.

#64 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 05:40 PM:

I'd sooner argue the US Civil War was between disparate tech levels than argue the South matched Northern technology. One very quickly begins to either confound or distinguish technology and industrial base - both the Boers and the Spanish had superior technology but it wasn't their own.

I think that in the context Jo Walton was talking about, "disparate tech levels" meant things like Britain vs the Sudan, or France vs Vietnam.

Technology in the North and South really was pretty much equal (it wasn't like one side had cannons and trains and the other didn't). And the South was able to come up with military innovations like ironclads, electrically detonated naval mines, and a submarine.

#65 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 02:55 AM:

Laura:

Tolkien's war may not have been so bad as say, Owens', or Graves', but it was bad.

War breaks one. Even a brief taste of it changes one, in ways both great and small.

I spent most my my war year in hostpitals. In some ways that was worse than had I been in Iraq. Had I been there my fears (and guilt) for those who were not in so safe a place as I would have been less. The happiest day of my life was when the plane landed and all of them (even the few I despise) were safe at home again.

For Tolkien, it had to have been worse.

TK

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