This year I was going to post a link to the sequence from Porco Rosso where he tells Gina about the day his whole squadron was killed in a massive dogfight, and what he saw afterward. Unfortunately, that piece of video’s been taken down from YouTube. You can still watch it in Spanish or Catalan. The words aren’t so important. All you need to know is that they go off without him.
(Update: Chuckling found us a clip of that sequence in English.)
The War Art of Otto Dix, who served in the German army. Tolkien wasn’t the only one who felt he’d been one of the orcs.
And speaking of Tolkien, two bits of silent film: the Lancashire Fusiliers in the Sunken Lane at the Somme. The Lancashire Fusiliers again, in a longer compilation of footage from the Somme. The pertinent fact is that they’re all about to die. About twenty minutes after these photographed few moments, they’ll do what everyone does at the Somme: go over the top and advance at a measured pace through machine-gun fire, deep mud, shell holes, and uncut barbed wire. British and Empire troops will take over 58,000 casualties this morning. Only fifty members of this battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers will survive the attack.
2006, remembering a conversation with Mike Ford:
We were talking about the way the military on both sides kept trying mass “over the top” charges into the no man’s land between the trenches, and taking staggering losses. Doing that a few times would have been bad enough, but in WWI, both sides kept it up for years.That is: a mistake everyone makes is no one’s fault. But if you try something new and it doesn’t work, then it is your fault.
I said, usually if a general plans and conducts a major battle that winds up taking a pitifully small amount of ground, and gets hundreds of thousands of his troops killed, he’s relieved of command.
Mike said, after a while, all the generals had fought battles like that. If you went on doing the same thing, at least it was something you knew. You wouldn’t do any worse than any other commander. But if you tried something different and it didn’t work, then heaven help you.
This post will be accreting further material.
An old Pathe Newsreel of factory girls modeling the helmets they’ve helped to make.
I don’t know why color photography seems so much more real and immediate than black and white, but it does. There are some scraps of colored movie footage from WWI. You can see most of it in this compilation. It has a loud soundtrack, but you can turn that off—it’s all silent film anyway.
Johnny Cash sings When the Man Comes Around over a montage of WWI footage. No one’s posted Chumbawamba’s version of “Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire,” which would go well with it.
At any given moment you can generally find an entire documentary series or six about WWI, cut up into segments and posted to YouTube. I’m not going to link to anything specific, because they always get taken down as copyright violations, and new ones always take their place. The only trick is knowing they’ll be there. If you’re interested, type “WWI” into the YouTube search box and watch for videos marked 4/6, 3/8, et cetera. When you spot one, click on the name of the person who posted it. The other segments should be in his or her list of posted videos. I recommend The Great War in Color.
One notable documentary which has (so far) survived this process: a user named Rainbase put up a four-hour documentary series, The Great War in the Air, in 49 segments. It starts here. If you want to watch it in order, the sequence of the segment numbers is: 101-09, 111-116, 118, 201-204, 206, 208-210, 212-213, 215, 301-302, 304, 308-312, 315-316, 402-405, 408, 410-411, 413-16, and the end credits.
Faces of War is a fascinating and horrifying article in Smithsonian about the 3rd London General Hospital’s Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department, known to wounded Tommies as “the Tin Noses Shop.” The war was long on head injuries—most often, men shot while peering up over the edge of a trench—and the new technologies of war added severe chemical or conventional burns to the menu of military injuries. The facial restoration clinic was an attempt to restore some measure of normal appearance to men who’d suffered catastrophic facial injuries so that they could live as humans in human communities.
The Smithsonian site appears to have trimmed the photos off the article when it was archived, but you can still see one of the before-and-after tin nose prostheses here. The site also has a very substantial film clip of the department at work, with men demonstrating their new prostheses.
The Past Informs the Present: an interview with the author of the story, discussing attitudes at the time, the loss of WWI military records in the Blitz, and current developments in facial reconstruction and prostheses for soldiers in the Iraq war.
Another site that covers the same subject is Project Facade: Faces of Battle. The site’s remained unfinished for a long time now, but the bits that are there are well worth a look: basic information about the clinic, and their collection of individual case studies are compulsive reading.