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November 11, 2008

The Great War, ninety years on
Posted by Teresa at 01:55 PM *

Today we solemnly observe the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War, an event so huge and consequential that we’re still struggling to comprehend it.

Previously on Making Light:

Ghosts of the Great War, 2002
Ghosts of the Great War, 2003
11/11/11/11, 2004
Ghosts of the Great War, 2004
Ghosts of the Great War, 2005
11/11/11, 2006
Remembering the Great War, 2007

The comment threads are, as ever, worth reading.

In the years since I started doing my annual 11/11 post, dozens of WWI memorial and resource sites have grown up on the web. Let me recommend a few:

The Heritage of the Great War. Striking, evocative, well-chosen material. If you only have time for one, go here.

The Great War in a Different Light. “Accounts and Galleries from Great War Period Books, Magazines and Publications, with more than 8000 Authentic Photos, Illustrations and Newsarticles.” A huge, beautifully realized site that tries to tell the history of the war using excerpts from primary sources. Includes a vast amount of visual material. Their links page is good too.

Karalahana Fotoğraf Galerisi is a Turkish site that collects rare photographs of the war.

The Western Front Association. A very worthy site, I’m sure.

The Wikipedia entry. A brave and reasonably successful attempt to render a concise summary of the war.

World War I: Trenches on the Web. An Internet History of the Great War. One of the older omnium-gatherum sites. It’s more accreted than designed, but they have added a site map, which helps. Their Index of Special Features on the site can eat whole days of your time, if you’re not careful.

The Great War Archive. “The Great War Archive contains over 6,500 items contributed by the general public between March and June 2008. Every item originates from, or relates to, someone’s experience of the First World War, either abroad or at home. Contributions were received via a special website and also through a series of open days at libraries and museums throughout the country. … The deadline for contributions has now passed. However, you can still share any images that you have by posting them to The Great War Archive Flickr Group.”

BYU’s World War I Document Archive. A plain, clear site full of serious information. Jim, check out the medical section.

First World War.com. A well-made site.

The Collections of the DHM. An English-language page about the WWI collections at the German Historical Museum.

WWW-VL: History: Military: WWI: The Great War 1914-1918. A humongous links list at the World Wide Web Virtual Library.

De Eerste Wereldoorlog 1914 - 1918. A rich compilation of material. Much of it is in Dutch, though some is in English. Go ahead—push the envelope and try it.

PBS: The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century. Like a PBS documentary, only it’s on the web.

The WorldWarI.com Index of Timelines. Includes some unusual timelines, like the Austria vs. Serbia Pig War.

Great War Map.com. An interactive atlas of WWI.

Propaganda postcards of the Great War. Never again would propaganda be so unabashedly exuberant.

World War I Color Photos. One of the biggest archives of color photos. It includes the color images from Gallica: Bibliothèque numérique de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, which is useful if you don’t speak French.

The Black Vault Image Gallery. If it were possible to ask Google Images to search for WWI color photos but leave out every one in which someone’s smiling, this is what you’d get.

Photos of the Great War. Mostly b&w, sorted by category.

Sonnets of World War I.

Great War Fiction.

Ever noticed how often in Tolkien characters say “…and we will not forget them”?

Comments on The Great War, ninety years on:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 03:49 PM:

Make Magazine's site has an interesting article about Trench Art.

#2 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 04:22 PM:

If I could add one more:

Harry Rusche, my favorite English professor back at Emory, taught a great course on The Great War and Modern Memory, and a website has developed from that course. Back when I was his student in '93, we were still using Hypercard stacks, of course, but he's been working with multimedia on the web for a while.

This was the course that introduced me to most of the WW1 poets, and remains one of my two or three favorite college experiences.

(He also has two wonderful sites on Shakespeare).

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 04:25 PM:

OK, this is the 11/11 post, and so with apologies I'm going to cross-post this (originally in the A Life thread):

I thank all my vet friends individually, to the extent possible, on this day. But for all you veterans here who I don’t know: thank you. Thank you for your service, and for being patient with the civilian population when we don’t understand what you’ve been through...
Your service is, in fact, part of the reason I vote in every election (I missed a couple of school board elections recently, but that’s it): not specifically to honor you, but because I know that voting is a privilege gained at cost, and if I’m not paying the cost the very least I can do is my own duty as a citizen. I will also criticize the government (yes, even the Obama government), which is also a duty and a privilege of citizens, bought with the sacrifice of “rough men” (and women).
I honor you in words, and back that up by doing my part to make sure goverment by, of, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth…though as a civilian, my primary focus is on domestic enemies, while yours is/has been/was primarily on foreign ones.
Profound thanks. This may be the only day I say it, but it’s far from the only time I think of and appreciate your service, and what precious freedoms it buys for me.

#4 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 05:21 PM:

Oddly enough, in Germany, 11/11 is mainly known as the start of the carnival season- memories of the First World War have been mostly overwritten with memories of the Second.

#5 ::: Stephen ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 05:31 PM:

Project Gutenberg has many personal memoirs and history books (including some photo histories) available that were written soon after the War. Some of them are light reading, some stun you.

#6 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 05:47 PM:

If you look carefully at the video here of the tsar, you can catch a glimpse of the tsarevich being carried behind him. At the beginning of the clip, he is directly above and to the right of the tsar's left shoulder; at the end he is right in the center, and you can see that whoever is carrying him preparing to heave him up.

#7 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 06:50 PM:

THE CHILDREN

( "The Honours of War" - A Diversity of Creatures )

These were our children who died for our lands: they were dear in our sight.
We have only the memory left of their home-treasured sayings and laughter.
The price of our loss shall be paid to our hands, not another's hereafter.
Neither the Alien nor Priest shall decide it. That is our right.
But who shall return us the children?

At the hour the Barbarian chose to disclose his pretences,
And raged against Man, they engaged, on the breasts that they bared for us,
The first felon-stroke of the sword he had long-time prepared for us,
Their bodies were all our defence while we wrought our defences.

They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the Judgement o'ercame us.

They believed us and perished for it. Our statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour -
Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her.

Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them.
The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption:
Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption,
Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marvelling, closed on them.

That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given
To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven -
By the heart-shaking jests of Decay where it lolled on the wires -
To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes - to be cindered by fires -
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation.
But who shall return us our children?

Rudyard Kipling, 1917

#8 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 07:06 PM:

Fussel wrote a great book with that title.

Me, I just did a post (with some help from the folks here) about the day; I am no less conflicted about it than I was in 2003, when I first wrote of it, from this side of the elephant.

#9 ::: Richard Klin ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 07:24 PM:

I can't help but think of my ailing 98-year-old grandmother, born in Galicia in Eastern Europe--a citizen of the Austrian empire. She actually remembers the advent of World War I, when--scared of imminent Russian solders--she took refuge under her mother's dress.

#10 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 07:53 PM:

My 80-something mother remembers buying (and possibly selling) poppies during the period between the wars. She doesn't remember when poppies stopped being a symbol in the US.

I have no memory of poppies' presence when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s in California and Virginia.

I've been unable to find out when they stopped being ubiquitous in the US; certainly they still seem to be in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Anybody know?

#11 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 07:55 PM:

This is an incredible collection. Thank you, Teresa.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:12 PM:

#10: The American Legion hall down the street from where I grew up hosted parades. I honestly forget which holidays, but Memorial Day and Veterans' Day were likely because there red paper poppies in abundance. Some big (possibly on stakes, so you could stick them in the ground?), lots of small. I recall they had little slips of paper saying that they'd been made by disabled soldiers. And green flocked (?) wires suitable for wrapping around fingers.

This was, um, late 60s through maybe mid 70s.

The Legion hall is a day care center now, although the bar in the basement might still be used by the vets.

#13 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:21 PM:

Poppies were all over the place in New York when I was growing up.

The custodian at my grade school was a WWI vet.

This was in the early 'sixties.

#14 ::: strawhat ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:45 PM:

We still see veterans selling poppies in suburban Chicago.

#15 ::: dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:53 PM:

Tony@7 - I hadn't seen the Kipling poem before. Ouch. (Didn't he lose a son in that war?) Thank you for sharing it.

#16 ::: cap ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:53 PM:

Again, and as always, thank you so much for these annual posts. I am sending the link to this page to my Medieval Britain professor, because he began class today with words remembrance. And I will make my own annual 11/11 post on my blog, referring readers here as well as doing some reflecting of my own.

I'm only 22. I do not know why something that happened 90 years ago matters so much to me. But it does. So thank you.

#17 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 08:57 PM:

I remember buying poppies up until a couple of years ago. I still don't have a poppy for my new car (obtained last fall), but then, I haven't been through town during business hours this month -- usually there's somebody selling in/near the Post Office. I know that some of the vets at church were wearing them on Sunday, but I don't know if they were new this year.

#18 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 10:07 PM:

And here are online books on all aspects of the war, organized by topic, many from sites mentioned upthread. More suggestions always welcome.

And a thank you from me to those who were there, and those who remember them.

#19 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 10:13 PM:

Sorry; meant to use this link. (The one in the previous comment gets you nearby, but focuses on juvenile fiction, which presents a rather different picture than the more realistic accounts.)

#20 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 10:38 PM:

The critic Terry Teachout blogged today about a unique documentary sound recording of a British artillery unit in action in October 1918, including an mp3 file. It sounds oddly unrealistic. The recording engineer was inadvertently gassed, and died in the influenza pandemic less than a month later, just before the armistice.

That recording is also a track on this British compilation of WWI-era songs. There’s also a fascinating American compilation, put out by Archeophone, a label specializing in acoustic-era records (i.e. pre-1925 and electric recording), which includes anti-war songs from before the US entered the action and excerpts from speeches by President Wilson (not spoken by Woodrow himself) and General Pershing (in his own voice). The liner notes are extremely thorough, too.

There is one track overlapping both albums: Caruso singing Over There!

I came to my interest in the war from the Hapsburg end, oddly enough (9th grade term paper on the fall of Austria-Hungary), so I’d be especially interested in the music of the Eastern Front, but so far I’ve had no luck finding any German or Austrian material along these lines. I just stumbled across this recording, so I can confirm the existence of an Austro-Hungarian recording industry!

#21 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 10:44 PM:

I've got two Buddy Poppies attached to the conglomerate of totem-ish stuff hanging from my rear-view mirror. (i.e., tibetian temple coin, evil eye bead, etc.).

Last Buddy Poppy I got was last year when someone was outside the grocery store selling them. I only went out for a bit today and did not get out of my car (brain fart, taking a check to the bank, d'oh!).

They remind me of my Grandpa John Frasier.

And thanks to all the veterans who read this. You did a good job. We owe you thanks.

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:06 PM:

From my great-grandmother's scrapbook (Jay was her husband's nephew):
HE STOPPED SIX BULLETS
Jay Krone Was Hit Six Times by a German Machine Gun
Jay Krone of Company K, who is home this week on a furlough from Camp Dodge, Des Moines, was shot six times in the same shoulder by a German machine gun in a battle on Sept. 7. He was a member of Company K and was near Harold Andrews when Harold was killed.
Jay was carried five miles back of the lines on a stretcher after being wounded and for a time he believed he could not get well. He was brought home from France among the first casuals to arrive. He was taken to Richmond, Va., and thence to Camp Dodge. He is home on a fourteen day furlough, but it will be a long time before his shoulder fully recovers.

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:16 PM:

Okay, found a year for that: 1918. (Found Harold Andrews, who died on the 18th and is buried in France.)

#24 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:47 PM:

It's an odd day for left-leaning Australians - we commemorate the Armistice, of course, and are overwhelmed by the enormity, in both senses, of the Great War. Yesterday was warm and quiet, and people stood silently in the Spring sun and did not forget.

But we also have to maintain our rage, as it is the anniversary of the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor General in '75. And we're still not a republic.

#25 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:51 PM:

I have, via my paternal grandmother, a handwritten letter to her family (she was born post-WW1) from a cousin who was with the South African infantry somewhere on the Western Front in 1917.

He died in early 1918; he's in one of the Commonwealth War Cemetaries somewhere in France. All the UK/Commonwealth/Empire dead are searchable in an online database, I was actually near his cemetary about 10 years ago, although I didn't know about this bit of family history then.

The letter is in a tin (brass?) box from 1914: Princess Alexandra's Christmas Gift to the Troops; it's got various royal coats of arms on it, and around the edge of the lid all the Allied Nations are listed. Apparently it held slabs of chocolate when given out to the troops.

I really must get good photos of this box at some point; it's a very cool artifact and I'm honoured my grandmother passed it and the letter on to me.

#26 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 12:10 AM:

I salute Arnold Genthe, a German photographer living in the United States who convinced my great-grandmother to switch her ticket from the Lusitania to the New York.

#27 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 12:20 AM:

Linkmeister, poppies were sold by veterans in front of the Giant up until five or six years ago. Although it's possible I haven't been to the Giant on 11/11 for five or six years, too.

#28 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 12:49 AM:

The poppies in Flanders fields aren't just a bit of mythology, they really do thrive there. In the summer, you see bright splashes of scarlet, especially in disturbed soil like the furrows of wheat fields.
I haven't seen them sold/worn much on the 11th in Oregon. I wonder if the tradition is stronger in other areas of the States?

#29 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:46 AM:

janetl@ #28, I'm beginning to think poppy sales are regional, as you say. Mom lived in Phoenix when she saw them mid-century. We've lived in Hawai'i for 30+ years and in that time I've never seen anyone selling them, nor can I remember seeing anyone wearing one.

#30 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:54 AM:

For a fascinating perspective of one man's experience in the Great War, spend some time with the Experiences of an English Soldier blog.

Today was the first time avid readers found out for sure that Harry made it through until the end ... I know I'm not the only one who breathed a sigh of relief.

#31 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:18 AM:

meredith @ #30, thank you for reminding me of that. It was featured on PRI's The World radio program today, and I'd forgotten my intention to look it up.

My great-uncle Howard lied about his age and joined the AEF when he was fifteen; he was gassed but survived until his 60s or early 70s. I haven't read enough to learn whether Harry suffered a similar injury.

#32 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 07:11 AM:

#15 (Didn't he lose a son in that war?)

He did. John "Jack" Kipling. There was a recent TV movie starring Daniel Radcliffe: My Boy Jack.

#33 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 07:15 AM:

Five Souls

First Soul

I was a peasant of the Polish plain;
I left my plough because the message ran:-
Russia, in danger, needed every man
To save her from the Teuton; and was slain.
I gave my life for freedom - This I know
For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Second Soul

I was a Tyrolese, a mountaineer;
I gladly left my mountain home to fight
Against the brutal treacherous Muscovite;
And died in Poland on a Cossack spear.
I gave my life for freedom - This I know
For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Third Soul

I worked in Lyons at my weaver's loom,
When suddenly the Prussian despot hurled
His felon blow at France and at the world;
Then I went forth to Belgium and my doom.
I gave my life for freedom - This I know
For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Fourth Soul

I owned a vineyard by the wooded Main,
Until the Fatherland, begirt by foes
Lusting her downfall, called me, and I rose
Swift to the call - and died in far Lorraine.
I gave my life for freedom - This I know
For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Fifth Soul

I worked in a great shipyard by the Clyde;
There came a sudden word of wars declared,
Of Belgium, peaceful, helpless, unprepared,
Asking our aid: I joined the ranks, and died.
I gave my life for freedom - This I know
For those who bade me fight had told me so.

-- W.N. Ewer (1917)

#34 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 08:00 AM:

#15, 32 - Kipling felt rather guilty about his son, who was young and had such bad eyesight that the army rejected him at first and only took him when Kipling pulled strings. In the end Kipling wrote "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied".

I always find moving the Ode of Remembrance, from a 1914 poem by Lawrence Binyon initially but now an exhortation and almost a prayer at remembrance services:

They shall grow not 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.

It was particularly moving yesterday at the Cenotaph in London when the three remaining British WWI veterans Bill Stone (108), Harry Patch (110) and Henry Allingham (112) were front and centre in their wheelchairs as the exhortation was read, age clearly having wearied them.

Harry Patch, the last man alive of the millions who fought in the trenches of the Western Front, always says his remembrance day is Sept 22nd, as on that day in 1917 three close friends in his machine-gun team were killed. The war was not worth one life, he says.

#35 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 08:36 AM:

My Boy Jack

'Have you news of my boy Jack?'
Not this tide.
'When d'you think that he'll come back?'
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

'Has any one else had word of him?'
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

'Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?'
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind -
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

-- Rudyard Kipling (1916)

#36 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:43 AM:

For those who have the chance to visit that city, the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City has a good World War I museum. One small detail the designers inserted--you walk into the museum exhibit area across a glass bridge through which you can see 9000 poppies, each representing 1000 combat deaths.

#37 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:56 AM:

Yesterday we pulled on rain jackets and hats and quick-walked down the hill to the RCMP station. It wasn't quite raining. This is a small community, so no parades or pipes. I rather miss the pipes.

We walked fast because we were late; the observance was already going when we got there. I think about fifty or sixty people. We stood at the edge of the crowd. I couldn't hear well, so instead listened to the sound of the speaking and under it a choir singing hymns I almost knew. It's hard to sing in damp air.

The talking people had each brought up and set out wreaths, and they spoke about the people for whom they'd set the wreaths. I thought about the people I knew who'd been through war, and how their numbers had so recently tripled.

At the end was a benediction, and we sang God Save The Queen. After that, we made our our way with everyone else to the base of the memorial, and laid our poppies on it each by each.

#38 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:57 AM:

There's a CNN article today on poppy making.

#39 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:11 AM:

I remember poppies, growing up in NYC in the '80s and early '90s. I've found them too here in Buffalo in the'00s.

#40 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:14 AM:

(I was growing, not the poppies.)

#41 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:24 AM:

I remember a photograph we were shown in class of grinning soldiers on a train car with a sign saying "Trip to Paris". I think there was another sign saying "Let's go into battle, I have an itch in the tip of my sabre", but back then we just found the sexual ambiguity amusing. As for the whole picture and the message it was meant to drive home ("people didn't expect this war to take very long"), we just laughed at these people with the advantage of perfect hindsight.

What totally didn't register with me back then was how different the mentality must have been back then. This is what remains to me the most astonishing aspect of WW1: that so many people were so anxious to get themselves slaughtered. Did war really have such a good reputation back then? I can understand the German side, to a point, because we had "just" won the Franco-Prussian (really Franco-German) war in 1870, and quite decisively, too. But this same thing was going on all over the world. Not only did people gladly join the war effort when asked politely (as the Ewer poem hints), but there was this general euphoria. Maybe it was the rather young sensation of nationalism, maybe it was that wars had never been quite as brutal as WW1 would be... but I can't quite believe that. Even without the industrialized mass-murder of reinforced machine gun positions mowing down half a million people in a single battle, war has never been pleasant, has it now?

What WERE they thinking?

#42 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Nobody wanted to get slaughtered. (Well, maybe a few; there are always suicidal lunatics.)

I don't think the mindset is impossible to understand, though it takes a stretch for us, and it's very hard in hindsight. But...

Have you never wanted to do something that mattered? Have you never wanted to be part of something greater than yourself?

The greatest tragedy of the War, I think, is the perversion of those instincts.

#43 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Daniel -- Rupert Brooke's "Peace" seems to express what many young men thought about the beginning of the war:

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there's no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart's long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.

One of those poems that gives you the shivers in retrospect.

#44 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:47 PM:

In the Welsh village where I grew up, there's a statue of Hedd Wyn, who was awarded a chair at the 1917 Eisteddfod in Birkenhead. The chair was given posthumously, swathed in black, because he died just before Passchendaele less than two months after sailing for France.

He described Belgium like this - "Heavy weather, heavy soul, heavy heart. That is an uncomfortable Trinity, isn't it. I never saw a land more beautiful in spite of the curse that has landed upon it. The trees are as beautiful as the dreams of old kings".

The Royal Welsh Fusiliers have a picture of him (the same one that hung on the wall in my school) and a biography here, not far from Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon. (They served in the 2nd Battalion - Evans was in the 15th.)

His real name was Ellis Evans - "Hedd Wyn" was his bardic name. ("Wyn" is variously translated as White, Shining, or Holy. "Hedd" means "Peace".)

This is the manuscript of his chair-winning poem Yr Arwr - here's the text in Welsh. It uses the metaphor of Prometheus, and the title translates as "The Hero". As far as I can tell, there's no English translation yet.

This is the Black Chair, which came to symbolise all the chairs sitting empty in Welsh farmhouses. I've sat in it - I was too young really to appreciate the significance, but I felt the honour.

#45 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:52 PM:

re 41: The thing is, of course, that wars had been quite as brutal. If they had paid attention the the American Civil War, they would have had a pretty good idea what they were in for.

#46 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:59 PM:

Why did they keep on fighting?

In "The Green Fields of France" the narrator asks the spirit of Willie McBride "Did you really believe that this war would end war?"

The answer is, probably yes.

Like Willie McBride, they really believed that this war would end war. Isn't that worth dying for, so that no one else, ever, would have to die in combat?

As late as October 1918, when the sound recording linked to above was made, the recording engineer wanted to make that historic audio record because the war was coming to an end and there would never be another time when anyone would hear artillery fired in anger.

#47 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:24 PM:

#41, what were they thinking?

I wonder if the lack of any visual media more sophisticated than black and white photographs and grainy, jerky film (which was rarely seen by the general public) had something to do with it. The reality of war just wasn't real to them.

Yes, there were some very good war photographers with impressive portfolios -- Brady's work during the Civil War comes to mind -- but most folks would not have had regular exposure to them.

Contrast that with today: people today, from an early age, are exposed to vivid, full-color images of the results of war.

Plus, they tended to talk about war in less ... graphic ... terms. I cannot fathom an early 1900's newspaper having several thousand words devoted to the plight of women in the Congo, for example.

Plus, we are more aware today that people on the other side are real people because of the internet, and blogs (Riverbend comes to mind) and full color pictures and detailed stories about the other side. (Like the little boy whose face was burned so badly by gasoline.)

We've all heard people claim that violence on TV, in the movies, and in the news desentizes people and makes violence more possible. I've often wondered if it's not the other way around ... that the bulk of people are more aware of what violence and war are like, and more likely to hesitate.

#48 ::: Karl T. ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:40 PM:
(Riverbend comes to mind)

I asked this in my LJ earlier, but got no replies: It's been over a year since Riverbend has posted. Does anyone know if she is still alive?

#49 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:42 PM:

C. Wingate @44 --

No, they wouldn't.

Leaving aside that the British Empire fought multiple significant wars between the time of the ACW and the Great War, that the lesson of the most recent of those wars had been 'mobility at all costs', and that the presence of aerial -- mostly balloon-based -- artillery spotting that worked for steel-shell, steel-tube nitrocellulose powder artillery really was new, the American Civil War never had a continuous front. That was the truly new thing about the Great War; you didn't have a battle, you had a front. (And all its hideous consequences.)

Hitler's War was the introduction of a continuous front that moved; now we've got ideas like "forward edge of the battle area" and "conflicted volume".

But, no, there hadn't been wars before where you could be a day's march away from your forward positions and still be under artillery fire; where there were massed machine guns on either side; where the established front constituted a complete logistical dislocation; where the requirement to have a continuous front compelled mass mobilization. It really was new, and it really was a surprise.

#50 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:04 PM:

Graydon, you have one element of that backwards.

Mass Mobilisation was the core of everyone's strategy, except the UK. Conscript armies, training a huge reserve, which would be mobilised into an overwhelming army.

And that's what created the Front.

And once you had that, all the rest followed, because the war changed from a battle to a siege. That's when the use of artillery really changed.

#51 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:26 PM:

Quite a few years ago, wandering through a university library, I stumbled across a book-and-map set that turned out to be a translation of a pre-Great War German military analysis of the Russo-Japanese War.

They predicted the Front based on what they had seen in the East.

#52 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 04:19 PM:

For that matter, the 1864-65 Petersburg period looked a lot like the Western Front.

But the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 didn't look like Petersburg. Manchuria admittedly did, but the French and German general staffs could dismiss some of that with an "oh, those hopeless amateurs" syndrome -- trench warfare would only apply if you couldn't outmaneveur and break your enemy in the opening days of the war, particularly if you could mobilize faster than they could. Which the Germans came very near to doing in France, and did do to the Russian armies that invaded Prussia (but Russia was so big the Germans had to smash armies again and again and again...)

Note that the Western Front was always closer than the Eastern Front, which saw much more mobile warfare in many places.

#53 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 04:37 PM:

I am the proud owner of the copy of Pieces for Every Day the Schools Celebrate, copyright 1921, that used to be in the Kodiak Public School library back when there was only one public school in Kodiak. The poems and speeches selected deal largely with the repercussions of both the Great War and the American Civil War. Besides Memorial Day, children were expected to observe Peace Day and Red Cross Day, plus Lincoln's Birthday. There is a lot of gas and blood and suffering, a lot of dread and heartache, but also the expressed willingness to go on because the cause is right.

#54 ::: Wendy Bradley ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 05:02 PM:

Nicholas Waller #34: I was at the back of the crowd at the Parliament Square end of Whitehall for the two minutes' silence and the Last Post. I couldn't see a thing, but just being there fair made you quiver. I blogged it here: http://couchspudprotem.livejournal.com/43464.html

#55 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 06:14 PM:

Within three days of posting a comment here with my real email address, I noticed that a) my email address now turns up in searches for my username, and b) I've started getting spam at that email address where I previously received none.

Correlation? Causation? I don't know.

Is there any way that the system could, for example, link users' email address but not have it show up in the permalinks to comments that we make?

#56 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 06:24 PM:

Wendy Bradley #53 - I saw it on TV only, I'm afraid; I was in London 10 days ago but not today. You and they were lucky with the sunlight! Henry Allingham (112) wanted to stand and lay his own wreath. He wouldn't let go of it so his minder could place it for him, as the other two had done, but it was too much and eventually four people including a clergyman got it off him and laid just before 11 o'clock.

Being as I live in Somerset and Harry Patch (110) is a local chap, tonight we had a half hour programme on the local BBC1 about his trip a few weeks ago back to his stamping grounds in Flanders, presumably his last. He unveiled a small marker at the point he and his comrades crossed a river 91 years ago on an attack, and then went to the nightly 8pm service at the Menin Gate, where everyone clapped him. There he made a point of saying that we should remember the dead from both sides of the line, and he visited a German war cemetery as well as a British one. The Beeb programme also showed the Poet Laureate's poem for him, the Five Acts of Harry Patch, being set to music by the Master of the Queen's Music.

Although he didn't speak about the war to anyone, including his wife, until a historian (who helped him write his autobiography last year) contacted him at age 100, he has talked a lot more recently, I suppose realising his de facto responsibility to represent the soldiers of the Western Front, all of whom are now dead apart from him.

His life is a bit surreal now, I should think, what with TV and poets and books. He earned enough from his autobiography to fund an RNLI inshore lifeboat! And he is often at events and on telly. But WWI was not where he made his first TV appearance - that was about 20 years ago, when he guided engineers round the underground quarries of Combe Down, near Bath, which he had played in as a boy in the 1900s and about which most information - including the existence of one of them - had been lost.

"War is the calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings" he says in this Points West YouTube from his previous trip to Flanders in 2007 http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=j7peTBVprtY

#57 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 06:59 PM:

Daniel Klein @41 What WERE they thinking?

Aside from the stuff others have said, most wars don't kill most people who take part in them- in a short war that doesn't kill a lot more people than wars usually do, your chances to make it through are pretty good. So people who hadn't been in wars before might have seen war not so much as something that will kill you or is likely to kill you, but as something that might kill you. And doing things that might kill you is still pretty popular today, even among people who don't plan to join the military.

#58 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 07:49 PM:

johnofjack #54: I dunno, maybe if you ask one of the mods politely (like abi) she can go through and munge your email address... But it might be that you're collected and doomed now. This place is an all-you-can-eat buffet for spambots.

During the election they were talking about switching to a different blog type, which maybe wouldn't be so pathetic about securing email addresses. I would join the call to post some kind of warning under "Post a comment", like "(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please, but include MAKINGLIGHT in the e-mail address so that the spambots don't get it.)"

#59 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 08:44 PM:

My mother had been looking for this poem for years, and finally someone found it and sent it to her. Coincidentally, this week Jews will read this passage in synagogues on the Sabbath.

"The Parable of the Young Man and the Old" by Wilfred Owen

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

#60 ::: Pete @ History Times ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 08:48 PM:

The more we remember, the more we need tell our children and their children. Again and again it seems.

I had a grandfather wounded at the Battle of the Somme and an Uncle who just escaped Dunkirk but having heard that yesterday some 'hoodies' punched a 13 year old in the mouth for collecting for an Poppies appeal in Morecambe, Lancs I am dumbfounded as to where this nation is headed really.

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:58 PM:

What were they thinking? They were thinking they were in the right, and modern training and equipement would make it a cakewalk. Home for Christmas (gods, how that trope goes on, and never dies; nor loses its bitter smack).

I saw the same thing in Kuwait.

As for learning from the recent past? Why should those men have been so different from other men?

#62 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:59 PM:

I first learned about WWI through Kate Seredey's wonderful follow-up to *The Good Master*, *The Singing Tree*, an account from the homefront of the war set in the Hungarian plains on a large farm. It is intensely anti-war, anti-semitic and still breathes the clear air of the agricultural life. There is no book that make me sob more voluminously.

#63 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:02 PM:

It is, of course, heartbreaking in another way: it won a Newbery (Honor I believe) in 1939 and ended with a speech on how, now that people have been forced to learn, through the roughest methods, how much we are all alike, war is OVER.

In fact it ends (really) with the announcement of the formation of the UN.

Christ.

#64 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:24 PM:

dido @61, 62, if The Singing Tree was published before 1939, it may have been talking about the foundation of the League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations (not founded til the end of WWII).

It is intensely anti-war, anti-semitic and still breathes the clear air of the agricultural life.
(my emphasis) Er. Is that what you meant? Does it reflect European anti-Semitism of the time, revived & exploited by the Nazis & their ilk?

#65 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:37 PM:

#41: Why didn't they think? (pt N): Well, nobody ever likes to believe in the possibility of defeat. (That's why stock market booms go on so long and then come down so hard.) My second thought was the volatile nature of previous wars, as several people have noted. And then there was, as you note, the machine gun. Belloc observed on the conquest of the ]third world[ "Whatever happens, we have got/The Maxim gun, and they have not"; I've heard of him as a swinish reactionary, but I suspect few first-worlders thought of such being turned against themselves.

C. Wingate@44: pay attention to what a lot of rude colonials had seen half a century before? Worse, colonials whose fighting units were provincial militias? Even if there had been (per other comments) better documentation, I doubt it would have penetrated the average European commander's skull; militaries as a group are notoriously poor at grasping new lessons.

Waller@55: When I first heard Eric Bogle in concert, ~20 years ago, he talked about the ANZAC memorial expedition that traveled with coffins, on the grounds that some of the travellers wouldn't make it back; he opined that the travellers were a lot tougher than the planners gave them credit for.

in re poppies: I knew the poem from a long way back (and sang a Canadian setting for chorus and solo trumpet, IIRC in 1989), but the first time I remember seeing poppies as a token was in a newsreel on my way to ConFiction (1990 Worldcon), where a Lancaster-load of them was dropped on some major anniversary. (Not the end of the Battle of Britain; I was accidentally in the middle of that commemoration a few weeks later.) And the first time I saw individuals wearing poppies was when I was in the UK for WFC (Halloween weekend) in 1997. For reference, I grew up in DC, then moved to Boston; my father was training as an artillery officer when the Armistice was signed, and was reactivated for the Inter-American Defense Board, so it's not just a thing that ex-military did and permanent civilians didn't. Possibly a split between ~red states and ~blue?

#66 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:56 PM:

I don't know, CHip, there were disabled veterans selling paper poppies outside the Stop & Shop in Lexington, MA when I was a kid in the '70s.

#67 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:58 PM:

@63 Epacris: it's "anti-semitic" in the sense that it buys into all the "Jewish" steryotypes there are.

#68 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:14 PM:

Sorry, let me be clear: I find the "0thering" of the Jews in *The Singing Tree* to be profoundly troubling.

I wanted, as a child, to read that story as something that would never happen again. The starvation, the loss, the mutilation.

I looked at the date of publication (1939), I thought of their hope and how it was betrayed.

I honestly feel that this helped me understand what war was about.

#69 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 03:06 AM:

Someday I hope to re-record it with real instruments and a singer who can sing, but for now here's my setting of Siegfried Sassoon's Armistice Day poem Everyone Sang.

#70 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 06:18 AM:

#58 Jon Baker - "The old man [...] slew his son, And half the seed of Europe, one by one". That Owen poem is read out over the ending of the movie Regeneration, based on the first of Pat Barker's trio of novels about WWI.

Regeneration is set in Craiglockhart Hospital, where shell-shocked and otherwise mentally damaged officers were sent to be treated. One of those was Wilfred Owen, who went back to the front and was killed by a machine-gun crossing a canal a week before the Armistice (his mother famously receiving the telegram as the bells were ringing out for the end of the war).

Another poet there and in the novel & movie was #68's Siegfried Sassoon, who had already won a Military Cross but publicly denounced the war as now being a war of aggression, not liberation. Instead of court-martialling him his superiors declared him ill and packed him off to be "cured". He too went back to the front, eventually, and was physically wounded and died in 1967 instead of 1918.

It's a relatively low-key and non-dramatic movie, which suits me. There's a fair amount of talking and the all-encompassing war environment is there in the uniforms and off stage and in everyone's thoughts (and the occasional flashback). Worth seeing.

On some MSS of Owen's poems - which he only started to write at the hospital - you can see some of Sassoon's pencil comments and suggestions.

Robert "I, Claudius" Graves, a friend of Sassoon's who collaborated in sending him to hospital, also makes an appearance; his autobiography
Goodbye To All That written at 33 is well worth reading.

#71 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 07:07 AM:

I set this poem to music years ago, ironically coming fairly close to the tune from which the poem takes its title.

Cha Till Maccruimein
(Departure of the 4th Camerons)
by E. A. Mackintosh

The pipes in the streets were playing bravely,
The marching lads went by,
With merry hearts and voices singing
My friends marched out to die;
But I was hearing a lonely pibroch
Out of an older war,
"Farewell, farewell, farewell, MacCrimmon,
MacCrimmon comes no more."

And every lad in his heart was dreaming
Of honour and wealth to come,
And honour and noble pride were calling
To the tune of the pipes and drum;
But I was hearing a woman singing
On dark Dunvegan shore,
"In battle or peace, with wealth or honour,
MacCrimmon comes no more."

And there in front of the men were marching,
With feet that made no mark,
The grey old ghosts of the ancient fighters
Come back again from the dark;
And in front of them all MacCrimmon piping
A weary tune and sore,
"On the gathering day, for ever and ever,
MacCrimmon comes no more."

Mackintosh died 21st November 1917 at the battle of Cambrai; he was 24.

#72 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 01:42 PM:

Every town in France has a memorial to its WWI dead. (For me, it was only when wandered about a bit in the hinterlands of France, and saw 50 or 75 or 100 of them--one per village, no matter how dinky--that the sheer appalling scale of the war sank in.) The one that affects me most is in a beautiful little town called Luchon, in the Pyrenees, not far from the border with Spain. It's a marker in the graveyard, put up by the Red Cross, and simply says--in French and German--that war dead from both sides lie there. And it gives names for the ones they could identify, and notes that they couldn't identify them all. And underneath that, it says

MAUDIT SOIT LA GUERRE

#73 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 03:25 PM:

Nicholas @69:

I studied for a year in Craiglockhart, which now houses the information technology department of Napier University.

It is an old, sad building, though the students do liven it up in their own ways.

#74 ::: Ralph E. Benn ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 06:48 PM:

We just posted a WW1 Poem In "Comments"...

Somewhere In France, 'In Flanders Fields' reb

#75 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 07:11 PM:

Although appallingly young, this thread does hit me with a certain force. This Saturday, I fly back to the States, and will immediately drive to South Bend to see my last surviving grandparent. I refuse to say that she's 95 years young, that's a diminishing lie, and she would be the very first to put paid to it. 95 years is a long time, and there are a finite number left that witnessed that early part of the brutal, bloody twentieth century. I curse that Alzheimer's, that miserable vicious thief, stole my granddad before I really knew what questions to ask him (as opposed to how big were the bombs that fell on London). There isn't a great deal left from that time, but I'm so grateful for the scraps that I've been given.

And I shall keep them forever.

#76 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 08:11 AM:

Tony Zbaraschuk at 42:

Have you never wanted to do something that mattered? Have you never wanted to be part of something greater than yourself?

Kiiiinda. I mean, I get that basic sentiment, but really, something I'd die for? Hasn't come up yet. If one of the axes along which we can plot human mentalities is idealism vs pragmatism, I'm waaaay over on the pragmatic side. So maybe I'm resistant to that sort of thinking. If so, I consider it an evolutionary advantage, since I'm less likely to get myself killed ;)


Janet at 43:

Shiver-inducing in a weird way. Again, the main thought is "what?!" "Naught broken but this body"? Really? "We'll only die a horrible painful death, so that's not so bad."


James at 45:

Has anyone ever tried to explain *how* this Great War was to end all wars? Shock value? As 44 points out, people had not been paying attention to how brutal wars were, so I can't see that working. Re-distribution of power so that one alliance of good nations would be in control of the fate of the world, able to stop future wars from happening? I just... can't make sense of it. HOW would having one giant world-spanning war make the world a place in which future wars are less likely? My 21st century common sense suggests the exact opposite.


Raphael at 56:

I'm not getting the impression that people thought very rationally about the whole affair, and the argument has been made that people *not* having detailed knowledge about past wars contributed to this war coming about. I don't know. Either way, not a gamble I would take.


Terry at 60:

(I know, I know, I'm repeating myself, but...) But the other side had modern training and equipment too! They must have known that! Once again, it comes down to either (a) a different level of information about the world that people had back then (making it easier to be too sure of your own superiority, to think of the other nations as not quite human, etc) or (b) a much higher level of idealism (patriotism) that made them overlook what information they had.


And finally, Nicole at 71:

The little German village (1200 people last time anyone bothered to count) I grew up in had three memorials for the dead of WW1: one by the main thoroughfare and one in the catholic and protestant cemetary each. If I try hard enough I can also remember where similar markers are in most of the surrounding little villages. Of course I grew up in the Saarland, a region bordering France and Luxemburg, so I don't know if WW1 memorials are as pervasive elsewhere in Germany.


At the risk of sounding very cynical (which really is not how this intended), I think both World Wars make wonderful narrative material. It is hard for us to fully understand the motivation behind them, but we can't just dismiss them as "oh well, people are strange" either. I mean, I can't. If I had a time machine and could go check out any period in time? The days before WW1 would rank pretty high in the top 5. (Of course number 1 would have to be the time when dinosaurs were fighting giant apes.)

I haven't read any book that really explores this question of motivation, and surely there must be hundreds. Can someone recommend a good one? (I realize that as a German I should probably read All Quiet on the Western Front eventually, but that book seems to deal more with the traumatizing details of war.)

#77 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 09:11 AM:

Daniel Klein @75--Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August is a good general history of both the first month of the war, but also the lead-up to it, as well as the history of the strategic thinking and tactical planning both sides had been doing in advance. It's not a recent book, of course, but it looks at a lot of what was going on in people's minds on the topic right about then. Amazon.de suggests that it is even available in German translation, as August 1914, if that makes it any more attractive. Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel (In Stahlgewittern) is one of the great war memoirs but not for the squeamish or those with a vivid visual imagination--Jünger survived four years as an infantryman.

Hew Strachan, John Keegan, and Martin Gilbert all have good one volume histories of the war in English--Strachan is working on a three-volume version, of which the first came out in the last year or so. I don't have much of a handle on good German histories of the war or the period leading up to it, I'm afraid.

From what my mother and I saw in the parts of Germany we've visited, the war memorials were generally in the middle of the small towns we saw--but we didn't check every cemetery we passed; this was in the Schwäbische Alb and surrounding areas. Since we're used to the small-town war memorials of the American Middlewest and South, these weren't surprising sights to us, although the length of the name lists was often heartbreaking.

#78 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 10:18 AM:

Daniel Klein @ 75

I'm not an expert on the period, but as I understand it, the last time before WW I that Western Europe had got caught in a real meatgrinder of a war was 2 generations previous, in the Crimea. The Franco-Prussian War was fast and decisive, much more like the various colonial wars (for the colonials, that is, not the natives) then being fought far war away in Africa and South and Central Asia than like the American Civil War, or the Crimean War. After that amount of time, the majority of the population had either been children, with no real understanding of what was happening, or had not yet been born, when the wars ended. Time makes all pain fade, even for societies.

And, yes, people can't think about war rationally. If they did, I doubt there would be any.

#79 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 11:14 AM:

Daniel Klein at #75 -

Has anyone ever tried to explain *how* this Great War was to end all wars?

I think HG Wells was the one who first came up with the idea, in The War That Will End War (downloadable text available), a book first published in October 1914 and so written early in the war: "At the moment of writing the war has not lasted many days, great battles by land and sea alike impend".

His notion was repeated later by Woodrow Wilson. HG Wells' idea was that, since the war has now started, we need to make sure an absolute final and irrevocable resolution is made and the world is remade, and there will be no need for wars in the future - "we face these horrors to make an end of them". Lloyd George was supposed to have said 'this war will end all war, until the next war to end all war', or something like that.

But back to HG -

"This is already the vastest war in history. It
is war not of nations, but of mankind. It is a
war to exorcise a world-madness and end an age."

And he says we know what is coming, we have no delusions -

"Through this war we have to march, through
pain, through agonies of the spirit worse than
pain, through seas of blood and filth. We
English have not had things kept from us. We
know what war is ; we have no delusions. We have
read books that tell us of the stench of battlefields,
and the nature of wounds, books that Germany
suppressed and hid from her people. And we face
these horrors to make an end of them.

"There shall be no more Kaisers, there shall be
no more Krupps, we are resolved. That foolery
shall end! And not simply the present belligerents
must come into the settlement.

"All America, Italy, China, the Scandinavian
Powers, must have a voice in the final readjust-
ment, and set their hands to the ultimate guarantees.
I do not mean that they need fire a
single shot or load a single gun. But they must
come in. And in particular to the United States
do we look to play a part in that pacification of
the world for which our whole nation is working,
and for which, by the thousand, men are now
laying down their lives."

Wells' last book was Mind At The End Of Its Tether and came out in 1945; apparently he thought it might be a good idea if humanity was succeeded by some other species.

#80 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 11:37 AM:

Fidelio, thanks for the recommendations!

Bruce, what surprises me is that there was no strong oral history of these things. I mean the first thing they told us in Intro to Literature was the purposes of storytelling: establishment of a "we" feeling, entertainment, moral lessons, but also education. You tell your children stories of the evil snake so that your children don't die from snake-bite; you tell your children stories of how horrible war is so they don't go off and fight in one that's not absolutely necessary. (Not to say that any war ever is, but you know what I mean.) But I guess other narratives proved stronger.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 01:06 PM:

My father told me of a funeral he attended, in Jamaica in the 1970s, of a man he had known in his youth. In that man's youth he had served in the West India Regiment in the Great War. When that was mentioned at the funeral, my father said, he heard young people around him express disapproval. No black man, they felt, had any business fighting in a white man's war.

#82 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 01:54 PM:

Daniel Klein:what surprises me is that there was no strong oral history of these things.

I think in this case, it was too hard to talk about. You (generic) tell your children stories to teach them good and bad - but you don't, unless you are extraordinary, slice open your own chest and show them the scars across your heart.

So many people had died; friends, allies, rivals, enemies, in front of the eyes, in such grotesque way. The trauma of that could and would stop words from almsot anyone, however determined that had been, once, to explain why they said "No more!"

#83 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 03:18 PM:

The Guns of August is a fantastic book. The wonder of it is how suspenseful it is; much like the musical 1776, even though we know how the story ends, you're on edge much of the way about just how things play out.

I also recommend her "prequel" to Guns, The Proud Tower, which profiles some of the prewar mindset in Europe. A lot of people were antsy for a good war to give their citizens some backbone (citizens other than themselves, of course). Plus, they were bored.

I also recommend Edmond Taylor's The Fall of the Dynasties (aka The Fossil Monarchies) for some insight into what the Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and Romanovs (and possibly the Osmanli, it's been a while) were thinking.

#84 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 04:42 PM:

Daniel Klein @ 79

What Lenora Rose said. Often the only ones who are willing to talk about their war experiences are the REMFs who didn't have any to speak of. Thus the war comedies about the hijinks in the rear echelons, and the John Wayne school of heroic war movies that are one step removed from enlistment propaganda.

WWI may have been the first European war where a number of articulate upperclass and middleclass soldiers spoke out, while the war was being fought, on the brutality of war, often in poetry, which can have an even greater effect than prose. And after a few years of butchery in which most families lost at least one member, people were ready to listen. But the common soldiers still mostly found themselves behind a wall of incomprehension, and so the oral tradition did get much benefit from their experience.

I think that's why the deeply ironic stories of war which come along a few years after, when the experience has settled a little, come as such a shock to their readers. I'm thinking of books like Catch-22, The Good Soldier Schweik, and The Red Badge of Courage.

#85 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 06:03 PM:

Nicole TWN @71, wouldn't one translate that "Fuck the war"?

#86 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 06:34 PM:

Daniel Klein: re training: You are forgetting the other ingredient of youth (and at the outset they were all so bloody young)... exeptionalism. I think it was a tale about D-Day, and someone was being told that nine out of ten wouldn't make it out alive from the landings. Guy looked around the room and thought, "I felt sorry for all those other guys."

I've read the same, basic, anecdote from Germans, and Brits, and Americans going off to Korea and Vietnam, as well as those in WW2.

I've seen it in pilots and Ground Surveillance Radar Operators (who would boast to me they had a 30 second life-expectancy in a combat zone... croggles the mind).

I recall being told that one in three of us would fail out of Russian (Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won't be here at graduation). I as so damned happy when Schoenthal rocked out, because it meant I was going to pass (and, as an aside, our actual failure rate was 37 percent, so the estimate was pretty damned good).

Also, the last war in Europe had been fought with, basically, modern weapons. It was swift, which made it easier to dismiss things like the Russo-Japanese War as something fought by incompetents, and not relevant.

The lack of history... There was, but not oral. It's in print. No offense, but this shit is hard to talk about, and harder to talk about to those who aren't in any position to understand. We have narrative structure for it now, but before WW1, there wasn't such a thing. "The Red Badge of Courage" (Stephen Crane, US Civil War) comes close, but the point in it, that until you've "seen the elephant" you don't know, well it's true.

I can tell you about my time in Iraq, but you can't really understand it, and it's power as a cautionary narrative is low.

I do think the populace, as a whole, had some idea. I just re-read, Busman's Honeymoon by Sayers, and her grasp of the aftermath of being in the line was pretty good. Peter Whimsey is well adjusted to his "shell shock", and without help he'd probably never have recovered. The help came from inside the system, but it needed someone who had also been inside the horror.

About memorials. The cemetary by the 13th century chapel in Landstuhl has a few rows, maybe 45 graves, all from 1917-1919. All male, all less than 30 when they died.

The only one I saw in Nürnburg was for the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

I don't see it as "oh well, people were strange." I am so saddened by it because I identify with them.

#87 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 06:53 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ #83, I'd add One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to your list.

#88 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 08:39 PM:

Working backwards:

Terry Karney, #85: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is, I believe, set in the decade after the Great War, and more of the characters suffer the aftereffects (including, if I remember correctly, an episode of Lord Peter's shell shock and Bunter supporting him).

I think the Kriegerdenkmal in the small town near where we lived was pointed out to us, but I don't remember for sure now.

Chris Quinones, #82: Thanks for the recommendation of The Fall of the Dynasties; I've read both the Tuchman books to scraps, almost.

Fragano Ledgister, #80: Let's just say that when I linked to this post, I added a sentence.

Daniel Klein, #41: There was still a residual of belief in "glory." That belief did not survive the war.

By the way? Wars are never "short." This is another lesson that has never been learned.

#89 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 11:36 PM:

Some wars are short and victorious. The Crimean War was not particularly long, and fought mostly by a professional army; 1866 and 1870 wars were over in less than a year each; the two Gulf Wars lasted a few weeks each. (The subsequent counterinsurgency lasted rather longer, but then they often do that.) Note that while the Crimean War was in many respects a parade of incompetence, it was also one from which the French and British (don't know enough about the Russians) learned a lot about how to organize an expedition, modern medical care for wounded (cf Florence Nightingale), and the like.

Short wars, or medium wars with a professional army, tend not to leave a lasting mark on the society that generated them. (This may not be the case for the losing society, depending on what the victorious one did after winning.) They generally happen when people rationally estimate the relative power balance involved (because nobody willingly gets involved in a long destructive war, so they pick on people they think are easily beatable -- sometimes this estimate is correct -- or for issues which are relatively minor so the war is basically a testing measure ("are you serious about this? OK, it's not worth more war so we'll compromise on the issue and make some minor adjustments" -- note that the Democratic Peace theory relies on the fact that two societies which are both relatively responsive to their population and used to settling internal disputes by negotiation will skip straight to the compromise stage)

Long mass wars are the ones that leave memories behind, because lots of people get involved in them, and many unwillingly, which means that if they don't agree with the rationale for the war things get very ugly, and even if they do everyone will have been affected, like it or not.

(The currently-winding-down Iraq situation has been a Medium-length Professional war, in the above classification. You didn't have to go if you hadn't already agreed to join the military, and the number of people involved was relatively small by last century's standards. In a century it'll be about as remembered as the US conquest of the Philippines or the Barbary Wars are today, maybe less.)

Long mass wars tend to occur in pairs (the two halves of the Pelopennesian War, First and Second Punic Wars, the War of the League of Namur and the War of the Austrian Succession against Louis XIV, the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, WW I and WW II); the first ends in a truce of exhaustion and fragile hopes while the second fights the issue through to a conclusion, and the total effect is so awful that nobody who's been through the pair is willing to start anything that might be another Big War until pretty much everybody who remembers survivors talking about either of them is dead. (Barring total nutcases like Perseus of Macedonia, for instance... starting another war with Rome, without allies, _after_ they've already beaten your nation fighting alongside _Hannibal_, for crying out loud!?)

It remains to be seen if (a) the Truce of the Mushroom Cloud, or (b) the ability to mass-preserve memories in a much larger way via tape and film, rather than just writing, will change this dynamic. If not, expect the next pair starting sometime after 2050.

#90 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 12:05 AM:

Terry Karney, 85: And the truly remarkable thing about The Red Badge of Courage is that Crane was born in 1871! (And he didn't see a battlefield first-hand till after it was published.)

Crane's poem "War Is Kind" predates WWI - he died in 1900 at age 28 - but it is one of the most moving of war poems. Crane's poetry, for those unfamiliar with it, is astounding.

#91 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 12:49 AM:

Chris 89: Yup, vividness of description is not the same thing as eyewitness accounts or live experience. It may just mean that the person is a great writer.

#92 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 03:39 PM:

Tony Zbaraschuk (#88): In a century it'll be about as remembered as the US conquest of the Philippines or the Barbary Wars are today, maybe less.

In the US, perhaps; I suspect the Iraqis won't be quite so quick to forget it. If we're lucky, they won't feel the need to remind us the hard way.

#93 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2008, 08:03 PM:

Tony Zbaraschuk @91

It may just mean that the person is a great writer.

For purposes of this discussion, i.e., why people do or do not remember the horror of war, I think that may be a more important factor than having seen the elephant yourself. Vivid imagery brings a story to life for people, and makes them think about the story, in a way that personal experiences, told without the vividness, may not.

Most of my generation got its ideas of war from books and movies, not from personal experience or from the personal stories of combat experience. Most veterans don't want to, or can't talk about those experiences; those that want to and can often can't communicate across the barrier of incomprehension that lack of experience can raise (cf Terry Karney @ 86).

Even when veterans do relate their experiences, often it's to other vets. I watched the recent miniseries Generation Kill, about a Marine unit in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with interest. The jargon was different, the equipment was different, and the mission and terrain were different, but I could figure out what was going on; the job doesn't change that much. But I think it was intended largely for other veterans; most vets could follow it easily, but I think that civilians would not get a lot of it; it would have to be unpacked quite a bit, and even then there'd be parts of it that would be hard for non-vets to understand.

#94 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2008, 11:12 AM:

Tlonista@85: That's really good! I was trying to translate it right--it's literally something more like "Curséd be war" or "Let war be damned", but the French is more... I dunno, visceral. "Fuck war" is GOOD. Thanks!

...And I see now that I posted the exact same story last year. *sigh* I did refresh my memory with a visit there this past summer, though.

#95 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2010, 12:01 AM:

Seventy-five Australian soldiers killed in the World War I battle of Fromelles -- the most fatal 24-hour period in Australian military history -- have been identified, the first of about 250 whose remains were found a year ago.

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