We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind. Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.
Outside the basic contours of the war, I really didn't know much about it until fairly recently. I've been reading up.
Started with Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August, which is about the very beginning of the war when the fighting was still mobile and hadn't bogged down into the trench stalemate. That fascinated me, because I really didn't know a thing about it & was used to thinking of the war entirely in terms of a static front. Had things gone just a little differently, the French might have driven the Germans all the way out of France rather than only beat back their advance at the Battle of the Marne. The war might have ended up being the short decisive conflict everybody thought it would be, just another colorful episode of Continental warfare.
What fascinates me about the trench years of the war is just how thoroughly stuck both sides got. The combatant's defensive capacity far exceeded their offensive ability. They just couldn't root each other out, and both sides tried, hard.
At first the older generation of soldiers running the war couldn't wrap their heads around that, resulting in disasters like the first day of the Somme, when the English suffered almost 60,000 casualties, a third of them fatal. One day.
So they figured out that pluck and dander weren't going to beat barbed wire, machine guns and artillery - especially artillery - but that didn't make the job any easier for them, even the competent ones. Anyway, I've been trying to learn more about the tactical aspects of the war that led to such an enduring stalemate.
Recently I've been trolling through the WWI bookshelf at Project Gutenberg - there's some fascinating (and free) stuff there:
((this URL is more than you expect --the size of the image files, for starters. Then the selections, often with the war pic traced to setting, and in very evocative shots, re-photographed as that setting is today))
(a snip from link at bottom, a woman name of Bel Mooney tells the story of having recently physically traced her grandfather's footsteps in the Battle of the Somme)
All over the battlefields of the Somme are small, faint signs of colossal human suffering and strife.
When we visit our first cemetery, at Le Touret, near Bethune, I’m suddenly overwhelmed by numbers. There are 915 burials in the peaceful colonnaded spot — but on the memorial panels there are more than 13,000 names of men who fell in this area before September 25, 1915 and have no known grave.
During the next couple of days, this feeling of awe would sweep over me again and again. How on earth could my grandfather have survived going over the top?
Every German machine-gun post taken cost 2,000 lives. Those guns fired 650 bullets a minute, and on that first terrible day of the Battle of the Somme — July 1, 1916 — 20,000 men were slaughtered by perhaps 100 German machine-guns.
In the hideous wasteland, there was no place to hide. By 5pm, when the German guns stopped, 58,000 British soldiers lay dead or dying. As Rosenberg put it: ‘Their shut mouths made no moan.’
You can read the devastating statistics, but there is nothing like standing in one of the military cemeteries of northern France to make you silent with an inconsolable, universal grief.
And also to feel deeply proud of the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which honours the dead still, on a scale no other nation has achieved.
The pale, Portland stone tombstones stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The grass is clipped and shrubs bloom before each stone, even when the inscription says ‘Known only to God’.
The whole Latin tag excerpted in the sub-title above is "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" ..." It is fitting and sweet to die for one's country." My Dad taught Latin in China at Shanghai Baptist College for two years. The college morphed into Shanghai University and Dad sailed back to the United States to volunteer for and fight in the First World War. I wonder how many children study Classical Latin these days. If you are planning to write words for money as your career, Latin can be very useful, since it is the foundation of many of the Romance languages. It helps you with more than street signs and menus, even after 60 years.
Wilfred Owen is one of the WWI combat veterans whose literary careers probably were results of the effect on them of the particular characteristics of that war --everything from the soldier in the mud to the reason for the entire war --accident, futility, doom by the hand of virtue. It wasn't like WWII, or any war with a cause or reason for being fought. It was a flag frolic, a Pied Piper following, where carefree Pan suddenly turned with a machine roar and devoured the nations and peoples and made their bones dragon teeth to seed the demons to come next in armies.