Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"...all Gods dead, all wars fought..."

Just read a fascinating book review courtesy of my new favorite website: Arts & Letters Daily. Actually, it's a multiple review from the Chronicle of Higher Education on Nov. 5 of seven books about World War I. One of the authors mentioned, David Fromkin, also wrote a rather excellent work entitled "A Peace to End All Peace" about the postwar division of the Middle East.

A welcome aspect of one of the books reviewed, "The Great War: An Imperial History" by John H. Morrow Jr., is that it touches on the fact that the war wasn't just fought in Europe or by Europeans: there was fighting in East Africa, for example, and black Senegalese soldiers and Chinese laborers who played important roles at various points (the Senegalese on the Somme, the Chinese reburying corpses after the armistice).

As an admirer of one of the seminal works on the conflict (Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August"), I look forward to reading the new septet. However, I wonder if they can match the power of some of the literary descriptions of the Great War: its treatment in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" and "Tender is the Night" (it even surfaces in "The Great Gatsby," when Nick Carraway refers to it as "that delayed Teutonic migration"); and the powerful, poignant poetry of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Margaret Sackville.

The writer of the Chronicle piece, Terry Castle, criticizes the war memorials, but one of the more moving moments from a nine-day trip to France in April 1994 occurred during a visit to the American cemetery on Omaha Beach. In addition to rows of white crosses honoring the dead of D-Day, there was also a beautiful memorial to the Americans who gave their lives in World War I.

Could such a war, so terrible and so wide-ranging, happen again? I hope not. We're coming up on the 60th anniversary of V-E Day and V-J Day ... but Europe had 99 relatively peaceful years between Waterloo and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Millions of people perished in the war and its aftermath, all so the "civilized powers" could do the whole thing over again, and kill millions more. I don't want to see a return to such chilling times.


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