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100 years ago today, the battle whose name is a byword for the futility of war, began at 7:30 a.m. French time (1:30 a.m. EDT).

There were 19,240 killed just on the British side on the first of the 141 days of the battle. Another 40,000 men were wounded.

To put that into perspective, 58,315 were US soldiers were killed between 1964 and 1975 during the Vietnam War.

The German losses were between 10,000 and 12,000 (their records were lost to Allied bombings in WW2). German commanders were given no option for retreat by their command. They were required to hold to the last man -- mostly because there were so few reinforcements available.

The French only lost 1,590 on the first day, but they ended up with very heavy losses throughout the battle.

141 days of battle. There were several sub-battles, including Delville Wood (and the sub-sub battle of High Wood) where tanks were first used. This is the battle where Churchill, who as the architect of Gallipoli was no stranger to wasted lives, finally stood up and said, "We must find better ways of stopping a German bullet than with a khaki shirt."

[livejournal.com profile] elainasaunt sent me a link this morning: How J.R.R. Tolkien found Mordor on the Western Front. The Daily Mail, which I usually reserve for emergency toilet paper, has good photographs of the various memorial services.

For anyone who looks upon the Red Baron as a noble opponent, here's a quote from him:

During my whole life I have not found a happier hunting ground than in the course of the Somme Battle. - The Red Baron - Manfred von Richthofen

I don't know what else to say.
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I'll put any spoilers under a cut, and I will probably wait until I have completed the book to write about it in detail.

In the meantime, Chapter 8. Even if the rest of the book turns out to be terrible, this chapter is perfect and, by some terrible coincidence, it has come to us at the perfect time. Go Set a Watchman is set in that never world between Brown vs Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act. The bus boycott has either happened or is in the process of happening based on a throwaway line in an earlier chapter, and just as the boycott happened in Alabama, so is the book set there.

This is the South in all it's warmth and friendliness and beauty. This is the South in all its viciousness and gossip and racism. The entire plot of To Kill a Mockingbird is in three paragraphs of chapter 8.

Had this book been released a month or more earlier, the shooting at the Charleston AME Mother Church would not have happened yet. The arguments over the Confederate flag would not have happened, and this book, this chapter, would not be ripping through me.

I am a daughter of the south as much as I am a daughter of the military. I value the history and sense of honor belonging to the highest ideals and best people in both cultures. But I am also, viscerally, a pacifist. My father, who I believe holds the highest ideals of both southern and military cultures, taught me that it was a hard row to hoe but an honorable one. (My mother has stated that she's ashamed of me for being pacifist and made it clear she finds it weak.) In the same way, I am viscerally honest about the horrors of the south.

The southern culture which is romanticized by its descendants was based on oppression and blood. While some of that oppression was of the women in its culture, the fact is most white women were at minimum complicit in the oppression and in some cases were the ones baying for blood. Jean Louise Finch, known as a child as Scout, has moved north and sees this clearly. She returns home to find that those who are still steeped in the south cannot see it at all. It's made clear this is nothing to do with age; it is literally black and white within the culture.

Gone with the Wind (the book, which I read the same summer I first read To Kill a Mockingbird) made it absolutely clear, in my opinion, that the southern planters brought their way of life down around their own ears by refusing to look at political and economic reality. Margaret Mitchell several times refers to the Civil War as a gotterdammerung instigated by the south itself. I have heard, just in the past few days, a South Carolina politician talking about the War of Northern Aggression and talking about the North invading the South, completely ignoring that it was the South -- his state, no less -- which fired the first shots and were the aggressors in that impossible war.

I know this is not my most coherent post. There is so much that struck me. But please bear in mind that there are eleven people in my immediate office. I am the only one who is WASP (two are Hispanic and I am not sure how they identify racially). Within my agency of 350+ people, I can name/number all the white people and only take off one shoe. I see the results of this moment in time that Lee describes every single day. Hearing white southerners talking about the "heritage" of the Confederate battle flag tells me that moment in time which Lee is illustrating has somehow been preserved in a bitter amber.

It must be dissected and disposed of.
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Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. Less than ten years later, I made a remark about not having been back to Berlin since the wall came down and [livejournal.com profile] sunspiral's and [livejournal.com profile] roozle's eldest son, who was 11-ish, asked if the wall were medieval.

I remember both my first and my last times in Berlin (which sounds far more like the beginnigs of a novel than a personal story). The first time was 1985. My father headed a program for Boston University and the professors moved every four months so that they could make certain that the students got all the credits they needed toward their Master's in International Relations. Because the previous head had let things get muddled, we'd spent the previous year in the Brussels apartment for Christmas.

Read more... )

An idea

May. 26th, 2014 01:26 pm
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I am semi-seriously considering "live" blogging World War I. It would mean a great deal of research for me, and, yes, I would probably concentrate on the Belgian and French fronts of the war since I know them best, but I really feel that it's forgotten in the US. Also, Michael Gove's remarks back in January really got under my skin.

[Poll #1969614]

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