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I don't know how I missed The Shrouds of the Somme commemoration, but I found it today.

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There is a performance art piece happening all over Britain today. On Twitter the hashtag WeAreHere will find people's reactions. There's an article on it in The Guardian.

It's been a weepy day.


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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.

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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Slate online magazine has a fascinating segment called "The Vault" where it pulls documents or artifacts from the past. Sometimes, they have a direct bearing on today's politics or ideas. Sometimes, they're just interesting pieces of a vanished world.

Today's article has a list of book recommendations for young people by Samuel Clemens. He was asked to divide them between boys and girls, but the only one he changed was Robinson Crusoe. Apparently, it was okay for boys, but girls ended up reading the poetry of Tennyson. He was cagey about favorite authors.
Read more... )
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In August of this year, we will reach the centenary of the beginning of World War I.

Americans won't have the same level of involvement in the Remembrances because we didn't join in until April of 1917, but it's salutary to remember this war. It was begun in idealism. It shattered the class system. Without World War I, there might still be a British Queen ruling India. Hitler would never have risen to power. Americans might not have indulged in such severe isolationism. Women might still be fighting for the right to vote.

There are stories. The Angel of Mons was fiction that people came to believe happened. The Christmas Truce with its football games between the opposing sides in no-man's land really happened. The world became much smaller in people's minds. Aerial bombings happened. The guns in France could be heard in London. Edith Cavell treated people on both sides from her hospital in Brussels and was shot by the Germans as an enemy for helping French, English, and other soldiers to escape from Belgium.

I want someone to put out a Kindle edition of Nelson's History of the War. I have a complete copy in storage, but I want to read it again. It's British propaganda, written before anyone knew which side would "win" (remember, it ended in an Armistice, not a surrender); it's stories are documented within about six months of their occurrence. It runs over twenty volumes. And it's invaluable as a tool to see the old order's death being explained to the "common folk" who will benefit, but are afraid of losing the certainty of "knowing one's place."

Read Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth for more about the upper middle class and the women who chose to work in the hospitals. Read any of Lyn MacDonald's books about the war. Read the poetry and the autobiographies and All Quiet on the Western Front to remember that the experiences of the soldier were not that different on the other side of no-man's land.

Belgium formed me in many ways. In February of 1979, while I was in history class, we heard an explosion at school. A farmer in a field near us had been harrowing a field and connected with live WWI ordnance. He didn't survive. Every commun had its own memorial, often with the same surname recurring. In Place Sainte-Catherine, there's a memorial to the carrier pigeons who gave their lives serving.

The idealism was real. The hope that this bloody, in both senses of the word, conflict might be the world's last was genuine.

So. Watch Human Nature and Family of Blood from Martha's season of Doctor Who. Watch Lawrence of Arabia and really grasp that this is a very small part of a world turning upside down. Watch Blackadder Goes Forth.


This post is brought to you by Michael Gove who wants British school children to be taught about World War I in "the right way" while ignoring that the idealists who survived the war, including Rudyard Kipling, were no longer idealists when it ended.


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