7 thoughts on “The torch be yours: to hold it high

    1. Heh. A virtual sacrifice to remind us a real one?

      If you’ve read Sarah Hoyt’s Memorial Day post, she was thinking about World War I and the Flanders’ Fields poem as well. And she wonders if that war was the one where everything turned wrong. Were the sacrifices of mothers and fathers, like Mr. & Mrs. Kipling, or all the promising young men, like Wilfred Owen who wrote Dulce & Decorum Est for nothing. Or worse than nothing, even?

      She came to the same conclusion I did (but better expressed, obviously) that we can’t know for sure, but it’s up to us. It’s what we do with the torch they passed.

      But it’s a good question she asks, because there’s Horace writing in the Ovid, and it’s a more hifalutin’ version of our Finality story, where he writes: It’s a great good thing to fight and die for your homeland. (I paraphrase). People understood, in America, that Johnny Reb was being a good and faithful son of his home State, even as the Union army went to war singing “John Brown’s body” and looking to stick it to the filthy slavers, e.g. Johnny Reb.

      Then World War 1 and poems like Owen’s. Bitterly mocking “dulce and decorum”: “Yeah, right, puking your guts out with a bloody stump for an arm in a rat-infested trench. Dulce my [censored] “ going forward.

      That’s when all the stories changed.

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      1. I grew up on the porch swing with great grandpa’s stories from The Great War. (Plus stories of him going to school – all five grades – with a gun because there were still Indians and cougars and bears in them thar hills.) I don’t really remember his stories of what he did in The Big One. I just remember that all of them ended with either “and then they died” or “and then we marched them over the hill and shot them all.”

        What made WWI different in Europe was the telegraph. Wars had always consumed great masses of men. But their names had never before been printed in the newspapers the very next day. And the nations had seldom survived wars where their generals performed so poorly, and lost so many men. Normally, after such ghastly battles, your side was either victorious or conquered, some deeds changed hands between distant cousins, and the war, for your people, was over for the next generation or so. It didn’t just keep going day after week after month after bloody year. And for what? What were the goals, really? What was the point of fighting over possession of a village that has been destroyed, and losing 300,000 men to defend a province that only had 20,000 people living in it?

        That sort of thing wears at the soul. The great powers ended the war with a collective case of PTSD. Germany got over it, mostly by immediately fighting a civil war. Russia avoided it by engaging in a never ending battle against itself. Italy drank itself silly and woke up with a hangover, in time honored fashion. France and England got all moody and introspective – never a good thing.

        The devastation of the Thirty Year’s War was far worse. But there weren’t newspapers trying to sell copy with pictures of suffering on the front pages back then. Ignorance can be a good thing, sometimes.

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    1. The second mass media war. The Great Powers, to their chagrin, realized all the lessons from the pilot-scale experiments of the American Civil War: Matthew Brady and his compatriots with photography, press pools and field telegraphy, general of the week, mass casualty reports, conscription, poison gas, siege warfare, blockades, etc. Their observers’ reports included a fair amount of condescension about the quaint colonials over here, but on further reading, there are some uneasy strains about machine guns, quick-firing rifles and artillery, etc. But it’ll never happen to them, well, at least after Prussia and the Germans are all one and now happy. Peace and Prosperity for All.

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      1. I was thinking of Stephen Crane and wondering “what about the United State’s civil war” but thought: well, local conflict of a backwater: did it count?

        Food for thought, from you both.

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