Monday, July 28, 2014

A century ago, a whole generation was butchered and damned

Image via Der Wik
Shut up and pay attention: this is one of those important moments.  One hundred years ago, the Empire of Austria-Hungary declared war, which started Europe's slow suicide.  Four years and an hundred days later, the guns fell silent on the Western Front, after a whole generation was butchered and damned.

You are about to be bombarded with a maelstrom of history, which means Generals on horseback.  There's no worse way to learn what happened than from historians* - rather, you should listen to songs that sing the unwritten history that really matters.  As a public service, here is the Great War as a song cycle:

Act I: Man's essential humanity has not yet been suppressed:

The first is a song about the human feeling which had not yet been extinguished by the Powers That Be. December 1914 saw something unique in trench warfare: the Christmas of 1914 showed that the human heart still beat on the front lines:
All our lives, our family our friends told us it we were crazy.  Couldn't possibly have happened to us.  Then we heard your song on the radio and said "See? See? We were there."
That the ones that the ones who call the shots
won't be among the dead and lame,

and on each of the rifle we are the same.

Act II.  Futility.

So many men died for so little gain that this invasion day is a national holiday in Australia.  The invasion became a cliche of wasted effort and wasted lives, as this song captures in its full bitterness:

So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
and they sent me away to the war.


And in five minutes flat we were all blown to Hell.
Nearly blew us back to Australia

I see the old men marching, all tired stiff and sore.
The forgotten heroes of a forgotten war.

Act III.  Cynicism. 

What do you say to the dead?  Only the poets can answer.

But here in this graveyard it's still no man's land
the countless white crosses in mute witness stand
to Man's blind indifference to his fellow man
and a whole generation who was butchered and damned

 Act IV.  Wie sagst die auf Deutsche?

Just remember that "All Quiet On The Western Front" was written by a man with the nom de plume Erich Remarque.  His christian name was Erik Kramer.  He was a kraut, through and through.  Just remember, they bled the same color as we did.

Weit in der Champagne im Mittsommergrün
Dort wo zwischen Grabkreuzen Mohnblumen blüh'n
Da flüstern die Gräser und wiegen sich leicht
Im Wind, der sanft über das Gräberfeld streicht
Auf deinem Kreuz finde ich toter Soldat
Deinen Namen nicht, nur Ziffern und jemand hat
Die Zahl neunzehnhundertundsechzehn gemalt
Und du warst nicht einmal neunzehn Jahre alt

Ja, auch Dich haben sie schon genauso belogen
So wie sie es mit uns heute immer noch tun
Und du hast ihnen alles gegeben:
Deine Kraft, Deine Jugend, Dein Leben

Hast du, toter Soldat, mal ein Mädchen geliebt?
Sicher nicht, denn nur dort, wo es Frieden gibt
Können Zärtlichkeit und Vertrauen gedei'n
Warst Soldat, um zu sterben, nicht um jung zu sein
Vielleicht dachtest du Dir, ich falle schon bald
Nehme mir mein Vergnügen, wie es kommt, mit Gewalt
Dazu warst du entschlossen, hast dich aber dann
Vor dir selber geschämt und es doch nie getan

Ja, auch Dich haben sie schon genauso belogen
So wie sie es mit uns heute immer noch tun
Und du hast ihnen alles gegeben:
Deine Kraft, Deine Jugend, Dein Leben

Soldat, gingst du gläubig und gern in des Tod?
Oder hast zu verzweifelt, verbittert, verroht
Deinen wirklichen Feind nicht erkannt bis zum Schluß?
Ich hoffe, es traf dich ein sauberer Schuß?
Oder hat ein Geschoß Dir die Glieder zerfetzt
Hast du nach deiner Mutter geschrien bis zuletzt
Bist Du auf Deinen Beinstümpfen weitergerannt
Und dein Grab, birgt es mehr als ein Bein, eine Hand?

Ja, auch Dich haben sie schon genauso belogen
So wie sie es mit uns heute immer noch tun
Und du hast ihnen alles gegeben:
Deine Kraft, Deine Jugend, Dein Leben

Es blieb nur das Kreuz als die einzige Spur
Von deinem Leben, doch hör' meinen Schwur
Für den Frieden zu kämpfen und wachsam zu sein:
Fällt die Menschheit noch einmal auf Lügen herein
Dann kann es gescheh'n, daß bald niemand mehr lebt
Miemand, der die Milliarden von Toten begräbt
Doch finden sich mehr und mehr Menschen bereit
Diesen Krieg zu verhindern, es ist an der Zeit

Act V.  You have no idea.

Remember, they were young once.  Full of dreams and ambition.  And then the whistle blew, and it was over the top ...

And then it was over, with the armistice. And yet it wasn't.
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
will you come a waltzing, Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the Billabong.
Will you come a waltzing, Matilda with me?

* That's a hard thing to write given that Dad was a historian, but he would be the first to agree with this post.  He had a different three songs, but those were from the Vietnam War, and the cycle of awareness that captured the American pubic from those artists. That was the inspiration for this post.  I think he would approve of this post.


newrebeluniv said...

I disagree. Artists are every bit as useless as historians in chronicling war. In many cases, they are worse since they tend to be illiterate in terms of history and so they overemphasize their own experience and ignore the larger context.

Old NFO said...

Well done, and to each his own. Spent the day yesterday at the Marine Corps Memorial. Quite the brutal reminder of those days...

newrebeluniv said...

But the worst of them all are self-serving generals who write books after the fact about how they made the real difference.

Comrade Misfit said...

World War I, especially the British propaganda during it, was a contributor to the Holocaust. Because all of the stories of Belgian nuns being raped and orphans being spitted on German bayonets were fabricated and everyone, by the 1930s, knew it.

So when stories started coming out of concentration camps and mass murder, few believed them.

Chickenmom said...

Thank you, Borepatch...

Chris said...

I have always been interested in military history. One of the papers I wrote in ROTC was about gas warfare in The Great War. My research into that war made me physically angry (and this was when I was a conservative, not the libertarian anarchist I am today).

The hubris and strutting venality of most of the generals made me wish for a time machine, so that I could go back and kill them. Casually sending tens of thousands of men to useless deaths is just sick. What's worse is that many (often the French) generals would blame the failure of their abysmally stupid tactics on a lack of determination or spirit among the men charging into machine gun fire.

One of the first lessons I learned in the Army was, "Nothing is impossible to the supervisor who doesn't have to do it himself." This applies in all endeavors, public or private, and throughout history, as far as I can tell. But only in war does this attitude get large numbers of people killed.

Goober said...

Chris - the best thing Pershing ever did was tell the Brit and French generals to sod off when they demanded to have American troopers under their command.

TO a general who would send his own men to be slaughtered like cattle, someone else's men must have looked awfully attractive.

ASM826 said...

And your Father's songs? Can you share them and why they were significant?