Reprinted from www.truthdig.com
When director-producer Peter Jackson's World War I film, "They Shall Not Grow Old," which miraculously transforms grainy, choppy black-and-white archival footage from the war into a modern 3D color extravaganza, begins, he bombards us with the cliche's used to ennoble war. Veterans, over background music, say things like "I wouldn't have missed it," "I would go through it all over again because I enjoyed the service life" and "It made me a man." It must have taken some effort after the war to find the tiny minority of veterans willing to utter this rubbish. Military life is a form of servitude, prolonged exposure to combat leaves you broken, scarred for life by trauma and often so numb you have difficulty connecting with others, and the last thing war does is make you a man.
Far more common was the experience of the actor Wilfrid Lawson, who was wounded in the war and as a result had a metal plate in his skull. He drank heavily to dull the incessant pain. In his memoirs "Inside Memory," Timothy Findley, who acted with him, recalled that Lawson "always went to bed sodden and all night long he would be dragged from one nightmare to another-often yelling-more often screaming-very often struggling physically to free himself of impeding bedclothes and threatening shapes in the shadows." He would pound the walls, shouting "Help! Help! Help!" The noise, my dear-and the people.
David Lloyd George, wartime prime minister of Britain, in his memoirs used language like this to describe the conflict:
" [I]nexhaustible vanity that will never admit a mistake " individuals who would rather the million perish than that they as leaders should own-even to themselves-that they were blunderers " the notoriety attained by a narrow and stubborn egotism, unsurpassed among the records of disaster wrought by human complacency " a bad scheme badly handled " impossible orders issued by Generals who had no idea what the execution of their commands really meant " this insane enterprise " this muddy and muddle-headed venture. "
The British Imperial War Museum, which was behind the Jackson film, had no interest in portraying the dark reality of war. War may be savage, brutal and hard, but it is also, according to the myth, ennobling, heroic and selfless. You can believe this drivel only if you have never been in combat, which is what allows Jackson to modernize a cartoon version of war.
The poet Siegfried Sassoon in "The Hero" captured the callousness of war:
"Jack fell as he'd have wished," the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she'd read.
"The Colonel writes so nicely." Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. "We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers." Then her face was bowed.
Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He'd told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he'd been so brave, her glorious boy.
He thought how "Jack," cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he'd tried
To get sent home; and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.
Our own generals and politicians, who nearly two decades ago launched the greatest strategic blunder in American history and have wasted nearly $6 trillion on conflicts in the Middle East that we cannot win, are no less egotistical and incompetent. The images of our wars are as carefully controlled and censored as the images from World War I. While the futility and human carnage of our current conflicts are rarely acknowledged in public, one might hope that we could confront the suicidal idiocy of World War I a century later.
Leon Wolff, in his book "In Flanders Fields: The 1917 Campaign," writes of World War I:
It had meant nothing, solved nothing, and proved nothing; and in so doing had killed 8,538,315 men and variously wounded 21,219,452. Of 7,750,919 others taken prisoner or missing, well over a million were later presumed dead; thus the total deaths (not counting civilians) approach ten million. The moral and mental defects of the leaders of the human race had been demonstrated with some exactitude. One of them (Woodrow Wilson) later admitted that the war had been fought for business interests; another (David Lloyd George) had told a newspaperman: 'If people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don't-and can't know. The correspondents don't write and the censorship wouldn't pass the truth.'
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