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Tony Grist

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90 Years On [Aug. 4th, 2004|07:23 pm]
Tony Grist
This is the 90th anniversary of Britain's entry into the First World War. It's amazing, but there are still living veterans. Four of them were at the Cenotaph this morning. We heard their voices on the radio. One said he'd forgotten most of it, but people kept asking questions which brought things back. Another just simply said he'd forgotten. They were all over 100 of course.

Soon there will be no-one who remembers anything.

I was at the death-bed of a veteran who died in the 1970s. I'm afraid I can't remember his name. Like most old soldiers he didn't really want to talk about all that. One thing he did tell me was this. He'd been a dispatch rider and he had a memory of lying flat along the horse's back, riding hell for leather, while the machine gun bullets cut through the air above him. Zip. Zip. Zip.

In the late 1960s The BBC ran a documentary series called The Great War. That's how I got my education. It was the first time that much of the now all-too-familiar footage had been widely shown; the boys going over the top and one of them falling (probably faked) the big explosions, the swollen bodies in captured trenches. It affected me deeply. It made me angry and proud. And it inoculated me forever against militarism.

It is one of the things I have always been profoundly grateful for, that I never had to wear a uniform.
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Comments:
From: acraein
2004-08-04 12:50 pm (UTC)
Against militarism or against war. National defense or obscenity.

Claiming that war is only ever for terrible purpose discounts so much history that all the dead of the world must surely be crying out from beyond.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-08-04 01:34 pm (UTC)
Against militarism- which is the glorification of war. I accept that there are circumstances in which war is a lesser evil.
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From: acraein
2004-08-04 01:50 pm (UTC)
In that case, I agree.

You know, I was a war refugee from Bosnia and I will forever be grateful to those men and women in "uniform."
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-08-04 02:15 pm (UTC)
Yes. Yes of course.

My son is a corporal in the British army. My feelings about soldiering are extremely complicated and conflicted.
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From: acraein
2004-08-04 02:56 pm (UTC)
War is our measure, of the best and worst in us.

Sadly, the public really, wrongly, thinks of the military as some bellicose bubble of conservative flavors.

Is your son deployed anywhere at the moment?

When faced with the Ultimate, I sometimes think of soldiers as modern political suicides. Death is their Ultimate form of protest, and respectfully so, as their Aim is to Protect and Defend. Holding onto that duty isn't always successful or pretty, but to some degree psychologically terrorizing.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-08-05 12:38 am (UTC)
My son served six months in Southern Iraq. I gather (though he doesn't care to talk about it much) that it was a horrible experience. His regiment is now in Cyprus.

He has been offered a job training raw recruits at the regimental HQ. Obviously the army thinks well of him- and I'm very proud of that.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-08-05 12:39 am (UTC)
I've read it! And yes, I agree with you, it's an absolute tour de force.
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2004-08-04 01:54 pm (UTC)
Me, too; yet if I'd been around at the time, I would probably have been campaigning vociferously for my equal right to don a uniform and get blown up...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-08-04 02:21 pm (UTC)
Well yes. One of the tragic things about WW1 was that at the beginning everyone (well, almost everyone) thought it was such a jolly good idea.

Rupert Brooke for instance,

"Now God be thanked who has matched us with his hour..."

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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-08-05 12:54 am (UTC)
In Peru, military service is required of all people of age. I am thankful that I am exempt from partaking in my duty to "home" and country, as I have very conflicted feelings on the subject, not only for the reasons you mention and those brough to light by recent global affairs, but also because of the state of complete and utter chaos in South American politics and military affairs.

My uncle was in the air force and died quite tragically on a mission for reasons that are to this day undisclosed. My grandmother, whose bother and father died in the revolution always asks whether his and many deaths of that time were necessary. I used to find the sentiment sad and feel very affected by it, but sometimes when I read the papers about matters in those parts, I cannot help but ask myself the same thing.

Conflict indeed.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-08-05 02:06 am (UTC)
It's horrible to think of any untimely death as meaningless. And so we dress up our national mourning for the war dead in uniforms and flags and favourite hymns and sentimental poems. We impose meaning. We hammer it home. I have always raged against this. The more we disguise the horrific reality the more likely it is that we'll make the same mistakes again.
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-08-05 08:44 pm (UTC)
I whole-heartedly agree there.
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