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James Martin, SJ @JamesMartinSJ
, 14 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
For #ArmisticeDay100: After graduating from college, I found myself reading dozens of books about the First World War, and becoming completely engrossed with the topic. This reading journey began after reading Paul Fussell’s magisterial book “The Great War and Modern Memory.” 1/
In this astonishing book, Fussell painstakingly examines the literature that was written during, and came out of, the “Great War” and makes the claim that our modern sense of irony and cynicism dates… 2/
…from the experiences of soldiers who were expecting a traditional, romantic war--the kind they had read about in books and poetry--and instead were faced with a brutal, appalling, mechanized one. 3/
Afterwards, I read memoirs like Robert Graves “Goodbye to All That,” Siegfried Sassoon’s “Memoirs of George Sherston,” David Jones’ “In Parenthesis,” and the poetry of Wilfrid Owen and Rupert Brooke, among other writers… 4/
…and then spent time with World War I films and fiction like R.F. Delderfield’s “To Serve Them All My Days,” about the experiences of a WWI veteran who finds healing through teaching in a boarding school. (Made into a beautiful series that aired on PBS.) 5/
Fussell asserts that the stupefying shock of war’s reality, as compared to what the public had been led to believe, moved literature from a stance of romanticism, like that of Hardy, to more realistic and cynical stance as found in the work of writers like Hemingway. /6
And the contrast between the often false public relations (publicity) about the war from governments compared to armies’ experiences in the trenches was incomprehensibly vast. (Fussell makes the same point about World War II in his superb book “Wartime.”) /7
But Fussell made a much more deeply person point (the author had himself seen action in World War II): soldiers were in every conceivable way (physically, psychologically, spiritually) utterly unprepared for what they encountered: the first mechanized war. 8/
Rather than the lyrical poetry like Horace’s “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (“Sweet and proper to die for one’s country”), their experience was better characterized in stories of agony and gore, irony and cynicism, from real-life soldier-writers. 9/
Wilfred Owen called Horace’s words, in a poem by the same name, “the old lie.” He was killed in action on November 4, 1918. 10/
Even painters who tried to portray the fighting realistically, including ones as talented as John Singer Sargent (here, with “Gassed”), failed miserably in the face of the reality of the new war. 11/
The reality was indescribable, hellish: months in filthy, stinking, disease-ridden trenches; mowed down by machine guns; gassed by unseen enemies; watching the corpses of your friends rot before you day by day; flies; rats; terror. And then, for many who survived, PTSD. /12
It moved me deeply as a young man, and still does, to think of the millions of soldiers who not only died in this brutal way but died in this completely unexpected way. I can’t imagine the terror and shock. 13/
Today, pray for all those soldiers who volunteered selflessly and gave their bodies, and their lives, for others. Pray that we will never glorify war and that we will never underestimate the terrible cost that it always inflicts on humanity, and individuals. 14/14 #Armistice100
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