The Ghost Of World War One

Perhaps today is as good a day as any to talk about blood and blood guilt.

Pratchett was right that once you get really far deep into any religion, any myth, any legend, any story that MATTERS, it’s always about the guilt and the blood.

The genius of the averted sacrifice of Isaac is that – and those who aren’t believers will forgive me, okay? Just assume there is some genius in the story, even if you don’t believe it happened. – humans learn only by example.  Saying “don’t sacrifice your kids, then m’kay” doesn’t work.   Even the Greeks, when the going got really tough reverted to human form, which is grab the nearest defenseless human being and sacrifice him/her so the angry/hungry gods, spirits, ghosts, creatures of the night will be happy and leave us alone.

No, I actually have no idea why that is built into our psyche.  I mean, as Ori mentioned in the comments, the paleolithic “envy is good” thing actually made sense in a very small group of humans or hominines or whatever they’re calling it these days.  If one of you gets all the food, someone is starving.  (Though even in that situation there are reasons someone should/would eat more.  But never mind.)

Where the “things have gone pear shaped, let’s kill someone to stop it” makes less sense.  Unless, of course, the someone you are killing is responsible for the tensions in some way, or you can convince yourself he or she is.

Which bring us to blood guilt and World War One, because Christmas Eve or not, I’m not going to get in religious arguments in the comments.  (You’ve been warned.)

So we’re going to talk about World War One, which in a way is TOTALLY traditional, because for your information it was traditional to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve.  (And all through winter I tend to bop around the house listening to my audible editions of Agatha Christie’s Mr. Quin tales – ghost stories – while waging merciless war on the dust bunnies and chasing the cats with the vaccum. [Well, THAT’s what they think I’m doing.])

If you prefer I start again (Should I come in again?) it could go this way:

There is a ghost haunting western civilization.  It is the youth of the early twentieth century, the fine flowering of the early industrial age.  I am told in certain fields in France, you can put in the plow and turn up human bones, and uniform buttons.

The enormity of it can’t be perceived by anyone of my generation, and probably – maybe – not even anyone of my parents’ generation, born during World War II.  Possibly, it can’t be understood by anyone who either wasn’t there, or didn’t read extensively about it.  (Which I have done.  And yes, I AM quite aware what I “know” is not a patch on the people who served.  OTOH what I know is quite enough to dip me head first in unimaginable horror.)

Let’s back up, shall we?  Let’s take the very long view (though the person who suggested fifty thousand years is unduly optimistic about our species’ survival, at least unless we find a better way, and more importantly our chances of understanding something that far off.)

Let’s take the view of backing up and up, away from our present troubles, and then look way back from– say —  two thousand years in the future.  Our present civilization, which is well nigh worldwide, comes from the fact that we’re descended from the BEST sorts of sons of b*tches.  Specifically, the Indo-European culture seems to have won out big time.  And part of this is because other people adopted their culture a lot, (we now believe that a lot of the people who became “Indo-Europeans” were not related by blood, they were just imitating) but this wasn’t done out of fluffy goodwill.  It was done because frankly not only could the Indo Europeans kick the butt of all their neighbors, (Chieftains were buried with maces as a symbol of their power.  Their power was, of course, the ability to crush people’s skulls.) no – they seem to have come up with a new idea.  They glorified the ass kicking in long spoken poem sagas.  The Iliad is a good example.  A more advanced form, mind, as the death, mayhem and glory seeking is less.. in your face than in the fragments surviving of the older examples.

Perhaps it is my professional deformation.  When all you have is a keyboard, everything looks like a story, or something.  Or perhaps it is the truth.  In one of those ridiculous “reading cravings” I get into every so often, I spent a good part of the last year reading what we know and conjecture about Indo-Europeans and their sweep through Europe.  No, I have no idea why.  Yes, there are things I would rather/should rather read, that are still sitting in a pile.  Sue me.  It’s the way my brain works, you know, like sometimes you simply MUST have that roast pineapple or something.  Sometimes I have to have books on something.  And sometimes I figure out why years later.  And sometimes… I don’t.

Anyway, perhaps it is my professional perspective leaking, but I think the extraordinary success of our culture was in telling stories to fit us.  To fit our expansion, to fit our conquering.  The saga-poems made other tribes want to join in.  They too wanted their share of righteous ass-kicking glorified.  (How much ass kicking?  Well, it always amuses me to go to New Age Stores and find Celtic this and Celtic that.  As far as we can tell, the Celts were as much cattle thieves as the Maasai (well, like the Maasai they seemed to believe all cattle belonged to them) but they also believed there was an inherent good to raiding/war/headhunting.  The niches in Celtic homes are believed to have been put there for displaying human skulls.  “You should see that one.  I caught it when…”  And when they weren’t at war with anyone else, they would go to war among themselves, because that would allow them to attain manliness and glory.))

So…  Manliness and power depended on spilling blood.  Sometimes a lot of blood.

But things changed.  We… tamed ourselves.  And the stories were part of it.  (And Christianity with its own set of admirable virtues was a great part of this.  Though the Romans and Greeks had made SOME steps in the direction of what we consider virtues.  Filial piety, as opposed to killing the old man and taking over was an ideal, for instance, even if more honored in the default, I think.  And before you attempt to throw things at me, I’m AWARE Greek and Roman Values weren’t exactly our own.  As older son put it after visiting an exhibit of Roman artifacts and every-day life-objects “Rome is like us and not like us in startling ways.  It’s like P.J. O’Rourke said about the Phillipines, more shocking that some utterly alien culture.  It’s like thinking that this person is your mother, and everything is fine, till you find mommy in the kitchen, in the middle of the night, eating live snakes.)

It took time.  This sort of thing takes a lot of time.  One of my favorite things about nominally Christian rulers in the Middle Ages is the way they’d put off being baptized until they were on their death beds, because then all their sins would be washed away.

The ideals changed humans and humans changed the ideals, until by slow progression we had the industrial revolution, with its printing press, its trains, its glorification of another type of – no less – manly virtues: protecting, taking care of women and children, creating wealth.

If “rulers” – leaders – in the nineteenth century had been buried with symbols of their power, it might have been a fountain pen and a watch.  Or rather, a lot of them were buried beneath symbols of their power – beneath statues of weeping women and children.  The feminists, who are almost as bad as communists at getting symbols, (they’re like the man who is afraid of dogs and who sees a dog in every ink blot) would  say that those women and children were the man’s possessions, symbolically buried with him, but truly, they have a tin ear for meaning.  The woman/women and children were the outward projection of his power  “Look, I can protect/look after this many.”

Helped, in large part, by the printing press, by the ability to disseminate stories far and wide and to everyone in society, the story of the vast Indo-European civilization, by then spread over much of the globe, even if in the position of conquerors, changed.  All of a sudden, the glorification wasn’t of our power to kick ass.  That had been demonstrated well enough, but now the story was about looking after other people.  Even when we invaded, we invaded for other people’s OWN GOOD.  (And btw some of it is still arguably so.  I mean, look, no, all cultures aren’t created equal, and some cultures would be better off eradicated.  No.  Really. YOU whistle past the graveyard if you wish, but any culture that enslaves women, kills people because of their sexual orientation, and which keeps their people mired in Medieval-levels of poverty does not deserve to survive.  Yes, they might make beautiful buildings.  And?)

So that was the logic of empire, and how Europe justified the righteous ass-kicking it was still inflicting around the globe.  “We’re bad asses with a purpose.”  “Yes, Indian culture is older than ours, but WE stopped suttee.” “Yeah, okay, we are getting this and that, but—”

The expansion and conquest had a price in blood and sometimes a high price on both sides, BUT it was against those people, over there, who needed to be saved from themselves.

Then came World War One.  To some extent, what made it horrible was that it was the result of an archaic survival, of doctrines and facts not quite meshing – trench warfare, who the h*ll came up with that.  To another extent it was, as RES has pointed out a family quarrel.  It was all about what Wilhelm said about our king.  To another extent, it was the result of the competition for markets, the change in value, the shift in power.  It was, in fact, a violent, convulsive, change in material culture, in how things are done.  (Which btw, scares the living daylights out of me, considering how fast we’re changing those now.)

Up until that moment, one power structure of the Indo Europeans remained in place.  The reason the leaders were leaders might have changed, but we were still led by the “wise old men.”  (Who, for the feminists benefit, were sometimes women.  Yes, even in pre-historic times, sometimes it was women buried as men and with the mace of power.  Yes, yes, sometimes the best man for the job is a woman and not being gender doctrinaires the ancients could see that.  Look you to the mote in your own eye.)

The stories were still about the wise old leaders.  If you read stuff from the nineteenth century you get the whiff of respect for years, for position, for learning.  It wasn’t so much our ersatz belief in the experts in whatever field but the “people in position to know.”)  (The final flowering of this was eugenics, and let’s not go there, shall we?  Yeah, there was a patriarchal structure, in the new patriarchy, where men not only ruled, but defended and protected.

And then…  And then the story failed.  Those we trusted, those in a position to know, sent waves of young men to be slaughtered for not much purpose at all.  They sent them to stack ten deep in death and to stink the air so badly with their rotting that everyone in the vicinity took up smoking to dull the sense of smell.  Worse, this was reported in papers all over Europe.  Worse, people could go to the front and back in almost no time.  Worse, yet, was the reports of German atrocities, a lot of it, at that time, made up to incite people to hatred and war.  (There weren’t as many nuns in Belgium as, reportedly, were raped by the German Army.)  It was all too big and too glaringly obvious.  After all, it’s not unusual (though it tends to surprise Americans) for Europeans to have relatives all over Europe, relatives who are nominally foreigners.  This was especially true in England with Germany.

It wasn’t the same thing as going and conquering them-over-there no matter how much for their own good.  These were people we knew.  This was, beneath the superficial differences, our own people.

The narrative collapsed.  It broke and shattered.  The veterans coming back from WWI and those who heard their stories didn’t believe the elders of the tribe knew better and there was an inclination to reverse it all.

The worm of Rosseaunism that had been biting at the edges for a while, the whole idea of the noble savage, took deep, deep hold after WWI.  “Let’s upend everything” became a “sane” cry.

Only it wasn’t.  Oh, yeah, patriarchal power can be thrown over.  We’re safer now than in the Neolithic.  We don’t need the big silver-back up front.  But… but we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.  We’ve thrown out the idea of honor, even when honor means “looking after yourself and those who depend on you.”  We’ve thrown out the confidence in our own culture.  We went looking for some mythical noble savage who was never there.  Back there, in that unthinking age, when reason is not applied, there’s only our cattle-thieving ancestors and their polished skulls of enemies, or cousins, or brothers if there’s no one else on whom to prove one’s manliness.  There’s only the ululating darkness where tribalism reigns and everyone’s hand is against everyone else.  And we’ve gone an awful long way towards that.

However, we’re still humans, still social animals, still designed for hierarchy.  So we’ve fallen into the rabbit hole of this sort of anti-hierarchy hierarchy, where greater power is given to those who claim (even while making d*mn sure no one unseats them) to want to “smash the establishment” and where greatest honor is given to those who hate their own culture and who glorify some mythical “other” who will never come close to their imagined greatness.  Power is attained by claiming a wish to commit cultural suicide.  And the sad thing is that some of these people actually mean it.

The story has come unmoored and is flapping in the wind, like a shroud.  The specter of WWI is haunting western civilization.  It’s time to lay the ghost to rest.

Western civilization was never a thing of tribe. From the beginning we’ve absorbed people of different genetics who wanted to adopt our customs.

We’re all of us humans descended from murderers, rapists and sons of b*tches.  EVERY ONE OF US.  But we, in the West, are descended from the sons of b*tches who told stories.  We’re descended from those who gradually convinced themselves it is not always right and just to smash the weak.  We’re descended from those who told themselves we should help the helpless.  We’re descended from those who believed in doing the right thing even when it hurt.

We’ve sold our birth right for a mess of modernism and post-modernism.

Metaphorically speaking, we’re the little kid screaming in the dark because he/she can’t face the blood guilt.

Let’s let go of it.  Let’s make stories about it.  Let’s make the horrible and largely senseless sacrifice of WWI the place to begin.  They died, yes, but let’s not build chaos on their graves.

In the blood soaked soil of Europe, and in the US to which Europe has offloaded a great part of their blood guilt (no?  Well, that’s another post) let a new idea flourish: the state, the state that considers the individual as nothing but a cog in a machine is wrong.  Let the individual count.  Let the individual come forth as the harbinger of the new age.  The new tech is suited to it.

Let’s start from the individual.  Let’s employ reason.  Let’s stop dreaming of the noble savage, the noble animal.  Let’s start as humans, flawed, wounded.  Let’s build from the flawed individual human, accepting we’re flawed.

Let’s build neither utopian schemes nor great individual-mauling bureaucratic apparatus.

The long night is gone.  The blood has been paid.  Let’s not go back there, to that yawning maw of irrationality.

The old is not necessarily worse.  The new is not necessarily better.  No one’s skin color/gender/age is proof of good (or evil.)  On the other end, some cultures are better than others: those that provide better living conditions, more wealth, better ability for individuals to survive.  We need to start making those distinctions again.  Those distinctions did not lead to WWI.  No, the old thirst for power, the old family arguments on who gets to be the leader of the clan did.  It was an old, old evil.  And not the same at all as the spirit of the age in which it occurred.

Which is why it fractured us.  And it’s time we understand that.

Let WWI rest in peace.  And come out of the dark.

150 thoughts on “The Ghost Of World War One

  1. I studied Germany history from German professors when I was working on my English Literature degree. Learning about WWI from professors who were babies during WWI and who had parents who were survivors of WWI was an interesting perspective. I was horrified– and am still horrified at some of the things that happened during that war. But I agree that we need to put that ghost to rest.

    If we can’t we will divide ourselves to pieces. I am not a person who trusts authority (especially since I have been through the military and a family who were of the first families of Mormonism — no offense to those here who are Mormons– but my experience was not good) or trust anyone who is striving for power.

    I would like to see more stories of people who come to the rescue of the helpless even at the risk to their own lives and property. (I finally got to see the Firefly episodes)– I would like to see more stories like that– Maybe if we can change the story from rapers of the earth and children, we can change our world to a better one.

    In the US military, a soldier has the right to reject an unlawful order; however, it ends up being a personal sacrifice of the individual who does it. In some cases they could even be charged with treason– so to “reject an unlawful order” the individual needs to absolutely it is unlawful and it is worth the risk, which is why you won’t see it happen very often–

    My point? It takes a lot of courage to change especially when you are in a structured society (military is very structured). So as we go into more and more structure– we will see less individualism and less creativity. I hope I am wrong.

  2. My uncle was gassed in WW I. He spent the rest of his very long life (85 years) trying to overcome what he experienced with drink and smoke and fighting. But, he was a good guy. He laughed easily, and taught his nephew (me) a bunch of thing I taught (well tried) to teach my kids.

      1. Heh. I had two paternal aunts who did the drinking and smoking part with much enthusiasm (no physical fighting though) and both lived to their 80’s too. Chain smokers, both of them, and the alcohol and cigarettes were usually the cheapest brands since neither had much money. About half of that family has been long lived, in spite of unhealthy habits. So it seems what you need to do is just to choose the right parents and grandparents. 🙂

        Me – we’ll see. Unfortunately my mother’s side is mostly anything but long lived, and since they were the ones with a weight problem, which I also have, I’m worried I may take more after them.

      2. He smoked Camels, same as me when I smoked. Don’t know what he drank, but whatever it was, it was a lot. During WW I he fought in France and Germany. The mustard gas didn’t kill him, neither did the smoke, or the drink. He died of old age according to my aunt.

        1. My maternal great-grandmother smoked a cigar and drank a water glass full of whiskey every night for more than 70 years. She was 106 when she died — of pneumonia. Them bugs, they’s killers, they is.

  3. I have often thought – from reading various histories of the late 19th and early 20th century that the various European powers (and a good bit of the population of them) were spoiling for a fight; especially Germany and France. They wanted to get tore in to each other in the worst way possible – and they did. And it turned out to be so unutterably horrible and not a bit of what they had expected. Then it spiralled out of control and drew in more and more nations, and the dominoes that started falling in 1914 – well, some of them are still falling.

    1. It was a family spoiling for a fight actually– Queen Victoria and her grandson Wilhelm II — Wilhelm II wanted ships cause he had probably figured out that that was why England was a super power. Queen Victoria blocked his dream (there were other factors of course). But this was why Germany under Wilhelm was spoiling for a fight– and got it–

      I agree about the dominoes started to fall in 1914–

      1. There’s a castle on the Rhein (Lahneck) that has a very LARGE painting of Queen Elizabeth II in one of the rooms. The owners (very German) were either first or second cousins of the British queen. It’s a nice, rather small castle that’s very pleasant to visit, if you ever get the chance. It’s at the confluence of the Rhein and the river Lahn.

        1. Well, when they needed to refresh the English Royalty– they went to the Schwabach or Schwaibach mountains for candidates. Can’t remember the actual spelling– was a long time I took the classes– So I am not surprised that some of the Germans have English ties–

    2. Everything was primde and just needed the right spark. Gavrillo Princip provided that spark…and changed everything about our world. From a purely historical prespective, WWI was more shaping about our world than anything since, for it was the start of the tsunami.

  4. Given that central Europe (Germany, much of the old Hapsburg Empire, parts of Poland) is still haunted by the Thirty Years’ War, that ghosts linger from WWI is not surprising. It is past time to exorcize them.

    Americans pioneered modern trench warfare (siege of Richmond, et al) and it appeared again in the Boer War, but the European military observers assumed that these were anomalies in war fighting.

    Celia, my German profs and British history profs talk about the years before WWI being like the feeling in the air before a thunderstorm – all tension and prickles as a generation of young men dreamed about the romance of battle and their leaders planned to settle matters left open (Franco-Prussian War, the fights between the Hapsburgs and Russians over the Balkans). We all know the rest of the story.

    1. My history professors said the same. I remember reading – or maybe it was in a lecture – that the European powers came so very close to war every couple of years over something There was a crisis about to come to blows almost constantly, and yet at the last minute, the crisis was averted … until the next time. And if it hadn’t been the murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 … it would have been something else.

      1. Part of this was little Villy tantrumming because the older kids were hogging all the neat possessions, part was the older kids refusing to acknowledge Germany was grown up.

        Part was also Bismarck’s use of the Franco-Prussian to unify the Bavarians, the Prussians and the rest into the German peoples. The fact that far superior arms made the war a laugher for the Germans and an embarrassment for France didn’t help.

        But a very great deal was the trauma inflicted on the continent by Bonapartism, another thing modern minds have to work very hard to appreciate.

          1. And with straining the seams of the Hapsburg lands. Something about “gee, why should we be loyal to them any more? They’re not Magyar/Bohemian/Polish/Moravian/Slovak/ us. We need our own country without any Magyars/Bohemians/Slovaks/Poles/Germans/Slovenes/Italians in it.” See 1848 for the second round of that little problem argument.

            1. I knew an older man (he is dead now) who was in Czechoslovakia at the beginning of WWII. They were still proud of being part of the Hapsburg Empire, but it was wearing thin– He slipped back in after the Russians took over and many of the families he knew had been killed and separated during the war. He came back over the border with his fiancee (sounds like an old war movie– a girl is always involved) and they went to the US. She had died when I met him– He worked as a photographer for this little newspaper in a little town in Utah.

              1. Most Americans are woefully ignorant about the enormity f the D.P. (Displaced Persons) problem at the end of WWII, not how the Western Nations and the UN betrayed them.

                1. An interesting side note– when we lived in Germany (almost ten years ago now) there was this old man who had PTSD so badly that he didn’t remember his name, address, or his life before WWII. He was one of the soldiers who walked back from Russia during the storms (and after they tried to conquer Russia). His mind was wiped clean. The Germans in our area would make sure that he was fed and clothed and had shelter. Sometimes he would disappear for weeks. When he came back he would be tattered and dehydrated. They thought he was reliving the march over and over. The man had lost speech as well–

                    1. Older type of shape shifter, maybe? A hybrid of the cursed by a bite and the wolf-skin belt with the family banshee story– when one of others on the march is going to die, he does the march again to walk their spirit home.

                    2. I wish I could write stories; I can only see their shapes, and sometimes get the idea across.
                      I’m working on it, but I don’t think I’ll learn the craft for at least a few decades, if I am able at all.

                    3. Play with it. You never know. It’s good to learn a craft while raising babies. Read Swain, it might show you the way. And if you’ve never done this read his other one too — creating story people.

                    4. It’s probably the “wrong” way to learn, but I’m working on a sort of serial-numbers-removed fan fiction where I know roughly what’s going on, and who’s involved. I just need to write something that isn’t clunky, and get it moving.

                    5. Hmmm, what if there was a family tradition of a defender, someone who agreed to take on (or who was selected by the clan) the powers of being a were? Wolfskin belt as a tool to help the change, like the “bear shirts” bearsark of other peoples. But no one anticipated the second round of the war would break out, or that he’d get sent East. And with the savage fighting there, his control over the shift is weakened and so he re-lives part of it over and over, especially in winter?

                      Anyone else, feel free to use any of this musing as story fuel. 🙂

                    6. Look Foxfier– if you can see the shape of stories (a lot of us started that way) then eventually you can write the story. 😉 Writing a story takes some training — as Sarah said– a lot of us got it from books– Swain is a good resource. I found that if I read about it and then try to put the elements together I learned faster– but each one of us learns differently.

                  1. During my first tour in Germany (1971-75), we lived in a little village (Engenhahn) north of Wiesbaden. Our landlady’s husband had been a prisoner of war in Russia. He was finally released — in 1957. He died in 1960. She died in 1978. The Russians still had German prisoners as late as 1987.

                    1. In the late 1990s (I think 1998) when I was in Germany (around Ramstein AFB) the Germans had finally gotten most of the German prisoners and their families; however, the Germans considered them Russians then even though they had citizenship. It was an interesting mess– Plus of course, the East Germans were trying to assimilate too– I met one of the East German guards when we had gone to Weimar (another old old man). He talked about spying on the American soldiers with binoculars. Plus he was pretty sweet and jovial– telling my hubby that they were both now on the same side–

                      It meant something to that old man– My husband told me that the East German guards were tough SOBs. My hubby was in Germany during the 60s after his tours in Vietnam.

                    2. Before I even knew what “world war two” was, I knew that my grandfather had guarded German prisoners after it, and that one of them was an artist. They were all technically Nazis, but the guys who really wanted to be were much higher risk.

                      My grandfather managed to get art supplies for the kid– the impression I got was that he was just a kid, anyways, little hard to get details into a preteen– and one of the prize bragging-rights of my uncle growing up was a picture of my grandmother holding him, by that German POW.

                      Made it much easier to get a mental grip on the “you’re an alright person, but we may have to kill each other” mindset that escaped a lot of my peers when it comes to that’s how war is.

                  2. Just after college I worked with an older nuclear engineer who was born in Germany, had been drafted into the WWII Wehrmacht and fought in Russia, managed to avoid being captured by the Russians, ending up in a POW camp in the British zone, was eventually released and made his way to the US in the late 1940s where he became a citizen just in time to be drafted into the US army and sent to Korea to fight the Chinese.

                    After Korea he looked around for the best way to avoid future drafts, settling on studying nuclear physics since he thought they’d never risk someone with that specialized education on the front lines.

                    One thing that man had plenty of stories about was cold weather.

                  3. Geezz– I just finished writing a 1,000 word story called “White Snows of Russia” about this guy (shapeshifter of course)– I am thinking of putting up on my blog if anyone wants to read it.

                    1. I haven’t felt like crying after writing something in a long long time. (usually after writing a good poem–makes me weepy, but not a story).

                2. In my country it was the Karelians. One of those instances when, maybe, I sort of approve of the Government taking something from some people and giving it to other people – all of the people from the areas Soviet Union took left and were then relocated around rest of the Finland, and part of that included confiscating land from the bigger landowners and giving that to Karelian families as small farms, and nearer towns for their houses (the owners did receive monetary compensation, and had some negotiating power, but it was still confiscation). My mother was a Karelian, and while her family was not among the relocated ones, she said there was some resentment towards everybody in her group for several years after the war even though most of the population seemed to accept what was done as nobody blamed the Karelians for not staying, most of them lost all when they ran, and most people seemed to agree that it was much better to do what was necessary to fit them in as soon as possible rather than go for something like refugee camps.

                3. My neighbors in 1947 were D.P.s. They would hardly talk to any of us. My mom thought they were stuck up (and if you remember what that means, you might be as old or older than me). But, I liked them. The lack of talk was probably their lack of English. After they left, another single D.P. moved in for a few months. He was a magician and I enjoyed him quite a lot because he practiced in the hallway between our apartments. The rumor was he had been famous in Europe before the war.

                  1. My dad used to tell the story he learned from HIS dad about a German prisoner of war near where I grew up that would “escape” two or three times a week. The MPs always knew where to find him — he’d go to the local bar, where he’d talk with the townspeople about the war. He’d been captured in North Africa by the Americans shortly after the Torch landings. He was repatriated after the war, but his home was in East Germany. He managed to smuggle his wife and young child out. After that, he moved back to the United States, to a small town north of Alexandria, LA. I met him a couple of times — a very interesting character. Unfortunately for me, my dad had been in Bastogne, and was part of Patton’s army that ended up in Plzen, Czechoslovakia when the war ended. He had no love for anything German. We were in Germany three times and England once. Mom came to visit, but Dad refused.

                    1. My grandfather was on the Pacific side of the war so he had the same aversion to Japanese, but didn’t have the aversion to the Germans. I think it was who you fought– My father was stationed in Japan and I was also– My grandfather couldn’t say anything good about Japan, so he was very circumspect about what he said–

                      My hubby and I went to Bastogne because my hubby knew someone (in one of his units) who had been under Patton’s command. It was interesting–

                    2. My adopted Grandfather was at D-Day, Market Garden, and Bastogne. He gets along great with individual Germans, but can’t stand them in groups. Says once you reach a critical mass, they go nuts. He’s been to Germany a few times but flat out refuses to return to Bastogne, and hates snow. I’ve never asked him about Japanese.

                    3. My father doesn’t have a bad opinion of Germans, because he was in the Pacific fleet in WWII. He doesn’t like Japanese, though, and once walked out of a car dealership because the salesman told him the car he was looking at had a Japanese engine, after saying something to the effect of, “I fought them in WWII, I don’t want to buy anything from them.”

                    4. It’s true about the critical mass. We were invited by our landlord to go to a rally after a big win by one of their soccer (football) stars. It turned into a huge entity. I could see how they could start wars —

                      Also Germans are big into a groups. If you like to knit, then you are in a knitting group. If you like to swim, you are in a swimming group– They have groups for everything–

  5. Chasing dust bunnies is such a female obsession. In a bachelor’s pad we allow them to grow into full blown wer-rabbits. Looks not unlike an obese tribble except that it spends its time in the company of bottle caps, corn chips and lost change . . .

    The western idea that individuals matter was a huge philosophical break with tradition. In most cultures of the past, and still in some today, the individual has always been expendable when it comes to the survival of the family, tribe, or larger collective. You will also notice that it was the Indo-Europeans who came up with the idea of bestowing a personal first name on the individual. Prior to this custom people were known by some kind of descriptive moniker (Runs like a Deer), or their job title (Potter, Tanner, and Cooper which now serve as surnames), or their relationship with the family or tribe (Sven-son or Abu Mohammad).

    What I’m trying to say here is that the recognition of individual value is evolutionary with metaphysical implications. Humans are the only species that come equipped with a sovereign will and a unique personality (Animals have characteristics that people like to equate with personality, but they are in fact merely behaviors.). What is “personality” and where does it come from? Why are no two people in the world exactly alike? Is personality a reflection of our spiritual essence? If so, what are the implications if we wish to build a truly progressive civilization?

    1. Sorry but– animals who have become companions to humans do develop personalities (not just behaviors)– I agree that in the wild behaviors are more survival oriented than personalities so animals with personality probably die earlier– the rest? –an interesting observation —

      1. Time machines.

        BUT he’s right to an extent. Even in Portugal, even now, you “belong” to your family. (That is the term for being related, btw. It’s hard to think around such constructs. Tribalism.)

        1. That’s also quite frequent among descendants of Scottish immigrants. You “belong” to your clan, no matter how far removed you are from it. It’s common to “belong” to a family here, although the ties aren’t quite as restrictive. I’m the black sheep of my family because I moved away and have no intention of moving back, I’ve had too many “foreign” adventures (and not just in other countries), and my family isn’t all blood-related. Oh, well, their loss.

          1. Yeah, me to. I moved away, and eventually one cousin and my parents followed, but they go back to visit family all the time. I get calls from family and they always say, “you should come visti.” I tell them I left there for a reason, and I’m not interested in going back, but the road is a two-way road, they can come visit me just as easily as I can go visit them. Interestingly only one or two have ever took me up on the offer (and not the ones that would bug me to ‘come visit’)

      2. This is a hard one to sort out because the Middle East is a crossroads between Asians, Europeans, Africans, and Semites. The Iranians (Persians) share the same linguistic family with Indo-Europeans, but the Hebrews and Arabs do not. The last Egyptian dynasty was Greek (Ptolemy), as were all the successor states following the demise of Alexander’s empire. By 300 BC things were pretty mixed up.

      3. How quickly did it propagate to get to Gilgamesh and Pharoah Cheops?

        As far as I can find, we don’t know what the name “Gilgamesh” means, while “Khufu Khnum” is thought to mean “the god Khnum protects me.”

        Some names with meanings:
        Emanuel- “God among us.”
        Jesus- “God Saves.”
        Gabriel- “God is my might.”
        Michael- “Who is like God?” (question mark in original meaning)
        Raphael- “God has healed.”
        Mary- “Wished-for child.” (well, one of the possible meanings; given the most famous Mary had a rather remarkable conception, I prefer that meaning)
        Amy- “Lovable.”
        Amanda- “worthy of love.” (Always liked that slight difference, ever since I found out that St Amandus had nothing to do with St Aimée, even though both names involve the word “love.” Very telling difference.)

        Long way of saying: having a description-name doesn’t mean they’ve got an I-am-an-individual type name, even with I-am-an-individual type name examples.

        1. That names have meaning doesn’t imply they don’t also denote individuals. It is true that a lot of Semitic names are theophoric (-), but that does not mean they were a description.

          What person do you describe as “who is like God?” (Michael)? How can you describe a person as “gift of God” (Yehonatan -> Jonathan) when that statement is true for any person?

          1. Well, the first is an Angel who’s most famous for fighting another angel who wanted to take God’s place so the name is rather fitting…. As for the second, emphasizing that someone is a Gift of God is a description of sorts. Kind of like Chases Deer would apply to a lot of folks in general, but in that area only applies to the specific person. Name isn’t theirs.

            The point is that just because someone has a name we can point to doesn’t mean they were named as an individual in the same way that we are now, it may just be an identifier that we use the same way that we use names because, well, that’s how we LOOK at names.

            1. Given that there are many names even nowadays that have meanings, even if your claim about names is true, that names had meanings can’t prove it.

              1. Not my claim, I was just explaining that being able to rattle off names that either aren’t translated or we don’t know the translation for didn’t disprove Paules’ “descriptive moniker” claim, because names are descriptive monikers. Even my pseudonym is supposed to mean “not worthy of fear.”

                When you figure in that we know the ancient Egyptians would at least sometimes change their names when they took office….

    1. No contest. I knew the story, but that song and the video really hammer it home. Now I need to go blow my nose and wipe my eyes.

      Thank you.

      1. Among other sad things is this, the Great War was a lot less avoidable than we’d like to wish, and the things that made it a perfect civilization wrecking shitstorm were going to be true no matter what. One of these days…or years…I’m going to do an alternate history where the Huns do the clever thing and head east rather than west. It would still be a nightmare, of course, but not necessarily one that ruined us all.

          1. The Brits would probably still get into it, Ori, but without any real emotional committment and thus with the ability to pull out. But Russia would lose by fall 1915. France is knocked out by 1917 or so. We don’t get into it.

            1. No bolshevik revolution and no Soviet Union?

              Another what if, I think Mannerheim was asked to help the whites during the revolution, at a moment when his help might actually have made a difference. He refused because they weren’t willing to promise independence to Finland (if I remember that right, it’s been a while since I read about it…). I don’t know, if that really would have made a difference perhaps no independent Finland would not have been too high a price, even for us, in order to avoid nearly a century of Soviet Union. On the other hand I don’t necessarily have that much faith in the ability of Russians to manage their country in any sensible way, communists or no communists, they seem inclined to end up with some sort of dictators no matter what system they try. 🙂

              1. Some Russians that I’ve read argue that only a strong man (or woman) can rule Russia because it is such a chaotic state. Whether the current rule of Tsar Vladimir has any influence on that argument I can’t really say.

          1. Why shoot Moltke? For allegedly screwing up the plan? He didn’t. The plan was logistic nonsense from inception, a heap of fantasy piled upon wishful thinking piled upon sheer bullshit. Hint: When you can’t logistically support X troops in Y area, adding Z troops to Y area does not improve matters.

            1. Well, I was oversimplifying but von Moltke was, in most tellings of the beginnings of WWI, the one who told the Kaiser that the war plans were immutable.

              1. Yes, and popular myth masquerading as history tends to elide over the fact that Moltke was summararily overridden and the plans were changed, to the detriment of the whole.

                    1. Lawyers serve the same function in contemporary society that hired gunfighters served in the Old West.

                    2. You need gunfighters because the other guys have hired them. You need lawyers because the other guys have them.

                      A lawyer is generally useful, they only become truly hazardous to society when in oversupply (the little darlin’s will get into mischief) or used improperly.

                    3. The biggest problem with lawyers is that they get into politics, where they thing a law is the answer to everything. Sometimes the best answer to a situation is to do nothing, but it’s just not possible for a lawyer to respond that way.

                      I’m looking for a good, cheap adoption lawyer in Colorado Springs, if anybody knows one… It’s time the ambiguity in Timmy’s status was resolved.

                    4. Of course it’s possible. I practiced law and had zero interest in damned near everything the government was interested in or wanted to do, except insofar as I wanted government to take no interest in it or do nothing about it.

                    5. The problem isn’t with people who learn the law. The problem is with people who have little life experience other than law school and then the legal profession.

                    6. I have long argued that the problem with politics is an excess participation by the symbol-manipulating professions — law, advertising and yes, writing (although the peculiarities of writers rarely male them effective politicians) — as opposed to the concrete professions — engineering, plumbing, carpentry. A good lawyer can take a sieve of a case and make it hold water, a good plumber has to meet a different standard.

                      The one exception seems to be accountants, whose careers involve the manipulation of symbols but whose career success demands they balance their books. OTOH, the skill sets that make a good accountant do not seem of the sort to get them elected, while being a good lawyer (brief pause while everyone exclaims: A dead one?) or advertising executive tends to require the precise set of skills needed for politics: the ability to hand someone a crap sandwich on toast and make them happy with it.

                      Lawyers are a particular case, as the competition to get into law school and succeed once there tends to sort for Type-A personalities (Beloved Spouse, a lawyer’ offspring, would say Triple-A personality) and then the training exacerbates their worst traits. As Tom would admit, the training in the law tends to focus on developing both sides of an argument and learning to assert them forcefully. It also entails developing a precision of use of language that is useful in politics, depending on what the meaning of “is” is.

                      Note that the types of lawyers who appear to be successful in politics are often mediocre lawyers (at best – Joe Biden) although that may be simply an artifact of their preference for the lower art of politics than law. I am not sure to what extent we can reasonably measure the quality of politicians with law degrees — both Clintons, Biden, Obama, Nixon — as lawyers, especially as for many of them their work as lawyers had little to do with the law and much more to do with attracting clients.

                      It is also important to recognise that our American system still owes a great deal to British law, with its division between Solicitors and Barristers. While the distinction is less formal in the US, Litigators tend to be a somewhat different breed of lawyer, one perhaps more prone to going sour.

    2. Not clicking. I know that song and I need to keep my throat open, nose dry, and eyes clear since I have a singing gig in half an hour or so.

    3. My husband and I have seen John McCutcheon perform this song live. He is a very talented songwriter, even if his politics are too leftist for this company. May I suggest this one, also by him, for further proof of his ability.

      1. Lovely song. Still don’t buy his politics. Basically, any political position expressed in song is emotional rather than rational. His understanding of Islam is, shall we say, not especially borne-out by the behaviour of the Islamists.

        Wasn’t it Orwell who demonstrated that pacifists actively aid the war-mongers? In WWII German anti-war activists were ineffective in the extreme, while British anti-war activists, to the degree they sapped British will to resist, aided the Nazis.

        Such positions benefit aggressors in just the same way schools’ equal punishment of all participants in a fight do. After all, it is only a fight when somebody resists the aggressor. Don’t stand up to the bully, don’t protect the weak and there are no fights.

        1. I agree with you, Res. Especially about his take on Islam. They are the religion of peace. And by peace they mean everyone else’s abject surrender.

    4. I don’t count — I’ve heard and read this story enough times, it doesn’t affect me (except to think “They said we’d be ‘home by Christmas’; we should have thought ask ‘which one?'”).

    1. For whatever reason, socialist anti-war propaganda tends to leave me unmoved. Notice how McCutcheon finishes up with an argument for proletarian unity against the oppressor ruling class.

      I believe I learned of this event while in grade school, so seeing its manipulation in song and film renders it rather a bit offensive. As well, there are similar tales from the War of Southern Secession, Napoleanic Wars, the American Revolution and probably extending as far back as war itself.

      Aside from all that, it is a dang good song. Growing up in the Sixties I learned to enjoy protest songs without buying their message, such as this one:

  6. I watched it. It reminds me of something I saw when I was working in Europe. We were flying a supposedly super-secret reconnaissance mission in and out of Berlin. On one of the images was “Merry Christmas, 497 RTG”. That was in a secure portion of a Russian military compound in East Germany. The 497th was the outfit I belonged to, and which interpreted the imagery.

  7. I was fortunate to be able to hear my great-uncle’s stories of WWI direct from the horse’s mouth (we live long in my family). Amazing stuff. Especially since he was 2nd generation German (born in America, but spoke German at home) fighting *against* Germany in the American army. Didn’t bother him much. He did check up on family still in Europe, but he considered himself quite American.

    There is one story in particular, featuring a depressed lieutenant, courier duty, and THE Ratskeller in Berlin, that needs to be told in a fictional guise someday …

    1. Given that courier life expectancy was often measured in hours, the survival — indeed, surprising success — in that role of a young german artist helped (according to some historians) seal in him a sense of destiny, of being saved for a higher purpose.

      Of course, similar stories are told of George Washington.

  8. Hey, I’ve survived this long by the grace of God and the poor shooting of the NVA (or maybe it’s all the same thing?). I’m not a megalomaniac. Some people look for reasons to do what they want to do anyway, and usually find them.

      1. No war wounds, just excessive wear and tear in the course of my Air Force duties. As I said, the NVA either had terrible aim, or God intervened. I’ve only been in the one firefight — that was more than enough. I enlisted in the Air Force so I WOULDN’T be shot at… Then there was Panama (1968 ‘revolution’), Vietnam (70-71), and Germany (71-75,80-83, 87-89, and the Baader/Meinhof gang).

  9. Wilfred Owen wrote about this theme, back during WWI, actually:

    So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
    And took the fire with him, and a knife,
    And as they sojourned, both of them together,
    Isaac the first-born spake and said, “My father,
    Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
    But where the ram for this burnt offering?”
    Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
    And builded parapets and trenches there,
    And stretched forth the knife to slay his son,
    When Lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
    Saying, “Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
    Neither do anything to him. Behold,
    A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
    Offer the ram of pride instead of him.”
    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

  10. If the idiot Euros had bothered to pay attention to the American Civil War, WW1 would have resulted in a much-lower body-count; with the possible exceptions of mustard gas and airplanes, *everything* which happened in WW1 was in some way predicted by the ACW. But then, Europe was being run by inbred, senile old men….

    The Germans got lucky in 1870; the ineptitude of the French rear-echelon (most units arrived at the front behind schedule, or without supplies, or both), and the French command staff (for ex.: Mars-la-Tour), neutralized the French advantage in infantry firepower (the Chassepot being far superior to the Dreyse Needle Gun); about the only areas where the Germans had the advantage were in artillery (all-steel Krupp guns), and morale.

    If the USA doesn’t get involved in WW1, the Commies take over *everything* after Europe collapses in revolution in 1919. What needs to follow WW1 is the US saying “You assholes owe us in a way you can *never* repay — *we’re* in charge now. See this? It’s the Constitution. Read it; learn it; accept it; sign it; and shut the hell up.”

    “The War destroyed my generation — the one who didn’t die drank themselves to death. I went further….”
    [Capt. Elliot Spencer, _Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth_]

      1. No, no, no. People are mixing up the technical and tactical with the operational and strategic. Yes, you could find trenches at Petersburg, and mining, and mortaring. At Petersburg. You could also have found them at Port Arthur, 40 years later…but you could equally have found it, substituting ballistae or trebuchets for mortars, at any siege over the last 5000 years. All of those things were like WW I locally and tactically, because the defenses could be anchored on themselves or on relatively minor terrain features. There were no flanks that could be turned in other words. WW I, in the west, was different because it stretched across such a wide front and still provided no flanks to turn. That, however, was a function of several intermixed factors, among them sheer troops numbers and density such as had never been seen before, coupled with command and control methods that allowed them to spread out, coupled with the cheapness of field fortifications as opposed to the expense of the means to reduce them, plus sheer log factors…

        But note that on the eastern front all those technical and tactical things were also true, but the troop density for KM of front was not. That should tell you, it was troop density more than anything else, troop density not seen all along the “front” in the ACW, that dominated.

        The major thing neither the ACW nor the Russo-Japanese war could have told anyone, the KEY thing, was how to break through the front once it was established, stablized, and fortified. Why? Because no one ever really did it in either. That was something that took years and a lot of very smart people to figure out, the problem was so complex.

        1. In The Arms of Krupp William Manchester stated that it was superior artillery range AND superior mobility — use of railroads for artillery and troop movement — that allowed the Germans to so outclass the French army in the Franco-Prussian war. I take it that by WWI the French had managed to offset the German military’s use of rail?

          1. That neatly sidesteps that the Germans outnumbered the French about 2:1, while the rails generally failed, as they always have, for anything except getting troops to their assembly areas and fed there…but not far past there. In any case, yes, generally the French system and use of it, by 1914, was as good as the German and possible better.

              1. Be careful with that, Sarah; the offer’s been tacitly out there to Baen writers for over a decade, for anything that concerns war at any time or any place. Few take me up on it. Why? Because I wreck their ideas.

            1. In an odd quirk, that numerical difference is part of why the French made citizenship based on birth in France or in French possessions as well as by ancestry. If your parents were {other country} but you were born in France, you counted as French for conscription and education. Because the “Germans” under Bismarck were still trying to define exactly what “German” was, the government decided that citizenship would be based on blood line rather than birth in a particular place. Your birth location, however, still determined if you could obtain social support from that city or town, at least until the national social insurance programs came into being.

              1. I was referring more to the size of the field armies. In the FPW, the French army was only about half the size of the combined German armies, though France’s population was about 2/3s the size, give or take. By WW I the relative size of populations was about the same, France equaled maybe 2/3s or so of Germany, but the French actually managed to field about as many troops initially, thought ruthless application of conscription. If you look at Delbrueck’s History of the Art of War, he seems to have little to say other than that the bigger armies always win the battles. (Something that would surely have surprised any number of first class commanders.) I wondered about this for decades…and then it hit me, he was trying to use (often fraudulent and twisted) history to weigh in on one of the huge domestic political questions within Germany of the day: “Shall we or shall we not build a bigger army?”

                1. Now if you cite Hans Delbrueck you know I won’t be able to resist a Young Frankenstein quote…

      2. Would the Constitution have helped them? It is a work of genius, but like all laws it relies on people to implement it. Imagine Portugal was forced to accept our constitution – how well would it have worked?

          1. Culture trumps law. I don’t think General Napiers could have stopped suttee if he had to rely on Indian troops to do it either.

            The US had the great virtue of being, to a large extent, populated by a self-selected group. How do we preserve that now I am not sure.

  11. Just finished the your missive while listening to Cat Steven’s Tea for the Tillerman.
    Great juxtaposition of thought proking memes

  12. Back in ’07 my wife and I were touring NW Europe. There is an extraordinarily different feel to the cemeteries of Normandy and those of Ieper. There is a sense of sacrifice to accomplishment in the WWII cemeteries while the WWI cemeteries convey only a feeling of immense, uncountable loss to futility.

    Touring the Ieper surroundings can be very moving, but not in any uplifting way. Over and above the large number of formal cemeteries, the entire region around the town is basically an immense cemetery. A tour guide at one point pointed out a large warehouse space that had been recently built in the outskirts of Ieper and said that in excavating the foundation scores of remains had been found.

  13. The really horrible thing about WWI is that there was no villain. Sure, Germany was ambitious, but all the countries in Europe were ambitious. All the participants entered the war for honorable reasons. Austria properly wanted to put a stop to Serbian state-sponsored terrorism, Russia properly wanted to protect the minor Slavic states of the Balkans from Austrian aggression, Germany properly wanted to protect her ally from Russia, France properly wanted to honor her treaty with Russia and recover her lost territories, England properly wanted to protect Belgium . . .

    None of them were evil, yet they invented murder on a scale never before seen. That would shake anyone’s worldview. There was no Corsican Ogre responsible for the bloodshed, but honest, decent men.

    1. A pretty good argument could be made that France was the villain. They supported Serbia, even knowing the Black Hand was an arm of the Serb government. They seduced the UK into an alliance that was going to bring them in against Germany whether Germany came through Belgium or not. And, although they lied about it in the Yellow Book, they really started the chain of mobilizations.

      1. No one “seduced the UK…”. The rising element in Brit politics – young Mr. Churchill and his crowd – concluded that Germany would soon eclipse England in industry, science, and raw military (esp. naval) power…and take down the Empire. To prevent this they, in concert with France and Russia, who of course had their own imperial purposes, cooked up an encirclement and then sparked the tinder with the Sarajevo Hit via Russia’s Serbian catspaw. It never occured to Churchill and Co. that the resultant 30 Years War would destroy Europe, take down all the Empires, and mortally wound both the White Race and Western Civilization. No “villains” here; just severely flawed humans doing what they do.

        1. Disagree. Seduction in the form of first class diplomacy was at the core of the thing. I commend to you The German Wars by D. J. Goodspeed, a retired Canadian officer (infantry, IIRC, probably dead now) which lays out the sequence rather well.

            1. France was the diplomats before WWI and held their Peace Conferences there (they still consider French the language of diplomacy). When you read what they got the representatives to do before WWI (and after the Napoleonic Wars), It reads like seduction–

    2. Germany went into the war for extortion. The reason they went into debt was that they figured they could compel the losers to pay “reparitions.”

      1. Preposterous. Germany went into the war out of sheer terror of being overwhelmed by France and Russia combined. That is why they adopted the desperate Schlieffen Plan (which, yes, revisionism aside, was a plan – a poor one – and was properly attributable to Schlieffen). That they later may have thought they could be made whole via reparations is not the same thing.

  14. My future great-uncle was a Kiwi who survived Gallipoli [go look it up, it was a seriously farked up mess]. Attaturk wrote a beautiful tribute to the men who had died on both sides. Here’s my photo of the memorial.

    Tribute from the Turkish to the brave foreign fighters

    1. Gallipoli was, indeed a ‘seriously farked up mess’, something else on the negative side of Mr. Churchill’s legacy. Not only was it stupid (attacking a beach with a cliff on all sides, with no viable way up [although the Aussies and Nzeders made it to the top twice, but were forced to withdraw from lack of support], with artillery in the hands of your enemies at the top), it drained resources Britain seriously needed to break out of the trenches. The one thing it did accomplish was deprive the Ottoman Empire of its possessions in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and break their stranglehold on Egyptian development after WWI. We’re still living with the mess the Brits and French made of the Middle East map, creating nations from tribes that hated each other, reducing the power of one tribe while enhancing the other, allowing colonization of northern Africa, and not being firm enough in backing some of their own government’s rulings (Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia, et. cetera.).

      1. The troops at Gallipoli wouldn’t have been enough to break out of the trenches. No practical number would have been until one side or the other was physically or morally exhausted, or some technological solution (tanks, for example) or philosphical solution (infiltration tactics and feurwalze, for example) or both or all three had been realized. Gallipoli was a badly mishandled waste, mind you, but it wouldn’t have changed the war in France, Italy, or Russia if it hadn’t happened.

  15. FWIW this is a fascinating WW1 related blog. Right now it is mostly discussing what happened 100 years ago. I.e. the 2nd balkan war of 1912

    Longer term, it has always seemed to me that the British Empire’s big mistakes were allying with France and promising to support the Belgians. It should have let the continent sort itself out while Britain handled the rest of the world.

    1. Another point of view is that WWI was the third or fourth balkan war.

      It was Winston Churchill who I believe said that the Balkans create more history than they can consume.

      1. Among other delightful quirks, the Balkans used to be the only place where the Orthodox Church, the Western Church (R. Catholicism), and Islam directly touch.

  16. Parable of the Old Man and the Young, by Wilfred Owen

    So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
    And took the fire with him, and a knife.
    And as they sojourned both of them together,
    Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
    Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
    But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
    Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
    and builded parapets and trenches there,
    And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
    When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
    Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
    Neither do anything to him. Behold,
    A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
    Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

    1. Note the use of the name “Abram.” In the original story, he is already Abraham.

      “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee.”

      This should be a broad enough hint for this story, and the suggested replacement story.

  17. A WWI quote:

    ‘Regret to inform you Captain E. H. Brittain M.C. killed in action Italy June 15th [1916]’.
    ‘No answer,’ I told the boy mechanically, and handed the
    telegram to my father, who had followed me into the hall. As we went back into the dining-room I saw, as though I had never seen them before, the
    bowl of blue delphiniums on the table; their intense colour, vivid, ethereal, seemed too radiant for earthly flowers.
    Then I remembered we should have to go down to Purley and tell
    the news to my mother. […]
    Long after the family had gone to bed and the world had grown
    silent, I crept into the dining-room to be alone with Edward’s portrait.
    Carefully closing the door, I turned on the light and looked at the
    pale, pictured face, so dignified, so steadfast, so tragically mature.
    He had been through so much–far, far more than those beloved friends
    who had died at an earlier stage of the interminable War, leaving him
    alone to mourn their loss. Fate might have allowed him the little,
    sorry compensation of survival, the chance to make his lovely music in
    honour of their memory. It seemed indeed the last irony that he
    should have been killed by the countrymen of Fritz Kreisler, the
    violinist whom of all others he had most greatly admired.
    And suddenly, as I remembered all the dear afternoons and
    evenings when I had followed him on the piano as he played his violin, the sad, searching eyes of the portrait were more than I could bear, and
    falling on my knees before it I began to cry ‘Edward! Oh, Edward!’ in
    dazed repetition, as though my persistent crying and calling would
    somehow bring him back.
    — Vera Brittain, “A Brother’s Death in Italy”, _Testament of
    Youth_, 1933

    1. Okay, so Imagine that everyone in, say, France had the courage to tell the state, “no.” What happens? I mean besides that the Germans overrun France and this time decide to extinguish it as a country, a culture, a language, lest they have to go through all of this crap again…

      Oh, you mean everyone in the world saying no to the state? And the odds of this happening were…??? And knowing that those odds were essentially nil people should still have said “no” even though it would have meant the crushing or extinction of their own countries?

  18. My grandfather somehow got into the war in March, 1918. That was odd, because he didn’t volunteer, he was married and already had two children, and he was a farmer. Yet somehow he ended up in uniform. He ended up training others to handle mules, in Georgia, I think. He was discharged on November 14, 1918, the Army no longer having a need for muleskinners.

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