catslash: (Default)
([personal profile] catslash Nov. 11th, 2010 11:44 am)
So the great irony of today is that with classes having, of course, been cancelled in honor of Veterans' Day, guess which one of my classes is cancelled?

My World War One class, of course.

I've spent the semester reading literature about the Great War - autobiographical accounts, fictional accounts, poems . . . a lot of writing by a lot of veterans, some of whom went on to be fiercely pacifistic, and some of whom I'm not sure I can call veterans because they didn't make it to November 11, 1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Did you know that the armistice was signed sooner than that, but the fighting kept right on going and people kept right on dying because those in charge wanted Poetic Symbolism (and something that would be easy for schoolchildren to remember)?

Because of all that reading, I'm not feeling as solemnly sentimental as I'm supposed to feel. Mostly, I'm feeling angry. So I'd like to join in the posting of poems in remembrance, but the one I've chosen is a little different. It was written by Siegfried Sassoon, a British officer who fought memorably in the war even after his published declaration of his belief that it had turned into a war being waged for the wrong reasons. Sassoon lived through the war and went on to become an angry veteran and pacifist, and spent his life writing about it.

"At the Cenotaph"
Siegfried Sassoon

I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph:
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
"Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of the pride and power of being alive;
Men's biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace."
The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.

Sassoon was right. Today is the anniversary of the end of the war to end wars, but now we use it to honor countless men and women from the many wars that happened anyway. For myself, I will honor them by being angry that they had to fight at all.

From: [identity profile]

Mostly, I'm feeling angry.

This is how I feel every 11th of November. The war was a clusterfuck of arrogance and ill planning and outmoded thinking and because of that millions of people who didn't need to die died horrible, avoidable deaths.

Sassoon lived through the war and went on to become an angry veteran and pacifist, and spent his life writing about it.

Sass is one of my great heroes and favourite poets. I think I might post "The General" later.
ext_41681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

It's a shame that I just learned that Sassoon existed at all this semester, because he turns out to be the only poet I have discovered in twenty years whose body of work I can consistently connect with. I suck at reading poetry (too literal-minded), but Sassoon's stuff makes sense to me. I definitely want to read his other work, too.

From: [identity profile]

Whoa, I thought you'd read the Regeneration books? I'm not surprised that you haven't heard of him if not, though; I know WW1 poetry is a required class in UK A-levels but I also know WW1 is ... less of a big deal elsewhere? Erm. My favourites of his are The General and The Dugout (which makes me sniffly), and his relationship as a mentor to young Wilfred Owen while he was at Craiglockhart was ... whatstheword ... inspiring. Even if Owen did then go on to be fucking killed at the last hurdle.
ext_41681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

"Less of a big deal" is a good way to put it, in the States anyway. I don't remember discussing WWI much at all in high school, other than maybe the fact that it like happened. I didn't really learn anything about it until college, in a class I chose to take. Frankly, as far as the first twelve years of school go, we do well to cover the first couple hundred years of our own history and maybe some random ancient civilizations, nevermind anything else.

We read the first Regeneration book this semester, and I am absolutely dying to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy. I devoured the entire novel in a day, which I pretty much never do with assigned reading no matter how good it is.

From: [identity profile]

We are very good at ignoring large chunks of our own history (particularly the embarrassing parts; no mention of Cromwell's abuse of the Irish, nothing about us having to go fetch kings from the Dutch because ours had got too crazy and indolent, nothing about the Glorious Revolution, nothing about shitting all over India) and hitting key points for study over and over - I think we "did" Rome/Greece, Tudors/Stuarts, Victorians, and WW1/2 about five times and left almost everything else. We'd not have covered the fucking Civil War had it not been for my school being nearby one of the last Cavalier strongholds.

GOD YES. I have quoted the shit out of the second two in various places; I feel I should warn you that they are literally amazing and that The Ghost Road will probably make you weep like your tear ducts are broken.
ext_41681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

From what I recall of the American history classes I took, we spent about a thousand years on the Revolutionary War (focused on ourselves, of course, without much talk of the outside help we got - Eddie Izzard wasn't actually joking when he tweaked the American audience in Dress to Kill for not knowing who General Lafayette was), some moderate time on our Civil War, stuff about the industrial revolution, and then we ran out of time at around the turn of the century. I had to get to college to take a class that covered any of our history after like 1910.

I did take a high school class that spent like a month on the Holocaust. (I was sixteen. We watched Night and Fog. I am still scarred.) It was my English class, not history class, bizarrely enough. So that was like, the only exception to the general "nothing from the twentieth century" rule that seemed to govern all history-related teachings.

From: [identity profile]

The Blitz, Dunkirk and the Holocaust are - or were - covered in primary school here. Not in detail, necessarily, because I don't think we needed to be that freaked out, but the whole spiel about concentration camps and That Bloody Poem were firmly embedded in our heads by the time we were 12. Having said that I knew literally nothing about US history until I met Americans. ;)

From: [identity profile]

We are very good at ignoring large chunks of our own history

We had history textbooks which suggested heavily implied practically spelt out in glowing neon letters that the Gunpowder Plot was Almost Certainly A Total Frame-Up.

Ah, Catholic schooling...

From: [identity profile]

Eh, I thought there was a certain amount of truth in that? At least that poor Guido was definitely the fall guy.

From: [identity profile]

Oh, absolutely agreed that James and the authorities knew damn well what was brewing and (at the very least) had a hand in perpetuating it before orchestrating the big reveal. The book in question, though, all but said that Catesby & co. were innocently walking along in the park with nothing more on their minds than tickling furry kittens, before some complete stranger foisted several barrels of gunpowder on them, then ran away.

I appreciate that opinions differ as to the precise extent of the conspirators' involvement. I personally feel that the intent, planning, and a considerable portion of the execution was theirs.

(I'm a practising Catholic myself, so I'm not coming at this from a knee-jerk reaction of "bloody Papists". ;) )

From: [identity profile]

Couldn't agree more with your last paragraph.

I'm so glad you posted this. I've been seeing a lot of kerfuffle at various corners of the Net about how red poppies are really a neutral symbol which don't glorify war at all: people don't seem to realise that they were originally specifically intended to commemorate the Allied dead only, rather than all the fallen of war - an early design actually incorporated all the colours of the WWI Allied nations' flags - and how jingoistic In Flanders Fields and We Shall Keep The Faith actually are.

This year's RBL posters have been veering alarmingly to the pro-war side, and the South Cheshire Poppy Appeal was launched at a BAE Systems munitions factory (

Annoyingly, the Dad's Army episode Branded ( has been removed from YouTube. I really wanted to post the parts on my LJ for today.

All that said, I did wear a red and a white poppy today, in the spirit of remembrance rather than glorification.
ext_41681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

We read "In Flanders Fields" among a sheaf of other poetry for this class, and when you lay it alongside poetry by people like Siegfried Sassoon, it is positively hilarious. I had to read it twice before I could even decide whether it was serious or not. When I was forced to conclude that it was, I think I died a little inside.
ashen_key: (exceptional aural sensitivity)

From: [personal profile] ashen_key

Well, I think the poppy's symbolism has shifted somewhat in the last ninety years - whatever the powers that be MEANT it to symbolize, now it's remembrance.

Mostly, anyway.
ashen_key: (here come the rains again)

From: [personal profile] ashen_key

I like the simplicity of the Remembrance Ode (or whatever it is formally called), because it doesn't say anything other then 'we will remember'.

Which is, sadly, a load of bollocks, because people DO forget. And they do condemn. And then they go and repeat it all over again, causing untold grief, death, and pain, or they get all up in arms about how remembering is glorifying it and we shouldn't remember, shouldn't pay our respects to the dead and the surviving (well done, everyone who protested the Vietnam War - you got angry over the war, got angry at the conscription, and then turned around and spat at the poor young men who couldn't get out of being sent to another country to kill people. Logic, you fail) and argh, yes. I spend a lot of the year being angry about wars and things - and if anything, all my research in the military actually makes this worse - but yesterday, I felt solemn. Today, I'm back to 23rfwefksdf angry.
Edited Date: 2010-11-11 10:37 pm (UTC)
ext_41681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

everyone who protested the Vietnam War

I respectfully submit that not every civilian protester could have fit this stereotype, and would also point out that Vietnam vets protested, too.

You are right on about hypocrisy, though; there's so much noise made about respecting our vets, but then they get treated horribly in society and have a hard time getting benefits from the government that sent them to fight IN THE FIRST PLACE. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" ( is, contrary to popular assumption, NOT a patriotic anthem, but rather a Vietnam vet's experiences with this kind of thing. It goes back through history, too - one of the poems in my WWI class addresses the same problem.
ashen_key: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ashen_key

No, not all of them, no. I shouldn't have exaggerated to that extent. And I know Vietnam vets protested.

The protesting was and is fine: the backlash makes me feel sick when I read about it. And it caused/causes deep psychological harm to those already shaky from what they did and experienced. Which is where I get irrationally angry.

And, yeah, well done, governments. -_-
ext_41681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

Oh, yes, no doubt. The backlash I can't speak to so much, but there's another parallel in history - in WWI Britain, women were encouraged to hand white feathers to apparently-able men who had not enlisted as a way of publicly shaming them. This was, of course, a delightful experience for formers soldiers who had been declared unfit for duty due to shellshock and a host of other things.

In conclusion, some things never change. Which is, in its way, something else that should be remembered today. We can't ever change it if we let it be forgotten.

From: [identity profile]

I like this post a lot more than other ones I'm seeing today. It asks us to think without being offensive and that seems to be a hard balance to strike. I just felt that I needed to comment on that since so many other posts are making me feel alienated and upset.
ext_41681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

What kinds of posts are you seeing? I had been planning on making this one anyway, but really got prodded into it when like half a dozen in a row on my flist were the super-solemn kind I was talking about. I don't wish to condemn that kind of post - they're better than not bothering to remember at all, and everyone expresses things differently - but that's not where I'm at on this subject, and I wanted to say something else about it. I had a feeling I wouldn't be alone.

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags