Thursday, 9 September 2004

all quiet on the western front

I have been reading All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, this week. I was particularly struck by one quote:

"The summer of 1918 is the most bloody and the most terrible. The days stand like angels in blue and gold, incomprehensible, above the ring of annihilation".
I have come away from it with a real sense of the futility of conflict. Whatever we do and however we act, the days pass and the seasons flow by, regardless. Apparently the Nazis saw the book as 'defeatist' and were burning it in Berlin by 1933. Remarque became an exile until his death in 1970.

The absolute horror of it all - the mud, the shelling, the exhaustion, the sheer pointlessness of it - is slowly being relegated to history. From a 'war to end all wars' that was part of the memory of people all over the world it has become something that lives only in literature and handed down stories.

For example, from B's Aunt Kate, who's siblings had a terrible time growing up in the twenties and thirties. Their father was a violent alcoholic. But she remembers being told by a neighbour that before he went to war, he was the most sought-after man in the area by all the girls. His experience in the trenches had damaged him irrevocably.

Or my grandfather, who drove one of the early tanks. I can just about remember him, including the fact that his ear was deformed. The tank had caught fire with him inside it and he had been terribly burned. And had then had experimental plastic surgery. When he was dying, he started hallucinating that he was back in the trenches and the rats were eating his boots.

If the experiences of the individual in war are so terrible - both for the soldier and for the civilian, why do we keep doing it? I don't have any answers or a clever political argument. But I tend to agree with the person who said that anyone who wants to rule should automatically be disqualified from doing so.

I am going to re-read
Goodbye to All That next.

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