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Monday, February 6, 2006

Smug ‘n’ Corny

Posted by on February 6 at 18:06 PM

I’m not one of those assholes who likes to dig up old-timey quotes and throw them around in a “history repeats itself” kind of way — it’s usually obvious and smug and incredibly corny. That said, I’m about to break my own rule. I was revisiting some texts from my fave war (World War I - HOLLA!!) and I came across Siegfried Sassoon’s “A Soldier’s Declaration” (published as an open letter in The Times in 1917):

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this War should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the War, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.


The parallels between the Great War and our current debacle are beyond tenuous, but the subsequent frantic political sandbagging is what makes Sassoon’s declaration interesting.
The British government first tried to court martial him (that means possible execution!), but decided to forgo the bad press and have him declared mentally ill instead. Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart hospital in Scotland, where he was treated for shellshock and became both a middling poet and a big, flaming homo.

Sassoon (center) and pals

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Holy shit, that dude on the right. Dior Homme is gagging right now.

There's a fantastic book about Craiglockhart and some of its inmates during WWI, including Sassoon and Wilfrid Owen, called Regeneration, by Pat Barker. Some of the ways psychiatrists tried to 'heal' homosexuality are pretty disturbing.

You think that has an eerie resonance? Go to this library of congress web site and type "Pershing's Crusaders" in the search engine with an exact phrase match:

The Stranger should put THAT image on its cover.

Try the following:

The Great War and Modern Memory
by Paul Fussell,
Oxford University Press, 1975
ISBN 0-19-502171-1

This is a study of the literary
rememberance of World War One
primarily via the British
perspective. There are extractions
and study of the works of poets such as Wilfred Owen, David Jones, etc.,
as well as diarists and writers like Sassoon, Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden.

Fussell describes the evolution of
modern English literature and thought
as molded by the experiences of
the War.

This book is well done and will give you far more insight and understanding of the Great War, Lindy.


P.S. Lindy, can you name the two fellows posing with Sassoon in the pic? J.I.

Wilfred Owen, we need you now...

"I would not say my friend,
with such high zest,
to those children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old lie;
Dulce es decorum est pro patria mori."

I bleive that translates as "it is sweet and decorus to die for your country".

Pat Barker actually wrote a glorious trilogy about WWI, the poets and the efforts of the British government to cure the "insanity" of the shell-shocked so they can be returned to the trenches.

The perfect quote to go with Lindy's
post, Longball. Perfect! Owen's
death was such a waste, and perhaps
in itself, a metaphor for the Great War.

Lindy, do you have any recommendations outside of Fussell you can suggest?

Lastly, thanks for your inital post
on the Slog, Lindy. I was so very pleased to read it and learn these
people and their writings have not been forgotten.


Sure - do you mean scholarly works or literature? It's been a while, but off the top of my head I'd start with Her Privates We by Frederic Manning, and the poetry of Isaac Rosenberg. As a couple people have mentioned, Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy is great, too.

Break of Day in the Trenches is an extensive WW1 blog with a ton of links and some new ideas about how we tend to sentimentalize the war.

Scholarly works, please!!
Thanks very much for the
referrals too.


Normally it bothers me when people say things like, "I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Great War poetry," but in this case it makes me want to do it to you forever.

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