14-18: Understanding the Great War
by Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker. Trans. Catherine Temerson
Hill and Wang, 2002
|Soldiers of the Great War|
From these pages I did pick up new facts of interest. Australia was the only significant belligerent not to adopt conscription. (For Ireland, a conscription law was passed but was never put in effect; no one in Ireland was drafted into the British Army.) Most armies were dominated by peasants, and countless war memorials listing the dead and tombs of the unknown arose in the wake of the Great War. Even in defeat German soldiers were hailed as the heroes who kept the enemies from their land. Hence was born the myth of the undefeated Reich.
The war seeped into every fabric of society, even reversing the progress in table manners as men stepped back to more primitive lives. The neat wars of the past between professional armies were replaced by total war as masses were inducted into the military and entire nations were channeled into support of the war effort. Civilians turned soldiers who had never fought before found themselves hating enemies they did not know, picking off perfect strangers and cleaning trenches of the frightened and wounded. What would they report about their service? Although uniformed personnel suffered most of the casualties, civilians found themselves bombarded, expelled from their homes and forced to work for their country's invaders. How do they reconcile their loyalty to homeland with their acts of self-preservation? How did the war affect the people's faith and how did men of the cloth and their flocks pray to the same God for help in killing their fellow men? How did individuals and nations assuage their grief and with what rituals did they conduct their mourning?
Authors Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker raise and try to answer these questions and more and thereby help readers appreciate why the Great War evolved the way it did and the impact it had, and continues to have, on the world to this day. At times they run counter to modern trends that characterize soldiers as innocents who recognized their shared humanity more than their national hatreds. The writing flows so well that I would not have known that it was a translation had I not been told. This is a book that makes the reader ponder the swirling passions and events of the Great War.
|Suffering Serbian Soldiers During Their Retreat|