Monday, November 10, 2008

Commemorating horror without pride

There are two ways of looking at commemorations of warfare and related events.

• First approach. You sanctify proudly all those on your own side, be they winners or losers. This will then allow your national leaders to ramble on mindlessly about their "pride" in the sacrifices of their fellow countrymen.

• Alternative approach. You decide once and for all that, in warfare—past, present and future—there are neither winners nor losers, only absurd horror.

If ever there were a global conflict that was won by nobody, with no cause for pride on either side, it was the so-called Great War. Indeed, the alleged loser was back in force, two decades later, plunging Europe into a still greater holocaust.

Here in France, I'm impressed by the role of television in drawing attention to the absolute stupidity and horror of war. It's not necessarily TV of the ordinary kind that families might watch. Sometimes, you need to be equipped technically to receive specialized history channels. Also, you have to want to see such stuff.

Many of my compatriots, on the other side of the planet, declare that they have "pride" in what took place, during the so-called Great War, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. I ask these folk: Has television enabled them to realize, in depth, what's concealed behind this silly expression of so-called pride? Maybe not.... for two reasons:

• First, the scope and depth of Aussie TV are appallingly limited. I witnessed this poverty during my visit to Sydney in 2006. Viewers spend their time watching sport and commercial junk interspersed with publicity. I gained the overall impression that the TV phenomenon in Sydney had little in common with what I think of as normal television here in Europe. So, we might envisage Australians as deprived TV viewers... at least as far as serious historical documentaries and associated debates are concerned. Their blinkered media infrastructure prevents them from seeing what the outside world has to say about many issues.

• Second, here in Europe, the relevant TV programs concerning the 1914-1918 conflict never talk of any "pride" attached to the countless deaths. Would-be "pride" is a ridiculous construct of purely Aussie origins, associated with parochial Anzac mythology. And I'm pleased to see that this bloated myth, which infected my childhood, is being examined at last under a microscope.

There cannot possibly be any kind of pride in the horrendous slaughter that characterized the Great War, only sadness.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. You have put into words what I find so difficult living here out in the country of lovely, redneck North Carolina.

    No one seems to understand that they are willingly entering the "mouth of the beast" and there is no pride in dying, especially in war. In sadness, I thank you once again for putting my own lost thoughts into words. Somehow there is also kind hope in your words. Grace be with you and all the world.

  2. Catherine: Thank you for your sympathetic remarks. These days, in France, we see amazing TV documentaries about the Great War. But there are shocks. This evening, for example, I learned that many of the alleged Great War sequences that we've seen on countless occasions were in fact fictional scenes, shot with soldiers working as actors when there was a lull in the real fighting. If ever the filmed fighting were real, the camera operator would have been killed within minutes.

  3. Good grief. I had no idea! But I always wondered how so many "battle scenes" were filmed WITHOUT the camera crew "getting killed." Now I know. Good Lord, save us all.