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September 22, 2006

Comments

Mrs. Peperium

You made me cry.

Old Dominion Tory

Very well done, Mr. Peperium. I'll have to read Mr. Gilbert's book.
By the way, you also should read "Mud, Blood, and Poppycock," a very interesting and persuasive book that overturns much of the conventional wisdom concerning World War I.

Debbie

Yes Mrs. Peperium, an excellent post. I will have to recommend the book to Hubby.

Mr. Peperium

Thanks very much Old Dominion and Debbie. On those few occasions when I post I always get that horrible feeling that I'm making a consumate ass of myself and should just leave my thoughts, such as they are, to myself. Your kind words do much to restore what Bertie would call my sang froid.

I will look up "Mud, Blood and Poppycock". I'm always up for books which, like Simon Shauma's "Citizens" challenge the Left-Liberal status quo on pivotal topics. Because, after all, the wide acceptance of the Left-Liberal take on history is so vital to the wide acceptance of Left-Liberal assumptions about why they should be in charge of everything.

Reading Gilbert I was reminded of those bumper stickers and yard signs I still see in our neck of the universe. They read: "Support the troops! Bring them home!". The underlying assumption being that no one in their right mind would want to be doing what our troops are doing so let's do them a huge favor and get them stateside. A thorough misunderstanding of the warrior ethos, that, and a complete superimposition of the Liberal mindset upon folks who are probably not that Liberal in their views.

I think we make the same mistake when we look at past wars as well, forgetting that men engaged upon a great enterprise like to finish that enterprise successfully. A case in point is the Yankee withdrawal from the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864. The head of the Union column was approaching the road that ran north-south; a left turn would take them back across the Rappahannock; an admission of defeat. A right turn would take them deeper into Southern territory for another try. Grant directed them to the right and the men, who had just been through the hell-on-earth of the Wilderness battle...cheered their heads off.

Fiendish

Mr. P, belated thanks for this interesting post. I think I too will have a go at Mr. Gilbert's book.
I think World War I was the worst event in the history of the human race. As a direct result of what it unleashed, one would not imagine a future war's dead being buried on public land in the West under the large crosses referenced by Lt. Winterbotham. Were the efforts at The Somme and other such gastly places both imperative and noble? Martin Gilbert asks "Who are those who came afterwards to say that they were not?" I am prepared to say that the efforts of those in the trenches, on both sides, were noble, but the efforts of the leadership on both sides was neither noble nor driven by any "imperative," whatever that word might mean in this context. The only exception I will grant is to Blessed Charles of Austria, who tried his best to advace Pope Benedict's peace plan the year after The Somme.

Fiendish

Mr. P, taking your point about Gen. Grant and his men's reaction to him, I think there is quite a contrast to the commander at The Somme, Sir Douglas Haig. There were 58,000 British casualties in Haig's frontal assault of July 1, 1916. Here is a snippet from the reflections on the morning of July 2, 1916 by a 18 year old British soldier, Private George Coppard, looking through his binocluars at the dead Tommys in his field of view. As recollected from his dairies in his book, "With A Machine Gun to Cambrai," Pvt. Coppard remarked that some caught on the wire looked as if they were kneeling in prayer. Then he writes:
"How did our planners imagine that Tommies, having survived all other hazards - and there were plenty in crossing No Man's Land - would get through the German wire? Had they studied the black density of it through their powerful binoculars? Who told them that artillery fire would pound such wire to pieces, making it possible to get through? Any Tommy could have told them that shell fire lifts wire up and drops it down, often in a worse tangle than before."
More reflections on The Somme, by Pvt. Coppard and Sir Douglas, can be found here: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWsomme.htm
I doubt that reading Martin Gilbert's book will lead to stop scowling at Gen. Haig's picture when I see it gracing the wall at Gallagher's Steak House.

Mr. Peperium

Fiendish: If I'm reading you right, you credit the tidal wave of skepticism that war unleashed for the errosion of religious conviction that makes the placing of crosses on public land taboo. And you're probably right, though I would go back farther when locating the greatest disaster of human history to 399 years before the Somme, in 1517 and a church door in Wittenburg. The Somme, Ypres and Verdun are just ripples from the hammer that drove the nail that day.

I think what Gilbert is getting at is what I try to do whenever reading history: forget what I know and try to read men's acts in the context of the day they were made. Of course, as Belloc points out, this approach works in favor of many Reformation leaders, but it is more fair. Yes, the trenches were hell holes; Gilbert is the last man to deny that. But his is the portrait of men who really did believe in what they were doing, saw possible victory in almost every push forward and exhibited a surprising elan. Surprising only because of what we've been taught about World War I. Gilbert's got my interest because, as I've said before, one of the shopworn cliches of my education both in and out of school has been that WWI proved that God was dead, morality a farce and the Socialist dream was the only hope of mankind. Gilbert's book gives a far different picture of the men who did the fighting--especially through the poems they wrote--and my suspicion is that we don't see these poems very often because they don't jibe with the elite's take on, well, not to so much the War as what the War wrought. Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the War or the War leaders (though I do think they unwittingly got themselves into a horrid military situation which all their previous experience was useless to get them out of); I'm simply saying that, along with the dissaffected and the critical (Churchill among them) Gilbert also shows much courage and spirit, much belief in the Cause, and much hope for victory. And he does it without the usual dismissive sneer and roll of the eyes that is so common when words like "patriotism" are bandied about.

Thanks too for the tip on Saratoga; a thoroughly enjoyable read about a far more uplifting conflict with many more uplifting leaders. One Washington can make up for dozens of Haigs.

Mr. Peperium

Mrs. P just helped me to clarify my thoughts, Fiendish.

Gilbert's book begins with a quotation from Isiaih--I can't put it here because I had to give the book back to the library--something about names beging recorded on tablets for eternity. And with every death he records, as in the case of Lt. Winterbotham, he gives precise information on where the man's grave or name can be found. The book moved me, and Gilbert's question moved me, because we are living in a time when so many are calling the sacrafice of our men and women "meaningless" and "useless" and I just don't believe we can say that about any sacrifice. There is something about it that strikes me as obscene, disrespectful of human dignity. I know you're not one of those who say such things, Fiendish. But to those who do, I say we just don't have all the information necessary to make such judgements. Men who died miserably and pointlessly in the Wilderness around Chancellorsville were part of the defeat that lead to the military arrogance that lead to Gettysburg.

Or as the poet Robert Hayden used to remind us college kids, "Never give up, youngsters. You never now what the Good Lord has in store for you." He said that as he was dying of bone cancer.

Fiendish

Martin Gilbert's book sounds better and better, with word that he gives information on the gavesites of those he quotes--information he took the time to track down. Mr. P, your point about Wittenburg in 1517 is well taken. (I say that even though, as I first read your words, my immediate reaction was to reflect that I very much doubt that there ever was a hammer, a nail or the posting on a church door of 95 theses.)
In the grim trench conditions Alexander Solzhenitsyn recounts in "November 1916", he depicts a few men who avidly hope for Russia to gain Constanntinople as the reward for their efforts. Burdened as Solzhenitsyn's readers are with knowledge of the actual reward that was in store for Russia's gallant men of 1916, it is shocking to be reminded of, and difficult to fanthom, such high hopes. But you are right: to act as if such hopes did not and could not exist would be to rob these men (far better men than me) of their dignity.

Mr. Peperium

Funny how, whether or not Luther actually did post his theses on the door or not, the act--or the imagined act--is an architypically Catholic one. People forget that it is the Church's very openess to debate, not just in the 16th Century but always, that has been one of her strengths.

Thank you for taking my comments in good part. They were composed in a flurry of activity as we were trying to find shoes, brush teeth and get the little ones out the door for our Saturday errands. I feared that, writing in the midst of such distractions, I may have erred on the side of brusqueness, which was far from my intention. As I've said before, we started this blog to have the kind of conversations you can't have in many places any more.Thanks for being a part of that.

Mrs. Peperium

Old Dominion Tory, or the former marine officer posing as an art student in our midst, might be more aware of the veracity of what I'm about to say, so chime in if I'm off or on about this.

In the height of my biblestudy years, Mr. P took me to Gettysburg. As we drove around the battlefield I saw all the unit monuments, like the Irish Brigade..., depicting approximate battlefield positions and asked Mr. P what they were. He told me what they were and that they had been placed there by survivors some 30-40 years later. My repsonse was, these are very biblical. Mr. P asked how. I told him that God always instructed the Jews to put up stone markers where he had done something great for them. This way their children and children... would understand how faithful the Lord was. The survivors of Gettyburg clearly felt God in their midst during that battle and by placing the markers there, they have reminded the future generations of what happened here. This is now how I look at battlefield cemetaries. Now matter how big, I view them as God doing something great in our midst. Something we ourselves cannot fully understand.

Now don't go all crazy cuckoo pacifist on me. Gettsyburg happened. Tens of thousands of men, not to mention horses, were killed by their fellow countrymen. Definitely a very dark moment in our history. However by the veterans marking it in stone, we are reminded that it was not in vain. In fact that the veterans from that battle could meet on that same field 50 years later and shake hands and embrace each other even though they had earlier been trying to kill each other, is proof positive that we are the still the greatest nation on earth.

Fiendish

Mr. & Mrs. P, this is exactly the sort of exchange that helps one focus on issues that really matter. I tried to find the Martin Gilbert book on Somme at my local Barnes & Noble 6 story supermegagigantistore, but they did not have it (it is, of course, not new--having been published way back in June). Lacking Mr. Gilbert's work but staying in the same cheerful vein, I instead picked up Niall Ferguson's "The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred." Mrs. P: I will try my best to shun any and all "crazy cuckoo pacifist" thoughts that may, unbidden, spring into my noggin as I revisit the 20th century.

Old Dominion Tory

Another author who went against the historical grain in regards the First World War was the Englishman John Terraine, who died in 2003. I recommend his book on Mons as well as a collection of his essays about the Western Front, usually entitled "The Western Front, 1914-1918." He also wrote a biography of Haig in which the Field Marshal comes off better than he does in other biographies (e.g., Denis Winter's).
Of course, there are reasons to growl at Haig's picture. The foremost being that he and Pershing locked horns over the issue of U.S. manpower in 1917-1918. Haig represented the British position that American soldiers should be fed into British units until such time as there were enough Americans in France to constitute independent American formations.
No surprise, therefore, that, at war's end, relations between the French Army and the American Army were much warmer than those between the British Army and the American Army.

thebizofknowledge

It could be quite discouraging (something I practice NOT doing) to tiptoe into semi-private blogs, but yours was "en"couraging Mr. Peperium. The quote from Dryden clutched my heart in a good way. I found your excerpts and comments keen and humane. I'm now interested in a book that I didn't know about. Thank you kind sir.

Mrs. Peperium

We're not really private. Anything we say here, we'd say just about anywhere. We just appear that way because everyone is so friendly and polite here as well as we don't solicite for funds from our friendly and polite readers. This is what helps to keep them friendly and polite.

Mr. P and I have never responded back to you before because we couldn't tell if you were a spammer.

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