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The war to end...what?
May 27, 2014 9:31 PM   Subscribe

A century ago, mankind fought a war "To End all Wars". The scars and reliquaries from that time still endure today.
posted by pjern (34 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

Utterly fascinating. It's a shame that there hasn't been more portrayal of WWI in film - War Horse excluded. From time to time I find myself watching one of the endless documentaries on the war, and it just seems so much more brutal than any of the other wars of the 20th century. Trench warfare was an asinine way to commit suicide.
posted by item at 10:11 PM on May 27

I knew WWI was some nasty business the first time I read about the US Mark I trench knife. I would have pooped my pants if I had been issued one of those.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:23 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]

No, that was an Anglo-Saxon patriotic Propaganda Slogan:

Mostly used to sell the War to the Americans - how little Things have changed ...
posted by homodigitalis at 12:13 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

item: "Utterly fascinating. It's a shame that there hasn't been more portrayal of WWI in film - War Horse excluded."
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
posted by brokkr at 1:20 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]

Was it more brutal than Stalingrad or Iwo Jima or Peleliu? I don't know, it was such an awful century.

It is particularly poignant that after the savagery of the Somme we decided to give it a second shot with the sons of those who has survived.
posted by sporknado at 2:55 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

NYRB review of several excellent new(ish) books on WWI. The longform essay itself is an education.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:09 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]

There's Lochnagar Crater which was created by Royal Engineers tunnellers creating a tunnel under the enemy then packing it with 24 tons of high explosives. The cloud from that sucker went up 4000ft.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:37 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]

item: "Utterly fascinating. It's a shame that there hasn't been more portrayal of WWI in film - War Horse excluded."

GALLIPOLI may be relevant to your interests.

You also may want to look at British film in general - WWI didn't really register on America's radar until late in the game.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:16 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]

Also Blackadder Goes Forth
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:19 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]

Oh! What a Lovely War is a musical anti-WWI film.
posted by alasdair at 6:30 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

Was it more brutal than Stalingrad or Iwo Jima or Peleliu? I don't know, it was such an awful century.

The Battle of Iwo Jima is roughly equivalent in terms of casualties to the first day of the Battle of the Somme
posted by brilliantmistake at 7:32 AM on May 28 [10 favorites]

The last few episodes of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History have been on WW1. It's been brutal, compelling and devastating.
posted by merocet at 7:39 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]

That's a good find, Sheydem-tants. Thank you. I need to read... most of those.
posted by doctornemo at 7:59 AM on May 28

No wonder you think the people in the trenches were asinine if Blackadder is what you're working from.
posted by Segundus at 8:06 AM on May 28

I, too, have been listening to Carlin's Hardcore History podcasts on WWI. He's done two of five so far, and at the rate he releases them they will last longer than the war itself.

Was it more brutal than Stalingrad or Iwo Jima or Peleliu?

I was hazily familiar with the war's course, but the podcasts include a lot of primary sources and they have made my commutes pretty harrowing. And yes, WWI was definitely nastier and more personal than WWII.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:13 AM on May 28

Man, what a treasure Dan Carlin is. His emphasis on telling the story from multiple perspectives, many of them at direct odds with each other, is amazing. That said, I'm gonna wait until he's done with the series before diving in - it'll be worth it, the series on the Mongol conquests was a horror movie in history podcast form. (And a hard kick in the nuts to those who like to worship "great conquerors" in history, from Alexander to Napoleon, by showing the human cost of the actions of "Great Men" using Genghis an his descendants as the example.) I'd gnaw my own arm off if I had to wait between segments on a WWI piece.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:34 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]

Aftermath is basically this website in book form, and is very good.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:11 AM on May 28

For whatever it's worth (and I don't think arguing that WWI was nastier or somehow more brutal than WWII is a worthwhile endeavor), the Battle of Normandy in World War II saw casualty levels that rivaled the Battle of the Somme. I believe about 200,000 civilians died in one night in the Hamburg firestorm, 300,000 in one night in Tokyo. And then we were vaporizing people with atomic weapons (150,000). Extrapolating a bit, about 5,000 Jewish folk were killed every day during the Holocaust.

It wouldn't make me want to choose a Somme trench, but WWII was at least equally brutal.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:13 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

The bit of info that comes to my mind (bear with me, this is only off the top of my head): among military-age French males, some largish percentage of everyone in that demographic were war casualties from WWI. Like (again, off the top of my head?) 25% killed or wounded--of every male in that age range in the entire country. It affected every little town, and right to this day you see war memorials from WWI everywhere.

I'd see the differences between the two wars as being regional. WWII was a very different experience in France than WWI, but in swaths of eastern Europe, WWII was possibly much worse on several levels.
posted by gimonca at 9:29 AM on May 28

Those are some fascinating photos, that first aerial shot in particular. I've often wondered what those places look like now, in what ways the land did and didn't recover from all that digging up and blowing up. I look at the old photos of battlefields like Passchendaele and there isn't a standing tree as far as the horizon. The erosion from the loss of plant life and the heavy rains must have considerably altered the shape of some places.

Wikipedia has a list of World War 1 movies. Scroll down to the last section on the page, "Films, TV etc."

One film missing from that list, and I imagine there are many more, is "Beneath Hill 60" 2010. Skip the appalling hollywood-style trailer in that link, from 2.10 there are some good clips. It's based on the diaries of Oliver Woodward, a mining engineer in charge of a company of miners-turned soldier, the 1st Australian Tunneling Company.

The diaries were also the basis for a book of the same name by Will Davies, which I came across before I saw the film. A good read. There's an excerpt on his website, here.
posted by valetta at 9:29 AM on May 28

More on topic, one of the interesting things about these high-quality photos is that it does a better job presenting what fighting conditions might have been like.

When I was a kid first reading about World War I in the late 1970's, the only resources available were books published earlier in the decade. There were no colour photographs, and all of the images were otherwordly black and white. It didn't look real and, with all the pictures of skeletons still clad in rotting army uniforms, or horses wearing gas masks, looked very horrible and nightmarish.

But the landscape itself also seemed unreal, like a different planet. It was all black and white, with grey churned fields and charcoal-coloured corpses of trees.

It wasn't something that I could really relate to.

However, these newer photographs are lush and green, and capture more of what the landscape would have looked like at the beginning of the war, and is a horrible contrast to the black and white images of the blasted land.

I'm also surprised at how flat the Somme battlefield was, and how the trenches really just were holes in the mud. It would have been an awful existence.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:29 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

From the first time I've heard this it's said it all for me:
And I can't help but wonder now, Willy McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause?
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing and dying---it was all done in vain;
For, Willy McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
Eric Bogle; link goes to his own rendition on YouTube.
posted by seyirci at 9:58 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]

WWI in Color (previously) is a good documentary.

I like this one as well: World War I (BBC I think)
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:12 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

Oh, KokuRyu, I was thinking about the use of gas in particular. The descriptions of men found dead with scratch marks on their own necks -- including one soldier with one hand and one stump -- showed a really awful weapon.

But I will grant that the frozen GIs pissing on their rifles at Bastogne and Sledge's crawl over a pile of maggoty dead Marines in the Pacific and the soldiers marching on Bataan mean that neither war was "better" in any rational sense.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:12 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

The twenty million Russian dead in the second war outnumbered the total number of military and civilian dead in World War I.

Anyway, my father-in-law watched a younger sister burn to death in a bombing raid, and was himself burned pretty badly. He lost another sibling in the same raid, burned to death by phosphorous while being carried on her unwitting mother's back.

I don't think there is any way to quantify horror.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:36 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

WWI movies? Hell's Angels -- the Howard Hughes film that he's shown making in The Aviator -- is also good. That is, the aviation and special effects sequences are as gripping as any modern thriller; the character action is pretty tawdry melodrama, some of it filmed for the silent version, some of it with the dialog that Hughes decided was needed after seeing The Jazz Singer. For my money, the middle set piece with biplanes in an aerial fight against a zeppelin (much of this done with models inside an actual dirigible hangar) is jaw-dropping, and of course nothing could ever possibly rival the dogfights Hughes staged with real airplanes for the climactic action. For all that it's obviously seduced by the heroics of military aviation, it's a surprisingly skeptical film on the nature of war itself (1930 was just four years before what we might call Peak Pacifism in the US with the Nye Commission). There are soldiers ordered to their pointless deaths, others mercilessly dead at the hands of their commanders for "necessity", and a fairly balanced depiction of shirking several years before Patton's fateful slap. All that said, there isn't a whiff, so to speak, of the awful scene on the ground.
posted by dhartung at 10:49 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

Golden Eternity, that WW1 link appears to have the credits removed, The series was called The Great War, and was made 50 years ago for the 50th anniversary. Episode 1 is here, the title sequence retains all it's power, possibly even more so given how gutless and bland much of British TV has become. UK readers will remember Blackadder goes Forth, and especially the final scene.
posted by epo at 11:00 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

All Quiet on the Western Front should be mentioned, of course. I recall Howard Zinn saying the movie had a big impact on his views.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:03 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

I just keep thinking of how close I came to not existing due to WW1- my grandfather was gassed and at the end of the war was in a field hospital in France. This photo of him was taken 35 years to the day before I was born. It was a Valentine's Day gift for my grandmother Ruth.
posted by pjern at 11:10 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]

> The bit of info that comes to my mind (bear with me, this is only off the top of my head): among military-age French males, some largish percentage of everyone in that demographic were war casualties from WWI. Like (again, off the top of my head?) 25% killed or wounded--of every male in that age range in the entire country.

This is why the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" slur Jonah Goldberg and like douchebags throw at the French makes me so angry; how about you fight a war or two like that on your home turf and then see how awesome you think it still is, you fucking chickenhawk.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:35 AM on May 28 [10 favorites]

We could use a Nye Commission today.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:03 PM on May 28

WW I Unseen Images From The Front
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:15 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]

I'm a little late but if you need WWI movies, check out A Very Long Engagement and about the mines, there's Beneath Hill 60.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:54 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]

My impression has always been that for the soldiers, WWI was one of the most brutal wars ever fought, and that WWII was the most horrific war ever for civilians.

Feel free to school me.
posted by marsha56 at 11:47 PM on May 28

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