"Frankly, I had enjoyed the war."
January 6, 2015 10:26 AM   Subscribe

 
WW1 historian Dr Timothy Bowman believes Carton de Wiart's example helps debunk some myths.

"His story serves to remind us that not all British generals of WW1 were 'Chateau Generals' as portrayed in Blackadder. He exhibited heroism of the highest order.


I wonder about the slant of this BBC piece, especially after this controversy from a year ago (Daily Mail link).
posted by Nevin at 10:45 AM on January 6, 2015


Previously.
posted by mosk at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2015


I wonder about the slant of this BBC piece, especially after this controversy from a year ago (Daily Mail link).

Gove's comments were controversial but don't themselves lay out the controversy about them. It might be helpful to read, for example, David Mitchell's observations. And why is it a slant to briefly quote a historian's perspective on the contrast between this particular General and a popular perception?

In any event, that's a derail. The General himself is lot more interesting than Gove, let alone the Daily Mail.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Carton de Wiart has an interesting WW2 counterpart in Peniakoff, who was also born in Belgium, had a rather bizarre derring-do style, and lost his hand in battle.

Though I must say he's rather too Boy's Own to be taken seriously. That Churchill liked Carton de Wiart says a lot about both men, and not a bit of it positive.
posted by Thing at 10:59 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Belgium: known for waffles and badasses. Read this earlier, fascinating character.
posted by arcticseal at 11:08 AM on January 6, 2015


I have no trouble seeing this guy as a Monty Python character.
posted by tavella at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


In any event, that's a derail. The General himself is lot more interesting than Gove, let alone the Daily Mail.

I don't think it's particularly fair to characterize my comment as a derail. While I do understand there are people who are fascinated by soldiers and soldiering, I was curious about the Blackadder comment in the BBC piece.

There is a real effort to whitewash WWI when indeed "the trenches were the concentration camps of WWI." And while Blackadder may have been a caricature and a parody there were not a bunch of one-armed eyeless generals fearlessly leaping over the parapet with their troops.

The reality is that millions died, and they were led by aristocratic generals.

Gove's remarks are truly insidious and disrespectful to the memory of the dead. Blackadder (which this BBC piece dismisses) was respectful of the dead, even going so far as trying to tell the story of those who died.
posted by Nevin at 11:17 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


While recuperating from these injuries, Carton de Wiart received a glass eye. It caused him such discomfort that he allegedly threw it from a taxi and instead acquired a black eye patch.

In the ideal film version of this incident, the brave, exhausted and hopelessly outnumbered defenders of the fort would be out of ammunition and about to be overrun and de Wiart, having personally relieved a wounded Tommy at the wall, would stop the enemy charge by tearing out his glass eye and using it as a musket ball.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:49 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I must say he's rather too Boy's Own to be taken seriously.

What would he have to have done (or not done) in order for you to take him seriously?

Do you think taking up the profession of soldiery itself precludes one from being taken seriously?
posted by IndigoJones at 1:20 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


What would he have to have done (or not done) in order for you to take him seriously?

"At that moment, I knew once and for all that war was in my blood. If the British didn't fancy me, I would offer myself to the Boers"

Basically, he would trade his morals simply to be able to fight.

War is a necessity in some cases, to preserve ourselves and our values from a threat. People like him make it into a joke where killing and death are separated from the outcome. If you would happily fight for either side in a war regardless of what you stand for, you're either a mercenary or somebody who enjoys war. He was the latter, and I don't find it a worthy character trait.
posted by Thing at 1:48 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


George_Spiggott: In any event, that's a derail. The General himself is lot more interesting than Gove, let alone the Daily Mail.
Aside from praising the glorious general, what isn't a derail, then?
posted by IAmBroom at 3:23 PM on January 6, 2015


Really enjoying and being good at war is really rather a positive character trait if you're going to be at war. I read a fascinating study by psychologists about psychopaths in the Army - I can't immediately find it, it's late - which made the point that the really good soldiers weren't those who were brave and happened to pull it off. They made the headlines back home, but the ones you really wanted were those who just pushed ahead with every intent to kill as much as possible and their own safety just a matter of achieving the first aim. These people are psychopaths, and you want a handful of them widely distributed along the battlefront.

But no more (I think the study had some statistical enalysis to actually come up with an optimum number). Fortunately, they aren't common and they do self-select.

Smart psychopaths fit in well with normal life, because it's easier that way. There's no reason to believe that one who enjoyed the brutality, cunning and excitement of war couldn't self-select afterwards for a role in the much more mild-mannered civilian roles that can be rewarding for a career psychopath, like business, politics, the church, surgical medicine.
posted by Devonian at 5:20 PM on January 6, 2015


Carton de Wiart has an interesting WW2 counterpart in Peniakoff, who was also born in Belgium, had a rather bizarre derring-do style, and lost his hand in battle.

Though I must say he's rather too Boy's Own to be taken seriously. That Churchill liked Carton de Wiart says a lot about both men, and not a bit of it positive.
posted by Thing at 10:59 AM on January 6 [3 favorites +] [!]


If you find him a bit too Boy's Own, you'll love one of my favourite WWII British soldiers.

Lieutenant Colonel Mad Jack Churchill.

An international archer, who became the last man to carry out a combat killing with a bow and arrow. A man who felt that "any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed", which comes across as hyperbole until you see the photo of him coming off a landing craft with his broadsword drawn. A competition standard bagpipe player, who kicked off commando raids with a rendition of the "March Of The Cameron Men" before charging with his broadsword and grenades.
posted by MattWPBS at 4:01 AM on January 8, 2015


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