Memorial to the fallen Great War soldiers of Newfoundland at Beaumont-Hamel, France.
Today is Remembrance Day in the UK, the Commonwealth, parts of Europe and America. Today's post features things I've found that immediately evoke the First and Second World Wars, whether in historical terms - or through memory and commemoration.
World War I
There's a video (here) of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne, in 1914 before his assassination. While visiting Sarajevo, he and his wife were killed by the Bosnian Serb terrorist Gavrilo Princip on 28 June 1914. Wiki cites Sarajevo by Joachim Remak (publ. 1959) which describes the scene:
only her husband seemed to have an instinct for what was happening. Turning to his wife despite the bullet in his neck, Franz Ferdinand pleaded: "Sopherl! Sopherl! Sterbe nicht! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder! - Sophie dear! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!". Having said this, he seemed to sag down himself. His plumed hat ... fell off; many of its green feathers were found all over the car floor. Count Harrach seized the Archduke by the uniform collar to hold him up. He asked "Leiden Eure Kaiserliche Hoheit sehr? - Is Your Imperial Highness suffering very badly?" "Es ist nichts - It is nothing" said the Archduke in a weak but audible voice. He seemed to be losing consciousness during his last few minutes, but, his voice growing steadily weaker, he repeated the phrase perhaps six or seven times more. A rattle began to issue from his throat, which subsided as the car drew in front of the Konak bersibin (Town Hall). Despite several doctors' efforts, the Archduke died shortly after being carried into the building while his beloved wife was almost certainly dead from internal bleeding before the motorcade reached the Konak.The assassination led to the outbreak of war. This war, expected to last a few months, became a watershed in western consciousness. The Great War is seen as the dotted line between a period of relative innocence, and a century of unprecedented bloodshed. On his Website, Matthew White claims that willfully caused deaths reached their highest point in all of human history during the twentieth century. He calls this flood of blood the Hemoclysm. He comments:
Well, what can you say about a century that begins and ends with killing in Sarajevo? "Good riddance" springs to mind. Somewhere around 180 million people have been killed in one Twentieth Century atrocity or another -- a far larger total than for any other century in human history. ... Before we get carried away condemning the century as a whole, we should keep in mind that the enormous body count has come about largely because there are so many more people available to kill. For example, the St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre in France in 157 killed some 50,000 people, which, by 20th Century standards, is hardly enough to rate a place on these maps; however, considering that there were only 15 million Frenchmen at the time, this massacre would be the equivalent of 800,000 modern Americans -- a very frightening number indeed. I calculate that somewhere between 4 and 5 percent of all human deaths in the Twentieth Century (or something like one in 22) were overtly caused by other people.Even if you want to debate that number, and plenty will, for White's research is pretty loose, let us just stop for a moment and read that again (see other stats here and here). White boiled it all down - 180 million people were killed by violent acts in the twentieth century. Historians have not grappled yet with the enormity of that potential number. Should we not question the many kinds of politics, the different religions, the philosophical thinking, the whole structure of life and governance across all societies that participated in such relentless butchery?
This is not to say that war is necessarily avoidable. War is a most likely a terrible, yet inescapable part of human nature. In Tolstoy's War and Peace (1869), the Old Prince denies that the end of war is possible in Chapter XIV, (you can read War and Peace online here):
Pierre was maintaining that a time would come when there would be no more wars. The old prince disputed it chaffingly, but without getting angry. "Drain the blood from men's veins and put in water instead, then there will be no more war! Old women's nonsense- old women's nonsense!" he repeated.All right, we have a warlike side that cannot be wished away. But taking White's number with all caveats - 180 million people? It is at least a rough initial indicator of the size of the problem we confront in trying to understand the final stage of the first millennium that just ended. What went wrong? What happened to us in the twentieth century?
World War I Christmas turkeys. © Photo: Imperial War Museum.
You can see a history in colour of WWI on Youtube here, here, here and here. Famous English songs still well known from World War I are listed here and here.
Oxford University has a special project devoted to World War I poets here; the site also has photographic, audio and film collections.
The Imperial War Museum has Great War art here.
Mons, Verdun, the Marne, Ypres, Isonzo, Gallipoli, Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge, Cambrai, Tannenberg - these names linger (there is a list of principal WWI actions here). But of them all, the battle that many regard as the turning point, where the old world ended and the new world began was the Battle of the Somme, 1 July - 18 November 1916. During the Battle of the Somme, older military strategies failed against new, mechanized modern warfare. The battle had 1.5 million military casualties, making it the bloodiest military operation in human history. On the opening day, the British forces had their worst one-day losses in history: 60,000 casualties (there is a list of casualties on both sides here). Simply put, nothing this terrible had ever happened on the field of battle. It may pale compared to the future targeting of civilians during the Second World War. But the Somme was, many feel, where our collective innocence was irretrievably lost. Among the people who fought at the Somme - Adolf Hitler. Other famous (later) Nazis who served: Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler and Joachim von Ribbentrop.
Humphrey Bogart in the American Navy, 1918. Image: Suite 101.
Other famous people who served during World War I (some joined up but did not see action): Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Hugh Lofting, E. E. Cummings, James Cain, Joyce Kilmer, William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Walt Disney, Bela Lugosi, Buster Keaton, Jean Renoir, Claude Raines, Siegfried Sassoon, Egon Schiele, Arnold Schönberg, Basil Rathborne, Walter Gropius, Edwin Hubble, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Harry S. Truman, Angelo Roncalli (later named Pope John XXI), H. H. Munro (Saki - killed in action), Clement Attlee, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edmund Allenby, Carl Zuckmayer, Fred Banting, Henri Barbusse, Ernst Barlach, David Ben-Gurion, Josip (Tito) Broz, Arnold Zweig, Leslie Howard, Ernst Jünger, Paul Klee, Spencer Tracy, Maurice Chevalier, Jean Cocteau, Ronald Coleman, Oskar Kokoschka, Béla Kun, F. W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Jack Dempsey, Jaroslav Hašek, Raymond Massey, A. A. Milne, Wies Moens, Robert Musil, T. E. Lawrence, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Harold Macmillan, Carl Mannerheim, Enzio Ferrari, Alexander Fleming, Bruno Frank, Otto Dix, Robert Graves, George Grosz, Ivor Gurney, and Winston Churchill.
Famous women who contributed to the war effort through direct action included: Karen Blixen, Gertrude Bell, Greta Zelle (Mata Hari), Vera Brittain, Edith Wharton, Margaret H. Thomas (torpedoed and killed on board the Lusitania), Eugenie Shakhovskaya, Gabrielle Petit, Margaret Brown (the 'Unsinkable Molly Brown' - survivor of the Titanic disaster), Amelia Earheart, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Queen Mother. (See sources here and here.)
The Ypres Salient at Night (1918). By Paul Nash. © Imperial War Museum IWM ART 1145.
The site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is here. The largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in terms of area is the War Cemetery of the Reichswald Forest, Germany, where 7,654 graves include 4,000 airmen:
"Flights of granite steps lead to the upper floors, from which there are extensive views over the cemetery. The shelters stand on the edge of a wide sweep of turf and on the north-east and south-west there are stone archways with low wing walls. The altar-like Stone of Remembrance designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens stands near the center of the cemetery. Upon it are carved the words from the Book of Ecclesiasticus: THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE. Beyond a wide avenue leads to the Cross of Sacrifice, which stands at the south-east boundary against the forest background. Like the Stone of Remembrance, the Cross is common to most Commonwealth war cemeteries."
Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.
There is a big hub on WWI war cemeteries here. The UK's War Heritage site is here. The Australian government's site devoted to the ANZACs at Gallipoli is here; another official ANZAC site is here. The official site for ANZAC commemoration in France is here. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission provides links to several other Commonwealth war cemetery commissions here. The Netherlands War Graves Foundation (Oorlogsgravenstichting) site is here and the official French site for war dead is here. The American Battle Monuments Commission site is here. The German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) site is here.
In 2000, Canada brought back the remains of one of its unidentified dead from World War I. The soldier died in France, near Vimy Ridge. His body was interred at the foot of Canada's national war memorial in Ottawa, in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which has a sword and helmet with maple and laurel branches. Following the addition of his tomb on 11 November 2000, people spontaneously walked up and left their poppies on his grave at the end of Remembrance Day services, thus suddenly creating a tradition that is now observed. On Canada Day (July 1), people leave their flags on his grave (which you can see here). Other such tombs that exist across the world are listed at Wiki here.
Remembrance Day, Ottawa: a new tradition created, as old as the children in the picture. Photo: Metropolis Studio/Legion Magazine.
World War II
Because the Maginot Line was breached and France fell so quickly (Paris was captured June 14, 1940), Britain suddenly became the front that had to hold. Perhaps the most evocative speeches of the war were delivered by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, still quoted by Anglosphere enthusiasts today.
The Imperial War Museum has WWII posters that show the mentality as Britain suddenly found itself at the front lines, protected only by the Channel (here). German efforts to take Britain during the Battle of Britain persisted through the summer and autumn of 1940.Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, the whole world, including the Unites States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, "This was their finest hour." (Churchill in his speech on June 18, 1940)
A World War Two air raid siren, followed by the all clear. Video: Youtube.
One of the sounds that makes us immediately think of the Second World War is the air raid siren. This is so much the case that even now, when we hear emergency siren tests, it reminds us of the London Blitz.
Vera Lynn sings When the Lights Go on Again. Video: Youtube.
Vera Lynn is perhaps most associated with the London Blitz, 1940-1941, although her songs raised spirits through the entire war. She entertained soldiers from both sides. The singer had a comeback in 2009, when her collected re-released songs reached number one on the charts in the UK.
The Americans did not join the war until December of 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. In 1942, the Americans made perhaps the most famous WWII movie, Casablanca, which premiered at the end of that year. It's a famous story of love and sacrifice during war. Set in French Algeria, it's a story about the grey areas even in wartime; characters from many different nations are thrown together at a crossroads of an American-run bar, where they are caught up in circles of mutual desperation. One of the best scenes in the film is that of a Bulgarian refugee, played by the recently deceased actress Joy Page. She pleads with the cynical and disillusioned American bar owner, Rick Blaine, for help to get to America. You can see the scene here in the original black and white, and in the new colorized version here. There is a documentary about the making of the film here and here, which explains that the story was conceived in 1938 and that many of the extras in the film were European refugees. Ronald Reagan almost got the role that Humphrey Bogart played! The signature song from the movie was written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931, but it shows how certain eternal truths persist before, during and after the war. Below is the original famous scene with Sam playing As Time Goes By (also here):
As Time Goes By
[This day and age we're living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension.
Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein's theory.
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension
And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed.]
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.
And when two lovers woo
They still say, "I love you."
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date.
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate.
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny.
It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.
Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.
© 1931 Warner Bros. Music Corporation, ASCAP
The irony is that the film was about how war and love squared off, and given that the Parisian lovers are separated, you can never be quite sure which wins. The movie is a product of its times, but it's one of the few products from the war that has remained popular throughout the post-war period, and is regularly viewed all the way up to today. It has survived its original historical context because it showed how the Second World War fitted in with the eternal human themes.
Australian WWII Poster on wartime production: The Empire's Strength. University of Minnesota Libraries.
Bombed Warsaw. January, 1945.
The website Remember.org has set up a special exhibition called Then and Now that commemorates the Holocaust by juxtaposing survivor artists' depictions of Auschwitz - against photos of what the actual sites look like now. The exhibition is here.
Then: Block 11 in Auschwitz 1. "If Auschwitz was the end of the line either for gassing or for forced labor, Block 11 was the end of the line at the end of the line."
Now: Block 11 in Auschwitz 1. Image (1996) © Alan Jacobs.
While Auschwitz is one of the most recognized camps associated with the Holocaust, the lesser known camps had their own brand of horror marked by their out-of-the-way locations and total isolation. There is a list of forgotten camps here. One camp, Gunskirchen Lager, was concealed six kilometers north of Lambach, Austria. The camp, which held about 18,000 people, was located in a hidden clearing deep in the forest; it was liberated on May 4, 1945 by the Cavalry Reconnaissance group of the 71st Division of the Third U.S. Army. A site on the liberation of Gunskirchen Lager here. A pamphlet on the liberation is here and an additional paper on Gunskirchen is here. Capt. J. D. Pletcher, Berwyn, Ill., of the 71st Division Headquarters testified:
"I want to make it clear that human beings subjected to the treatment these people were given by the Germans results in a return to the primitive. Dire hunger does strange things. The inmates of Gunskirchen were a select group of prisoners -- the intellectual class of Hungarian Jews, for the most part professional people, many distinguished doctors, lawyers, representatives of every skilled field. Yet, these people, who would naturally be expected to maintain their sense of values, their human qualities, longer than any others, had been reduced to animals by the treatment of the Germans - the deliberate prolonged starvation, the indiscriminate murder on little or no provocation, the unbelievable living conditions gradually brought about a change in even the strongest."After the liberation, the former prisoners confronted captive German soldiers in the town square of Wels, Austria. Cpl. Jerry Tax reported:
"Here was a sight, here was a scene a master of stagecraft would have called an achievement. Maybe some Master of human props and sets had staged it. On one side of the square, in neat ranks, stood the would-be Herrenvolk. Their smart grey uniforms were pressed; chubby pink cheeks and an occasional paunch left no doubt they had fed well on their loot and what they could extract from slave labor on their farms. In their eyes was still the arrogance of the conqueror. (Would it ever leave them?)
Facing them, in disorder, in indescribable disarray, standing up in oxcarts, lying on their bellies, leaning on each other ... were the free men of Russia, France, Poland, Yugoslavia, the Balkans... a heterogeneous collection of skin, bone and filth. About twenty yards separated the two groups .. twenty yards and the whole world. And the square was as still as a tomb.
For a half hour that dragged interminably the two groups stood there, immobile. Not a voice was raised, not a fist shaken ...not a stir. MPs were busy about the task of arranging for transportation for the Germans. That was all.
And yet I could have sworn something was taking place out there. I climbed out of the truck and walked slowly through the crowd. Was it my imagination? Was it wishful thinking? To this day, I can't answer those questions, and I wish I could. But I saw, or thought I saw, in those eyes, the faintest glimmer of what I had looked for vainly but a half hour before. Perhaps the shock was wearing off. As they looked upon their well-fed erstwhile jailers standing in neat ranks, waiting to be led away, the huge, impossible truth began to dawn in their consciousness and in their eyes. The long years were over. The Germans were captives. They were free men at last."
Time capsule: Two Spitfires and a Lancaster in the flypast at the Queen Mother's funeral (2002). Image: BBC.
The Queen Mother's funeral on April 9, 2002, featured a Battle of Britain memorial flypast by two Spitfires and the UK's only remaining fly-worthy Lancaster. A report on the pilots is here. A video of the flypast is here (the flypast starts at 0:38).
2010 Hiroshima memorial. Video: Youtube.
In August 2010, delegates from the Allied countries attended commemorative ceremonies at Hiroshima for the first time ever since World War II (report here). I've blogged about the atomic bombings of Japan here.