Friday, November 21, 2008

Mars in November



"Scorn not the Gods: Despite their non-existence in material terms, they're no less potent, no less terrible.

The one place Gods inarguably exist is our minds where they are real beyond refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity.

What's Mars but mankind's violent attributes personified? Or Aphrodite, save mankind's desires? the Homeristic sages recognized all Gods as aspects of "The One" yet missed the greater truth.

"The One" is us, each with a pantheon of Gods in our right brain, whence inspiration and all instinct springs.

Athena Gives us automobiles, Mars our Mahdi uprisings. Is that not plague and miracle enough to sate the God of Exodus?"

These paragraphs from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's stirring comic "From Hell", a fascinating dissection (no pun intended) of Victoriana, are surely what keeps me from being an Atheist, and makes me a (conceptual) Politheist instead.

In fact, if you don't believe in any other Gods, the existence of Mars is undeniable. This month, many countries in the world remember the time when, ninety years ago, Mars took a (temporary) lull.

On November 11th, 1918, the world breathed with relief: a war that had spreaded throughout the globe was over. Europe, in particular, was exhausted and impoverished, a whole generation of its men coming scarred from the experience, that is, those who eventually made it out: others would never see the end of it, their bodies scattered over devastated ground.

Five years before, proud empires ruled the continent, each one infused with arrogant superiority. Then one day, one guy shoot the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What could have been just a Balcan affair quickly spread into a full-blown continental conflict, for each side had been working alliances, and any member in any of the sides saw in the war a golden chance to work out their own agendas.

The crowds in uniform marching towards the front in August 1914 display smiles which look so disquieting today, like lambs smiling on their way to the slaughterhouse. Happy and cheering as if they were attending a soccer world cup: everyone thought that the whole thing would be over by Christmas. It wasn't.

It is easy to analyse with hindsight, but one wonders if the rulers of the contending countries would have gone ahead with the war in 1914, if they had seen the consequences five years later. Probably, and just to give a couple of examples, Kaiser Wilhelm or Tsar Nicholas, who had both lost their empires, would have given something to be able to rewind and avoid the whole thing.

This was a war ruled by artillery, an arm which had evolved to attain previously unseen levels of destruction. However, infantry had not evolved at such speed, and this meant that they were quite unprotected against the respective enemy shells, machine-gun fire or chemical weapons. Decades ago, there was an historiographical trend which analized the events considering that the brave soldiers on foot were lead by asinine generals. A more recent trend tends to consider the later as oversimplifying, arguing how high command would eventually change old (and more expensive in lives) tactics to make their armies more effective on the ground. While the thought of generals carelessly wasting their human resources may be an oversimplified idea, one cannot avoid thinking that, even if the generals cared about the soldiers under their command, soldiers' lives, back then, were rather expendable.

If you take, for instance, the more than 4.000 American soldiers dead so far in the Iraq war, and compare them with the casualties of a few selected battles in the Western Front, like the 250,000 casualties of the Battle of the Marne, the more than 1,000,000 casualties of the Battle of the Somme, the 714,000 casualties in the Battle of Verdun, the over 850,000 casualties of the Third Battle of Ypres, or the last three months of the war, in which the casualties were over 1,850,000... Well, you get a quick idea (While these number refer to the total amount of casualties, that is, not only the dead, but also the wounded, those taken prisoners, and the missing, bear in mind that, on average, the fatalities ranged rom one fifth to one third of the total number of casualties, and that the battles aforementioned took place in one of the many theatres of war).

By November 11th, 1918, the wreckage was such, that everyone thought that such slaughter sould never be repeated, and thus the conflict was emphatically dubbed "The War To End All Wars".

But much as it should, it didn't end any wars.

Either we humans are too dumb, or old Mars is full of resources.

4 comments:

Francesco said...

Great post, Gloria.

My great-grandfather fought in the eastern Alpine heights during the first world war. That front too has been theatre to numerous carnages, battles as much as bloody as unrelevant.
He was given the permission to temporarily return home following a telegram saying that his mother had fallen greviously ill.
So, he left his platoon and returned home. After that, he returned to the front, only to discover that his platoon had been annihilated. The few survivors he encountered, horribly wounded and maimed, who had seen death with their eyes,eEveryone was telling him to go away from there.
He also recounted that a great part of the casualties were due to artillery friendly fire (hitting their own infantries instead of reaching because they were placed too far from the enemy lines).

My money is on humanity being dumb.

Gloria said...

Francesco,

Thanks for telling me your grandfather's story: even in our over-technified wars of today, there are still casualties due to "friendly fire": it looks like such an absurd way to die.

Whenever I see photos or old footage from fighting in the Alps during WW1, I shudder, not only at the thought of the slaughter, but also about fighting taking place in that most unfriendly places for humans, high and cold.

Having read on the subject (even if mostly centered on the Western Front) I am sometimes shocked at the attempts of some historians to de-dramatize the facts, like some historian quoting a war widow lamenting that his late husband's Victoria Cross was so little in exchange for his life. The historian writes something like he thinks that the woman should be happy to know that his husband was a hero and had died for the "right cause". Personally, I side with the widow: she probably felt the pain of not seeing her husband again, and feared the prospect of having to rear her children on her own, with little help... She probably had to many concerns to focus immediatly to be thinking whether he had lost a husband in a "right cause" or not.

Gloria said...

Hola Gloria, pues que cuando he llegado aquì no sabìa si escribirte en inglès o español, tocaya te he venido a ver desde donde Eudora, y le he dicho que serè Gloria 2 o Gloria Canela, tengo un blog de cocina Inglès/español y la Eudora me va a consejar comosacar mejores fotos, es estupendo porque soy muy nueva en lo de las fotos.
Me gusta tu sentido del humor, por cierto no escuchaba hablar de Concha Piquer hace años, mi mami habla de ella. besosss Gloria

Gloria said...

Hola, Gloria... Nada de "Gloria/2", que yo no tengo ningún número uno (que yo sepa, je). Por mí puedes firmar como Gloria/Canela, que no suena a Concha Piquer, pero sí a Maria Dolores Pradera ;D

Oye, que buena pinta que tienen tus recetas, a ver si pruebo a hacer alguna

 
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