The Ultimate Antiwar Work Would Require a Psychopath to Write and a Fool to Read
Should what is too terrible to read be too terrible to do?
A new All Quiet on the Western Front movie is out. I read the book ages ago and saw the old 1930 movie so I’ll probably download this one as well eventually.
It’s a great novel, supposedly an “antiwar” one, so the literary critics say.
As I’m sure you know it’s a book about the extreme hardship and trauma in a war that went horribly wrong.
But did you ever notice that successful art that leans pro-war is about the same thing? What is the world’s most famous piece of war-positive art? Probably The Charge of the Light Brigade.
If All Quiet on the Western Front is about the senseless slaughter of youth, then what is The Charge about except even more so?
Or how about this, the Nazis banned the war-negative Remarque and contraposed to him the war-positive Ernst Jünger, but the latter’s Storm of Steel is just as graphic as Remarque’s Western Front.
It’s interesting how the anti-militarists and the militarists are both going to the same well.
You might assume intuitively that antiwar writers would be writing about times when wars got horrifically messed up with blood up to the knee and everyone losing limbs all over the place without even a costly final win to show for it. And that pro-war writers would be writing about the times when the enemy was defeated in two weeks and everyone was back home for Christmas.
But no, the best on both sides go directly for the most unwelcome, unplanned, and even stupidest parts of war.
So then, is one of the sides committing a tactical mistake? Would the militarists be better served by sticking to writing about quick, easy wars? No, I don’t think so. I think the war enjoyers are doing as they should, and it is actually the anti-war side that is shooting its cause in the foot by not writing about swift, easy wars that go exactly as planned.
Let’s take Rudyard Kipling, the bard of British High Imperialism. He lived in a time when a world hegemon of hitherto unrivaled reach waged numerous campaigns against some of the most pathetic and backward peoples in the world and he somehow managed to celebrate it all. How did he do it?
Here’s how. In Fuzzy Wuzz he first chronicles all the various times the British suffered a setback and got their nose at least a little bloody:
We took our chanst among the Khyber ‘ills,
The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,
An’ a Zulu impi dished us up in style:
And then congratulates the Fuzzy Wuzz for breaking the British square:
Our orders was to break you, an’ of course we went an’ did.
We sloshed you with Martinis, an’ it wasn’t ‘ardly fair;
But for all the odds agin’ you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square.
What is Kipling doing here? He lived through decades of some of the most lopsided wars that history had ever seen. Yet he is actively mining for any instances when something went wrong. And zeroing in on something as minor as that one time a British square was temporarily broken. Why is he doing this? Well, what else is he supposed to do? Write about how the British had a machine gun with them and destroyed 1000 spear-wielders with firearms? That’s not art, that’s snuff.
By focusing on the minor British tactical setback he is actually sanitizing what happened. He’s creating a story of the battle that can be told without making the audience vomit.
What happened was that a bunch of Soudanese were doing Soudanese things in the Soudan and then a band of Space Aliens with 24th century weapons dropped into their midst and massacred the hell out of them in a “battle” in which they stood no chance at all, creating who knows how many orphans and widows and grief and trauma and now the Space Alien poet is telling them “well you know, you should feel really good about yourself, after all YOU BROKE THE SQUARE!”
It’s so insane that it isn’t sure even the poet is fully buying it. He takes the martial side of the responsibility but not the political. He hides behind orders. “Our orders was to break you, an’ of course we went an’ did.” And even he’s a little queasy about it. “We sloshed you with Martinis, an’ it wasn’t ‘ardly fair;” One gets the impression that the Fuzzy breaking the square came as a relief to the author who would have had a hard time living with the massacre if it had been any more one-sided.
An inverse Kipling is what an antiwar writer ought to do. Tell the story of everything Kipling’s sleight of hand is trying to distract us from.
The Great War was one in which everyone got more than what they bargained for, everyone got ridiculously traumatized, and everyone suffered way beyond what any of their war-guilt sins might have justified.
As such WWI is a great antidote to Kipling’s notion of war as some kind of a valor Olympics. But nonetheless, the very thing that made it so costly — that it was so two-sided — also gave it a terrifying poetry. And washed away the guilt. Nobody’s plans had worked. Everyone was decimated. The horror the continent devolved into was so far from what anyone had intended that nobody could truly be held responsible. The guilt for the war breaking out was assigned to Germany, but the guilt for the war becoming an apocalypse was assigned to the barbed wire, the machine gun, the gas, and the railway. The torrents of blood they had bled had washed away the participants’ guilt. The two-sided, shared nature of the trauma made them absolve each other of the responsibility for the worst of the horror. And in doing so human agency was absolved itself.
Borders were redrawn and some gained and others lost, but nobody had gained more than what they had already lost. Everyone had been the loser. Everyone had been the fool. This was not what anyone had intended. Not even the war parties. And so there was nobody to blame. It had been the barbed wire, or the alliance systems. It may as well have been the mischief of the gods.
WW1 is a useful warning, but it is not a great feat to hate a war everyone came out of the loser. Adolf Hitler was anti-WW1. He wrote that such a loss of German blood could only ever be justified if Germany had made far greater gains than anything the Kaiser was ever even aiming for.
No, the book the antiwar cause needs is the book on what a war looks like when everything goes exactly the way the war party intended it. Optimally. What really happens under the hood of these “It’ll be over in two weeks, we’ll be home by Christmas” wars that actually pan out that way?
Because Kipling knew what he was doing. It’s not the hardship, the setback, and the loss on one’s own side that the public has to be shielded from. Often the other side making it at least a bit of a sport is the only thing making war bearable at all.
Because here’s the thing, when you have every advantage in a war, and you’re pressing every advantage to the maximum the results look plain unsportsmanlike. Consistently optimal tactics against an opponent that was weaker to start with will create a sight that is hideous to look at. There are going to be men after men annihilated with ease through no martial failing of their own as numbers, mobility, comms and intel are leveraged to isolate them and hit them with enormous superiority from all possible sides. It’s ugly and clinical. Unpleasant and vile. Worse, there’s no decency to contrapose it against. There’s no chance for anyone to be a hero on either side, much less die as one. None of that pathos stuff you can write poems about. It’s just clinical killing. Fast, efficient, relentless. And not even square getting broken to take away the sting of what’s being done. And that’s exactly how the war planners ideally want it. And it’s a book Remarque would never write. He might be contra-war but he still had to make art. This isn’t it.
But this book, the most antiwar book of them all, might actually already exist. Not so long ago 500,000 Americans were in the Desert Storm massacre. Probably many of them wrote accounts and even novels on it. A few of them might have been psychopaths. That’s the book we’re looking for. The book from the pen of a pro-war guy too mentally ill to know intuitively what effective pro-war propaganda must sanitize and shy away from.
The most violently antiwar book has probably already been written. It’s just that it’s a book you would never want to read.
You’re on to something there; a missing ‘vein’ in the orthodox narrative, which fo’ever has relentlessly focused – for or against, matters not a whit – on the manipulations of geopolitics, in pursuit of lucre by paleskins, against the fortunes of folk with varying degrees of ‘tanned-ness.’
That unmined vein be this – and you’re seeing it repeat right now as the wannabe Rus Empire rinses it’s oldest & dirtiest dishes –
Empires got won… and then lost… on the basis of which ‘colonial’ troops could be best induced to ‘give their all’ on behalf of the master race. Even after the debacle of the “Indian Mutiny” the John Bulls could somehow work their majic enough on the dark-skinned warriors to produce an Army with which to win and then police … the world. And that was after having ‘induced’ the wild highlanders – never considered really “white” at all, since as far back as Septimius’ scorched earth campaign,
to carry that same can in defeating the darkies in the first place! Then followed Rus – with the brutal conquest of stan after stan, employing Tatars/Cossacks and mountain men to mow down the last of the free Turkmen tribes – in the same manner that the “Injuns”[sic] had been used to staunch the bleeding wound in the imperial dress costume called “Afghanistan,” and
as demonstrated by the famous “36th Sikh” – whose 21 nco’s & enlisted men battled 10,000 Afghan tribesmen to a draw, dying to the last men in order to defend the nearby British forts which would have been wiped out to the last man had the Afghans been able to leave the scene of their tiny band of tormentors and move on to the ‘main event’ …. the “bravest of the brave” are seldom if ever mentioned in the ‘conventional’ narratives we live by.
Now the scrapings of a mobilization which throws an out-sized proportion of Siberians, Baskhurs, Buryats & other ‘ethnic minorities’ into the Ukrainian meat grinder are starting to stink up those “Republics” of the Rus outback – the resistance varies from a dull rumble to a formally announced “resistance front” style of guerrilla warfare now underway out Urals way. It will only grown in size and intensity as the zinc-lined lozenges flow in swelling number.
As the French have found out – to their great distaste – the bitter dregs of ‘imperial grandeur’ leaves a vinegar like aroma around the hoariest & most sacred of mythologies. With the news coming in today – that the vital rail line running close to Mariupol – which serves to supply the Kherson salient and Zaporizhzhia both – is now under interdiction by Ukie artillery.
the word of the day among the cognoscenti of conceit & overreach is likely to be DIENBIENPHU.
“Let me count the ways those doomed French paras died each day in their foxholes.”Redbeard’s gang of Chechen clowns may be ‘white’… and sure are ‘muzzie” …
but they sure as hell ain’t ‘fuzzy wuzzy.’ Nor 36th Sikh.
– “Jo Bole Sau Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!”
Very insightful. Is this logic part of Putin’s ‘go slow’ approach in Ukraine?
Long, drawn out wars whether they are a loss or stalemate are extremely lucrative for certain groups. The war doesn’t have to make any strategic sense at all. What counts is how much money is made off of it.
This is especially true for the voluminous amount of pro war literature and pro war films. Furthermore, witness the successful careers of the consistently wrong neo con academics and media personalities in the West.
There is far less money to be made on the antiwar, anti empire side of the ledger.
Writing about slaughter in close-up, first-hand details, is not anti-war. (the “Texas Chainsaw” movie is not what prevents such events; “Hamburger Hill” “Stalingrad” or a nothing-but blood-gore film about the road to Volokalamsk, won’t do anything against war(s))
War-friendly as the soldiers participating in the slaughter may have been before, during and after, they were not the ones who started the war, and will not be the ones who start any future wars.
Let’s pick WW1 because it is the best documented —other than England, all participants released the official records. In the 1920s the powers were not efficient enough a) to spread and enforce the party-line narrative; b) to prevent actual historians from examining the records to show who planned, prepared, set in motion events that could only lead to war.
Then —and this is what genuine historians hoped & dreamed to achieve— prevent the real war-mongers from doing it again. Of course, these writers, speakers failed; didn’t even come close.
The war-mongers are geniuses, they know you better then you know yourself; they know how to use & direct your mindless emotion; they know how to use, motivate, direct government figures at the levers of war-machine.
So we ended up with a WW2 —even though only the war-mongers could benefit from it, and every player could only lose in it (war is a losing proposition).
Now we have this war.
The whole Mountain Brigade were just about wiped out in one day. They were not for war to begin with. They were drafted, dragged into an Army. They were not particularly fond of the Kiev government, they didn’t hate Russians or Putin and his crew. 12-hour-long high-quality footage from helmet-cameras couldn’t make them any more opposed to this war or any other war; and couldn’t put any viewer into a position where he could stop the war. On the other hand, the war-mongers could watch the video for 12 hours and it wouldn’t change them one bit.
The conscripts of Donetsk were drafted, ill-treated, sent into battle, they died. Footage from their helmet-cameras, footage from drones hovering above them, wouldn’t do any good. They believe(d) they were on the right side of this conflict, they just didn’t like how the management conducted the affair. And these videos certainly wouldn’t change Shoigu’s or Putin’s mind.
The mass-murder the U.S. Expeditionary Force committed in Iraq in 1991 is fairly well known. It didn’t stop anything —they stayed for another 24 years and killed even more people. And Albright said, it was worth it. (which one of them amerikano thank-a-veterans is not proud of himself ?)
What will stop or change the minds of Cheka High-Priests and Rasputin-Preachers ?
Will a book or a movie make them turn from their wicked ways ?
This was a genuinely interesting article. I consider myself well read but I’ve never come across the argument put forward here.
But you left out “the Young British Soldier” by Kipling:
When the ‘arf-made recruity goes out to the East
‘E acts like a babe an’ ‘e drinks like a beast,
An’ ‘e wonders because ‘e is frequent deceased
Ere ‘e’s fit for to serve as a soldier.
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
So-oldier ~OF~ the Queen!
Now all you recruities what’s drafted to-day,
You shut up your rag-box an’ ‘ark to my lay,
An’ I’ll sing you a soldier as far as I may:
A soldier what’s fit for a soldier.
Fit, fit, fit for a soldier . . .
First mind you steer clear o’ the grog-sellers’ huts,
For they sell you Fixed Bay’nets that rots out your guts —
Ay, drink that ‘ud eat the live steel from your butts —
An’ it’s bad for the young British soldier.
Bad, bad, bad for the soldier . . .
When the cholera comes — as it will past a doubt —
Keep out of the wet and don’t go on the shout,
For the sickness gets in as the liquor dies out,
An’ it crumples the young British soldier.
Crum-, crum-, crumples the soldier . . .
But the worst o’ your foes is the sun over’ead:
You ~must~ wear your ‘elmet for all that is said:
If ‘e finds you uncovered ‘e’ll knock you down dead,
An’ you’ll die like a fool of a soldier.
Fool, fool, fool of a soldier . . .
If you’re cast for fatigue by a sergeant unkind,
Don’t grouse like a woman nor crack on nor blind;
Be handy and civil, and then you will find
That it’s beer for the young British soldier.
Beer, beer, beer for the soldier . . .
Now, if you must marry, take care she is old —
A troop-sergeant’s widow’s the nicest I’m told,
For beauty won’t help if your rations is cold,
Nor love ain’t enough for a soldier.
‘Nough, ‘nough, ‘nough for a soldier . . .
If the wife should go wrong with a comrade, be loath
To shoot when you catch ’em — you’ll swing, on my oath! —
Make ‘im take ‘er and keep ‘er: that’s Hell for them both,
An’ you’re shut o’ the curse of a soldier.
Curse, curse, curse of a soldier . . .
When first under fire an’ you’re wishful to duck,
Don’t look nor take ‘eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you’re livin’, and trust to your luck
And march to your front like a soldier.
Front, front, front like a soldier . . .
When ‘arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch,
Don’t call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch;
She’s human as you are — you treat her as sich,
An’ she’ll fight for the young British soldier.
Fight, fight, fight for the soldier . . .
When shakin’ their bustles like ladies so fine,
The guns o’ the enemy wheel into line,
Shoot low at the limbers an’ don’t mind the shine,
For noise never startles the soldier.
Start-, start-, startles the soldier . . .
If your officer’s dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .
When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!
“human agency was absolved itself”
It’s a chronic trait of humans. Why? A coherent theory explaining it has been proposed, see “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room –The Holocaustal Covid-19 Coronavirus Madness: A Sociological Perspective & Historical Assessment Of The Covid “Phenomenon”” at https://www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html
“Fast, efficient, relentless. …. And that’s exactly how the war planners ideally want it.”
Yes, as now with the holocaustal Covid PsyOp War on the masses …
The US-NATO-UK Ukrainian Proxy War on Russia is an existential war of survival, for Russia. The West as well. It is now a Zero Sum Game Conflict. American political and economic goals are to destroy the Russian state, apply regime change strategies and steal Russia’s vast natural resources.
This campaign comes as the culmination of several hundred years of Western global dominance, not by the superiority of Western ideas and values, of which we hear much, but rather by The West’s superiority in applying organized violence, mass murder and resource theft, notably against technologically inferior states. It thus is a test of The West’s dominant Geo-Political and Geo-Economic Success Paradigm. Russia is not a technologically inferior state.
The Ukrainian people are entirely expendable cannon fodder for this campaign and they are the modern equivalent of a Pyramid of Skulls.
“What is the world’s most famous piece of war-positive art? Probably The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
I would have thought “The Iliad” would hold that title.
And “Henry V” would be up there too.
I wouldn-t call depiction of war in Illiad itself (most people confused very focused and short narrative of Illiad with bloat of myths from additional materials like Cypria and Epic Cycles) as war-positive. Overall the impression one gets from it is very tragic. Some go as far as to call it first anti/war work.
The ultimate antiwar books imo are Journey to the end of the night and Slaughterhouse 5. Celine portraits very well the fever of mass formation psychosis of the masses, the absurdity and insanity of ww1. Kurt Vonnegut shows the result of these in his ww2 book. Anti-empire shows the ugly underbelly of corruption and empire of the war. Nothing will change before more people will be snapped out of their mind controlled propaganda coma of indifference and start taking the power and responsibility of their morality and actions..Keep up the good work!
The most recent and significant work of pro-war-yet-anti-war art is “Saving Private Ryan.”
The Hollywood war-film dialect started with the thesis: Sands of Iwo Jima, The Longest Day, etc.
Then came the antithesis: Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, etc.
And finally the synthesis: Saving Private Ryan.
The moral of the story: War is hell, but it’s worth it if the cause is just. Of course, the little business of determining what is just was left unexamined by the film.
The irony of it all is that regardless of Spielberg’s intention to be the artistic arbiter of war his self-image of moral giant who transcends the callow patriots of decades gone by and the nihilistic leftists of larger decades, what he has made is effectively an anti-war film.
The horror of war weighs much heavier in the balance for the general public than the preening, moralistic justifications.
Sands of Iwo Jima might not have been an accurate portrayal of war, but it could motivate people to go into the Marine Corps. The same cannot be said of Saving Private Ryan.