Thursday, May 22, 2008

Memorial Day, plus 4

The Great War

The Great War changed everything we know as a culture, a race, as humans. The amount of death from the ferocity of weaponry was something people were not prepared to see. All the benefits and rewards of modern industry lent a hand to the deaths of millions upon millions of souls in the years from 1914 to 1918. The effect of The Great War is beyond profound. One of the examples I like to use is this etching from Otto Dix. Dix fought for the Germans in The Great War. He didn't shy from the action. He was with an artillery unit and commanded a machine gun unit. He was wounded several times and came away from the army a pretty decorated soldier. What he did and saw got to him. He etched the "Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas" in 1924. It doesn't look gory, but it sure as hell is creepy. See Dix changed after the war, in fact he became incredibly anti war. He saw himself as the enemy. Thats why he shows the Germans advancing here. Its a view from the enemies standpoint. Hey don't think this didn't mess with him. The Nazi's came after his ass cause he stuck to his guns on the anti war sentiment. Dix lived with a recurring nightmare that stuck me as odd also. He kept dreaming that he was crawling through the rubble of destroyed houses. He didn't get haunted from the killing, but the devastation around him. That was the impact of this war. The utter destruction of the landscape. Entire swaths of uninhabitable land, pounded into uselessness under the heel of modern artillery.

War is truly horrific. People argue all the time its necessary. I don't agree with that. If you feel war is the answer, sign your name on the dotted line, get your weapon and fall in lock step. There is nothing wrong with that. I joined the army the summer after high school. I was in basic training when we started the build up for the first gulf war. Life got very serious very fast. You never want to think you are near the end of your life at the age of 18, but that was on the brain. So I resigned to my fate. I figured if I was going out, I was going out with a fight. Consequently, I really got into basic training. It wasn't a far stretch from life in the Pocomoke Forest. A lot of camping, a lot of walking, a lot of shooting. All I wanted was some money to go to college and suddenly I was in the army and we were going to war. How life can change. Even with that fate hanging over us, we kept at it. We learned how to be the team. And when duty called we were ready to do what was asked. And when you get down to it, thats what we should remember on Memorial Day. The individual effort for the greater good. But lets get back to Oliver T Beauchamp and 1918.

The Great War should have been the war to end all wars, but it wasn't. It was actually the source of many a conflict after The Great War ended. The advances in modern industry and technology introduced some powerful weapons to the battlefield: the airplane, the tank, the machine gun, modern artillery, the automobile, the telephone. Its pretty incredible when you think about it. All that technology used to wipe millions from the earth. And we wonder about hope. But youth springs eternal and by the time 1918 rolled around, Oliver T. Beauchamp was 21 years of age. He was seeing the world with unlimited possibilities. Americans were feeling good about themselves and wanted to help it friends in Europe. No one wanted to feel the teeth of the trenches, modern technology made that tour of duty a virtual death sentence, but there were men that wanted to fight that fight. The comrades in arms. Strength in numbers. That didn't appeal to the soldier that wanted that one vs one combat. There was one piece of technology that drew that certain kind of soldier to this war. The airplane.

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