Many writers of World War (One) spoke truths that later generations were embarrassed to consider. Many Americans and many Brits spoke truth in poetry about the horror of war. The horror has not improved; the voices from then are largely hushed.
“Now, a professor of modern Dutch literature at Utrecht University has written a cultural history that expands our understanding of the war’s poetic legacy. Pan-European in scope, Geert Buelens’s Everything to Nothing makes clear that other nations suffered their own disasters, often on a scale comparable with the Somme, but that literary responses to the conflict were much more varied than the conventional wisdom would have it.” (City Journal)
I note with excitement Everything to Nothing: The Poetry of the Great War, Revolution and the Transformation of Europe, by Geert Buelens, translated by David McKay. As Clarence Darrow successfully explained in the trial of Leopold and Loeb, wars affect cultures; and rarely to their benefit. The Great War caused great rootlessness; he blamed the vicious murder after World War I on the postwar damage.
Each war leaves a long-lasting scar on the psyche of the combatants, winners and losers. Many of the failures of America can be traced to damage to its own society by the effect of past wars. Unless we try to discover, we cannot recover. If we do not, we relegate ourselves to a meaningless world of ennui and hopelessness. Dada. And Charlie still don’t surf.
Wlfred Owen – Dulce et Decorum
[An Attack With Poison Gas, World War I]
…If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.