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Wandering around a bookstore the other day, I found a 50% off copy of Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves, the English author most famous for writing I, Claudius.  Graves decided, at the age of 34, to write his autobiography.   Apparently he was rather in need of cash, as he pounded the thing out in 11 weeks.  It was a hit and it's been in print ever since.  

      A fatally wounded man is carried through the trenches
     on the first day of the battle of the Somme.
Graves had an interesting background, his mother was a German, and his middle name was, at least technically, "von Ranke".  One of the 1% of his day, he went to Charterhouse, one of the older "public schools" in England, of the Eton, Harrow, and Winchester type.  

Graves spent a good part of 1914 on home duty, but was eventually assigned to the front, first as a lieutenant then eventually as an officer, assigned to infantry duty in the trenches. Graves fought in two major battles, the Somme and Loos, which the men called "shows".  

While still a virgin, Graves saw plenty of war, killed a lot of men, and saw a lot of men killed.  He knew war.

At the Battle of Loos, Graves writes of how British intended to use poison gas in the attack, but the gas masks they issued to their own troops were poorly designed and ineffective.  The actual gas attack was intended to be carried out by simply opening up cannisters of the gas in the British trenches and then letting the wind blow the gas over the German lines.  As it turns out, in Graves's sector, there was no wind on the morning of the attack, but the order came to open the gas cannisters anyway.  As a result of this and other mistakes, many British troops became casualties of the planned gas attack.

And Graves also knew the John Boltons and Mitt Romneys of the day, who lust for war, but never seem to find the opportunity to march off to war themselves:

War should be a sport for men above forty-five only, the Jesse's, not the David's. "Well, dear father, how proud I am of you serving your country as a very gallant gentleman prepared to make even the supreme sacrifice!  I only wish I were your age: how willingly I would buckle on my armour and fight those unspeakable Philistines!  As it is of course, I can't be spared; I have to stay behind at the War Office and administrate for you lucky old men.  What sacrifices I have made!", David would sigh, when the old boys had gone off with a draft to the front, singing Tipperary: "There's father and my Uncle Salmon, and both my grandfathers, all on active service.  I must put a card in the window about it.
And here is the man himself, reciting his poem The Man in the Mirror:

So, by all means, John Bolton, march off to war yourself, I'll put a bumper sticker on my car.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Thu Jun 07, 2012 at 08:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.


Why is the right wing clamoring for war on Iran?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Malvina Reynolds said it well: (41+ / 0-)

    Last night I had a lovely dream.
    I saw a big parade with ticker tape galore,
    And men were marching there
    The like I'd never seen before.

    Oh the bankers and the diplomats are going in the army.
    Oh happy day! I'd give my pay to see them on parade,
    Their paunches at attention and their striped pants at ease.
    They've gotten patriotic and they're going overseas.
    We'll have to do the best we can and bravely carry on,
    So we'll just keep the laddies1 here to manage while they're gone.

    Oh, oh, we hate to see them go,
    The gentlemen of distinction in the army.

    The bankers and the diplomats are going in the army,
    It seemed too bad to keep them from the wars they love to plan.
    We're all of us contented that they'll fight a dandy war,
    They don't need propaganda, they know what they're fighting for.
    They'll march away with dignity and in the best of form,
    And we'll just keep the laddies here to keep the lassies1 warm.


    The bankers and the diplomats are going in the army,
    We're going to make things easy cause it's all so new and strange;
    We'll give them silver shovels when they have to dig a hole,
    And they can sing in harmony when answering the roll,
    They'll eat their old K-rations from a hand-embroidered box,
    And when they die, we'll bring them home, and bury them in Fort Knox.

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Thu Jun 07, 2012 at 08:39:00 PM PDT

    •  Carlyle too, back in 1836 in Sartor Resartus (28+ / 0-)
      WHAT, speaking in quite unofficial language, is the net-purport and upshot of war? To my own knowledge, for example, there dwell and toil, in the British village of Dumdrudge, usually some five hundred souls. From these, by certain “Natural Enemies” of the French, there are successfully selected, during the French war, say thirty able-bodied men: Dumdrudge, at her own expense, has suckled and nursed them: she has, not without difficulty and sorrow, fed them up to manhood, and even trained them to crafts, so that one can weave, another build, another hammer, and the weakest can stand under thirty stone avoirdupois. Nevertheless, amid much weeping and swearing, they are selected; all dressed in red, and shipped away, at the public charges, some two thousand miles, or say only to the south of Spain; and fed there till wanted. And now to that same spot, in the south of Spain, are thirty similar French artisans, from a French Dumdrudge, in like manner wending; till at length, after infinite effort, the two parties come into actual juxtaposition, and Thirty stands fronting Thirty, each with a gun in his hand. Straightway the word “Fire!” is given and they blow the souls out of one another, and in place of sixty brisk useful craftsmen, the world has sixty dead carcasses, which it must bury, and anew shed tears for. Had these men any quarrel? Busy as the Devil is, not the smallest! They lived far enough apart; were the entirest strangers; nay, in so wide a Universe, there was even, unconsciously, by Commerce, some mutual helpfulness between them. How then? Simpleton! their Governors had fallen out; and, instead of shooting one another, had the cunning to make these poor blockheads shoot.—Alas, so is it in Deutschland, and hitherto in all other lands; still as of old, “what devilry soever Kings do, the Greeks must pay the piper!”—In that fiction of the English Smollett, it is true, the final Cessation of War is perhaps prophetically shadowed forth; where the two Natural Enemies, in person, take each a Tobacco-pipe, filled with Brimstone; light the same, and smoke in one another’s faces, till the weaker gives in: but from such predicted Peace-Era, what blood-filled trenches, and contentious centuries, may still divide us!

      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Thu Jun 07, 2012 at 08:44:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for reminding me of this (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fiona West, Aunt Pat

      wonderful song. Malvina Reynolds was a national treasure.

      "Maybe this is how empires die - their citizens just don't deserve to be world leaders anymore." -Kossack Puddytat, In a Comment 18 Sept 2011

      by pixxer on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 06:58:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  GTAT one of the greatest books of all time (26+ / 0-)

    Even my severely dyslexic ex said it was 100% worth it when I urged him to read it.  Some hold that the 1929 edition was greatly superior to the 1957 one; Graves' nephew Richard Perceval Graves did a definitive edition in 1995 with additional footnotes and photographs, which is the one I like (read the others too).

    Two more you may enjoy are Paul Fussell's Great War and Modern Memory and Siegfried Sassoon's Sherston trilogy (available in one volume as the Complete Memoirs of George Sherston).

    BTW, you forgot one explanation for war:  it's the most efficient way to siphon money from the US Treasury to the right pockets.  

    "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity" -W.B. Yeats

    by LucyandByron on Thu Jun 07, 2012 at 11:37:35 PM PDT

    •  also, and especially for (8+ / 0-)

      those who prefer their history as fiction, I recommend the Inspector Rutledge series by Charles Todd. Protagonist is a returned British officer with severe shell shock -- what we call PTSD. Much of the war history is woven into the background and forms the framwork for the characters and how they interact. Reading them, you realize hos totally involved England was -- every village and town had huge losses. The US entered late and from a distance; our losses were miniscule in comparison.

      It's particularly pertinent today given the high percentage of returning servicepeople with PTSD -- Doonesbury has been one of the best in keeping this issue in the public eye.

      Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why. -- Hunter S. Thompson

      by Mnemosyne on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:03:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The General--C.S.Forester (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PrahaPartizan, Aunt Pat

        We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

        by bmcphail on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 10:55:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Blackadder Goes Forth (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cartoon Peril, Aunt Pat

          Rowland Atkinson's last Blackadder series also portrays much of the seeming incompetence which bedeviled the Allied high command during WW1.  Both sides struggled with trying to craft a tactical response to the environment the advances in science and management had created on the battlefield since the late 1800s.  In the meantime, millions died while the battle leaders experimented in real time.  Of course, we're still being told that we'll be "...home before the leaves fall...," that infamous battle cry of August 1914.  

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 07:27:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Blackadder not far off from reality. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            PrahaPartizan, Aunt Pat

            You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

            by Cartoon Peril on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 07:55:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Lyn McDonald's Contribution (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Cartoon Peril, Aunt Pat

              I know.  Anyone who's read any of Lyn McDonald's work can get a glimpse (but only that) of what life on the Western Front must have been like during that time.  It only makes Atkinson's portrayal that much richer, because so much of it is true.

              "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

              by PrahaPartizan on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:09:43 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Highly recommend her book 1915, it covers (0+ / 0-)

                the Loos battle that Graves (and many others of course) fought in.  There were no steel helmets at that time, not even on the German side and there were of course many head wound casualties.

                McDonald interviewed the veterans in the 1970s and 1980s, approximately the same distance in time as we are from WW2.  By then they were going fast.  What I like about her books is the focus is on the individual soldier or nurse.  (One of her best books was about the medical services in the war.)

                You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

                by Cartoon Peril on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:14:02 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  Also great WWI fiction (0+ / 0-)

        pretty much contemporaneous with and in much the same vein as GTAT is Her Privates We, Frederic Manning.  HIghly recommended.

  •  I'll have to read this book... (4+ / 0-)

    "I'm not scared of anyone or anything, Angie. Isn't that the way life should be?" Jack Hawksmoor

    by skyounkin on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 04:53:06 AM PDT

  •  That attitude (0+ / 0-)

    which became so prevalent in the UK and France between 1920 and 1940, led directly to the appeasement of Hitler. It would not have taken much to stop him as late as 1938. But Chamberlain and Daladier get too much of the blame -- their populaces had become pacifist. The result is history.

    •  And the fact is (0+ / 0-)

      that Ahmadinejad has been quoted by the official Iranian government propaganda organ as wanting to create a new holocaust. Hopefully we can stop him without war, but we must not allow history to repeat.

    •  so anti-war veterans and poets led to appeasement? (12+ / 0-)

         It is a gross exaggeration to claim that the British and French public had become pacifist by 1920, and this caused the appeasement policy. There were certainly pacifists in both countries, especially England, but the pacifists were a minority even in the Labor Party, let alone in the Conservative (which was in power during the whole of the crucial period in the 30s).
           The appeasement of Hitler was the result of many factors. Yes, a genuine revulsion at the cost of the Great War was one. And anyone who has read Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth cannot but share that revulsion. But a more significant factor, particularly among the British political elite, was their belief that Hitler was far less dangerous than Communism. Indeed, the Conservatives tended to think that Hitler was a crucial bulwark against Stalin, and thus well worth appeasing. Add in British guilt feelings over the Versailles Treaty--by the early 20s British opinion was united in feeling that the Germans had been treated unfairly--and add the widespread belief that the Great War could have been avoided if diplomats had only made more serious efforts to resolve quarrels by bold action...and you get appeasement. It was in no sense the policy of mere cowardice that Americans tend to believe.  

      •  tips for nuance (8+ / 0-)

        nice to see it's still alive here.

        Try to shout at the right buildings for a few months.

        by nickrud on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:04:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Several more contributing factors. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cartoon Peril

        The armies going into WWI had significant numbers of men from educated backgrounds. Since the firstborn sons inherited almost everything, younger ones frequently chose military careers. Even a good percent of those who enlisted when the war broke out had better than average education.

        When Hitler started to rise and became part of community discussions, too many of the men who had the education and intelligence to expose him had been killed.

        Stronger was the investment of the 1% in promoting the war. As always, for the next racket.

        "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

        by Ginny in CO on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 06:56:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Not To Mention "Nationalism" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ignacio Magaloni, Cartoon Peril

        Those of us from the post-WW2 generations tend to forget the effect of "nationalism" on foreign policy decisions during the 1930s.  Those areas (the Rhineland, Austria, the Sudetenland, and even Danzig and the Danzig Corridor) which Hitler wanted in the 1936-1939 period were mostly German-speaking territories.  The British tended to consider them German nationals, not citizens of the states in which they resides, hence the reluctance to go to war over yet another Balkan-like squabble which had ignited WW1.  Hitler might have avoided WW2 in 1939 - when Germany was NOT ready - if he had moved on Danzig without incorporating the remnants of Czechoslovakia surviving Munich.  The destruction of Czechoslovakia and the creation of two "colonies." the Protecorates of Bohemia and Moravia, finally confirmed the British suspicion that Hitler could not be trusted - ever, ever, ever.  

        American conservative belief about "appeasement" is a hoot, though.  They're the folks who fought tooth and nail to keep America isolationist right up to our being forced into the war.  They then attacked Roosevelt for getting us into a war against an opponent whom he hadn't wanted to fight, the Japanese.  Only Hitler's blunder in declaring war against the US corrected that problem for Roosevelt.  Until then, the conservatives didn't care at all that Hitler was coming within a hair's breadth of winning the war by defeating Stalin and the Soviet Union, because the Bolshies were always the biggest threat of all.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 07:13:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  don't make the mistake (3+ / 0-)

      of thinking Graves was totally anti-war - he sought to return to the front after being seriously injured.  

      Part of his ambivalence is the simple fact that his mother was German nobility.

      But read it. Graves has an unmistakable voice worth hearing.

      Try to shout at the right buildings for a few months.

      by nickrud on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:01:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You should read the book first. (0+ / 0-)

      Making generalizations about a topic you are poorly informed about can make a person come across as ignorant.

      The future will be better tomorrow. -D.Quayle

      by word player on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:12:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Graves' own son was killed in WW2, and he himself (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LucyandByron, Ignacio Magaloni

      volunteered, but Britain didn't need him apparently.

      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 09:46:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Anything Better Than 1942 (0+ / 0-)

      It is questionable whether the Western European allies would have been any better prepared in 1938 than they were in 1939.  The French were recovering from a right-wing inspired trashing of their economy in 1938 and their aircraft industry was a total mess courtesy of that same "patriotic" right-wing faction which had done nothing to improve its efficiency.  Only the semi-nationalization of the aircraft industry by the Popular Front had done anything to begin to place on a real industrial basis.  Beyond that, the French had no real maneuver doctrine in 1938, only establishing the first real mechanized divisions (the Division Legere Mecanique) then and their first real  armored divisions ( the DCRs) in early 1940.  The British in 1938 had no real army to send to the Continent and had been trying for years to avoid having to do so.  Only the Czechoslovakia crisis of March 1939 prompted the British to institute conscription in April 1939, around the same time they finally guaranteed Polish independence and established a firm accord with France.  On the other hand, we Americans tend to forget that it was Britain and France which declared war in September 1939 on Germany and Hitler, much to his utter shock and surprise.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 07:55:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Read Graves at school c. 1971 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril, Ignacio Magaloni

    I wonder if Goodbye to All That would be a book taught in schools today (in the UK, let alone something equivalent in the US). As a book it was certainly more interesting than some of the other set books we had to struggle with like Troilus and Criseyde in the original middle English (hint - trying to read the text out loud gives a better idea of Chaucer's meaning than trying to understand the unfamiliar spelling - at least I found that a useful technique).

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 06:54:56 AM PDT

  •  I've been meaning to read it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2thanks, Cartoon Peril

    since it was mentioned in To End All Wars, which I read earlier this year.  After reading it, I went to YouTube and watched a video that contains the picture you've used in this diary, which was part of a very popular set of "films" about the Somme shown in Britain.

    One casualty of the Battle of Loos was the son of Rudyard Kipling, whose body was never found.

    War has become an important part of our national identity.  Like the title of Chris Hedges' book:  war is a force that gives us meaning.  We enjoy our distance now, but there will come a terrible day when it will all come home.

    A terrible beauty is born. --W.B. Yeats

    by eightlivesleft on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 07:06:55 AM PDT

  •  my additional poll answer (4+ / 0-)

    Because Iraq and Afghanistan war profiteers made out so well.   I want more.
    Also, can't let all that military equipment rot in the yards; doesn't look so good on the amortization sheets.

    Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by "equal justice under the law." - Bushy McSpokesperson

    by gatorcog on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 07:28:58 AM PDT

  •  My answer to your poll (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril


    Try to shout at the right buildings for a few months.

    by nickrud on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:02:48 AM PDT

  •  Robert Graves (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    word player, twcollier, Cartoon Peril

    is buried in the churchyard of Deja, the tiny town in Mallorce where he lived for so long. It's walled, as churchyards are there, and at the top of a hill.

    His stone is like all the others, a plain sandstone slab. Its says "Robert Graves, Poeta."

    Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why. -- Hunter S. Thompson

    by Mnemosyne on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:04:58 AM PDT

    •  Graves' final resting place (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cartoon Peril

      I believe it's actually spelled "Deia" -- though the name is Spanish, or Catalan, so the spelling may change in translation.
      And it is beautiful.  Had a good meal there once.
      Thanks for the interesting comment, which reminded me of that visit.

      •  locally, it's known as Deja (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cartoon Peril, llywrch

        The spelling that way is either Catalan or, more likely, Mallorqeen. Just as the island is Majorca to Spanish but Mallorca to its residents.

        When I was living there, I knew people who'd known him, and apparently he was a person of rather strong ego. :-)

        Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why. -- Hunter S. Thompson

        by Mnemosyne on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 09:28:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I dearly love this book. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twcollier, Cartoon Peril

    Graves was a giant, and his books are like old friends.

    The future will be better tomorrow. -D.Quayle

    by word player on Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 08:14:36 AM PDT

  •  One correction.... (4+ / 0-)

    A lieutenant is an officer.  Pre 1900s or so, the British had a rank below that of 2nd lieutenant the name of which could have been "Ensign" or "Cornet" depending on the type of unit.  Ensigns and Cornet would have been considered an under-lieutenant, but they still had officers commission.  In the modern day (post 1900) British Army, the second lieutenant is the lowest grade of officer, but still an officer nonetheless.  

    What sometimes makes it confusing is that some British units retain older insignia and names for the purposes of tradition.  So there, people will have an official rank that corresponds to the Army's unified rank structure and pay system, but for ceremonial purposes, they may be called something else.  


  •  A moving and vivid book (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    I thought it was a very good read that communicates the humanity of its author.
    Also enjoyed "I, Claudius."

    Thanks for the diary.

  •  Graves was a very good and very prolific (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril, Caneel, LucyandByron

    poet and deep thinker.

    My favorite book by Graves is his famous The White Goddess (1948), a long essay about the connection between myth, poetry, and worldwide stories of the goddess and her son.

    I bought that one when I was 16 on a trip to D.C.

  •  Interesting, since I was researching Graves (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    just a week ago because he was the author of one of my favorite short stories, Earth to Earth, one I re-read every few years.

    I hadn't realized what a prolific author he was and now shall search for more Graves' treasures.

  •  WW1 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Be careful here, one suggests that people read Fritz Fischer before any hasty judgements on World war I.

    That said, war with Iran would be wrong, wrong, wrong.

  •  I read this book long ago in grad school (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ginny in CO

    Hadn't thought about it for a while, but thanks for the reminder. It's a great read; Graves was like many other Brits of his generation--entirely disenchanted by his wartime experience. Not just Brits, of course. So why do we keep getting into them?

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