Monday, January 13, 2020

Evanston: 1917

Carol and I saw the movie 1917 yesterday.  It is a good film, probably worth viewing a second time.  If I have a criticism it is that the movie is not grim enough.  There are trees and grass in many of the scenes.  In the photographs I have seen by 1917 there was not a tree or a blade of grass within miles of the front lines.  Nor a standing building.  Nothing but flattened mud.   

April 6, 1917 is the date given at the beginning of the film   Six months later on October 12 at Passchendaele New Zealand suffered what has been called “the greatest disaster in New Zealand history” when in one morning 843 New Zealand men were killed.  The population of New Zealand at the time was about one million, so the dead numbered about one thousandth of the entire country.  An equivalent in the United States now would be 300,000 dead.  In one morning.  US military total dead in WW II were 407,316.

It happened that a few days ago I came across a quote made by Winston Churchill during WW I about the “many thousands of young men moving resolutely and blithely forward in this, the hardest, the cruelest, and the least rewarded of all the wars that men have fought.”

Now Winston was very good with words and he was also very good at killing men.  Gallipoli was his idea.  But for Hitler his position in history would have been one of ignominy, not glory.

‘Blithely’?  Maybe in August 1914, but I doubt any soldier in any army moved anywhere blithely in 1917.

I buy most of my books through the inelegantly named BookBub.  I get an email with four or five selections each morning and find something of interest every few days or weeks.  Recent purchases have included CIRCE, THE OREGON TRAIL, GIVE ME A FAST SHIP about the founding of the US Navy, an excellent translation of BEOWULF by Frederick Rebsamen, and the deeply disturbing OVERTHROW by former long time NY TIMES foreign correspondent, Stephen Kinzer which describes the fourteen legitimate foreign governments the United States has overthrow by overt or covert means from Hawaii to Iraq.

I knew generally about most of these, but the details of the suffering we caused in Honduras and Guatemala and Chile and the Philippines and others are more than distressing.  Often the motive was to obtain resources or to protect US business interests, but there has also been a self-righteous belief that we Americans know ‘the true way’ and therefore have the right to impose our way on the world.

I have written that the self-righteous are always willing that others suffer for their beliefs and we Americans are.

I actually don’t care what anyone believes so long as they are not so certain in their faith, political or religious, that they feel justified to persecute and kill those who do not share their opinions.  And ‘faith’ and ‘opinions’ they are.

One of the governments we overthrew was Iran. In 1953.  We did so to protect British and American oil interests.  You have only to glance at today’s news to see how well that turned out.

I was amused to find Henry Kissinger quoted in OVERTHROW.  When the Chilean foreign minister accused him of knowing nothing about the Southern Hemisphere, Kissinger replied,   “No, and I don’t care.  Nothing important can come from the South.  History has never been produced in the South.  The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington and then goes to Tokyo.  What happens in the South is of no importance.”

But then all of you in New Zealand and Australia and South Africa and everywhere else on what I consider the better side of the Equator already knew that.

I checked.  Of the world’s current excessive population of 7.3 billion, 6.5 billion, 90%, live in the Northern Hemisphere, accounting for at least that percent of the world’s problems, if not more.

The photo is another I recently happened upon.