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Each November: grieving the dead and our unchanged world

From First World War

Fig.1 Grieving the dead and our unchanged world a century on – despair at the unending violence

We are still grieving, we grandchildren and great-children. The world notices this.

What is this loss that the British and Commonwealth countries of the former British Empire feel so tangibly and personally? I see a different commemoration in France. I wonder how the First World War is remembered in Serbia? And Russia? And the US?

Ours was a pyrrhic victory in 1919. And the job wasn’t finished. How else could there have been a second world war after the first?

Britain ceased to be the pre-eminent world power it had come to be and has been leaking influence in fits and starts ever since.

Cameron to Putin is not Churchill to Stalin, which is why this country needs Europe – better united than alone.

And how does this play out in grief and art then, since and now? The distribution of wealth began – a bit. Domestic service as a career or layer of society very quickly washed away – people didn’t want to do it while the landed gentry were feeling increasingly vulnerable and broke. When we grieve every November do we grieve for a golden age, as well as for those whose life chances were destroyed?

Listening to Metallica ‘One’ inspired by the anti-war movie ‘Johnny Get Your Gun’ transcends 90+ years of this sickening grief we feel concerning the First World War

Peace in pieces

Fig. 1. Poster commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima for Japan, 1985. Ivan Chermayeff, de la warr pavilion, Bexhill.

Trip FIVE to this exhibition, this time with my brother-in-law, is imminent. What I adore about exhibitions here is that they are ‘bitesize’ and smart; they are a perfect ‘mind burst’. They are the ideal repeat show too as with each visit you see more, and see differently … and are influenced of course by the person you are with.

The right image says what each viewer sees in it.

This idea naturally translates into any and every conflict we see today: MH17, fractured and not yet stuck together, the Middle East utterly smashed into dust – I have this visual in my head of Hanukkah Lamp, the smoke from which forms a fractured map of Israel and Palestine.

From E-Learning IV

From a learning point of view to start with a poster such as this is to follow Robert Gagne theory of learning design; also the natural skill of storytellers and good communications: get their attention.

Who wants to commemorate the First World War?

We should use the ‘connectedness’ of Web 2.0 to buddy up with six other people each from, for example, Germany, Russia, France, Serbia, Turkey, South Africa, Newfoundland, Belgium, Australia, Portugal, Japan, Italy … and more, to take in the 37 countries that threw their people at the artillery, machine gun fire, gas and barbed wire between 1914 and 1918 and then reflect on whether we are doing enough in 2014 to prevent violent conflict on any scale, anywhere. But we should not dictate, or tut tut if the response in Germany is different to ours. This has been the problem of the 20th century in families as in politics – expecting everyone to be like you, instead of recognising that we are each so different it makes me feel lonely to think about it.

 

Join me by making the commemoration ‘for the people, by the people’ – commemorate an ancestor or pick a name from a war memorial or from the records, and research their story. Post your content online then generate a Quick Response code and wear this. When people ask what it is say who you want to remember and how they can find out more … and even do the same themselves.

Did one country more than any other cause war in 1914?

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As I read all that has been said and is being said on the outbreak of war in 1914 I become more confused, not less. It is messy to say the least. A few pages on from drawing the above conclusion Niall Ferguson goes on to blame the smokescreen of indecission put up by the British Foreign Minister Grey. The mistake is to think there is a simple answer.

You start by thinking of gambler’s around a Euopean table, then start to wonder if Germany has the most to lose, to gain and to risk.

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How Geoffrey Malins filmed episodes of the First World War

20131016-173459.jpg My immediate thought here is that over 100 years
capturing events such as this have gone full circle – we are back
to one person and his kit trying to see the action. It also strikes
me as someone who is so familiar with activity on the Western Front
and action in the trenches that he misses much of the key action:
he cannot film at night, nor can he get in amongst the action, nor
of course is there any sound. Colour adds clarity as you can
differentiate more of the detail. In any one day at the end of June
and early July, the months that interest me, how much did his
cameras see? An hour one morning, a couple the following afternoon?
It is worth thinking how much wad going on when he was mot turning
the film through the camera. The kit was cumbersome and heavy. It
weighed 5 stone. Then there were cannisters of film he strung
around his neck. He has a canny turn of phrase. He describes the
Howitzers he films as a ‘horrible frog squatting on its haunches’.
p120. I wonder if the cameraman has as much of a story to tell
given the difficulties and dangers he must face getting into
position. There are many times when he describes what he hadn’t the
means to record: the frying bacon, the boiling water, the chat
between soldiers … laughing, swaering and humming songs. p132
What does war really mean? Is this a question such filmmaking hoped
to answer. There appears to be a niavety about the entire
enterprise.

I’m familiar with The Battle of the Somme footage so am delighted that it is brought to life by Malins’s words describing people and events before, during and after his bouts of filming. The dressing station sounds far more horrific than he feels. He must surely have fekt sensitive about filming people as they died.

Moments that define Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski OBE

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Fig 1. Chapter Three: A Life Remembered

For all the technology – I am writing on an iPad – the book I am reading (‘A Life Remembered’ is only available in print) is on a rather rusty, heavy-duty iron book stand. Out of shot I have a lamp on an upturned waste-paper bin – an eBook would be the light, the stand and the content. It allows me to take notes, picking out moments and ideas from mini PostIts.

In some respects I feel like a Talk Show Host preparing for an interview, though many of these stories and their significance to Zbigniew Pelczynski I have heard before – I’ll be in his company this weekend so can ask questions, record the interview highlights and post the results here.

What defines him as an academic, inspirational educator and Polish patriot? How might others have behaved given the extraordinary life choices he had to make as the Second World War came to a close?

What is it about Oxford University that held him in its spell and kept him from the opportunities and temptations of other universities in the UK and abroad?

How can the oath he made to God that defines his life come from someone with no faith in religion?

Is it not ironic that despite being alive and well and mentally alert and agile in his 86th year that publication of his life story isn’t the end at all, but another mile stone as he drives on to yet more commitments and projects later this year and next including a two-day conference on Rousseau, Hobbes and Machiavelli, the book launch at the Polish Embassy then Meetings at his School fo Leaders in Warsaw.

With Zbszyek it isn’t even a case of ‘what next?’ rather it is a case of what he plans to do still beyond that.

My Notes So far :

Learning in extremis

Three Reformers Jacques Maritain
– an exegesis of the works of Luther, Calvin and Rousseau.

Zbig studied while part of the Polish Resistance in Warsaw, developing early ideas and an interest in:

  • man
  • society
  • state

McAvoy (2012:19)

KEY MOMENTS: Events that make the person

Saying good-bye to his mother Irena in August 1944 age 18 and lying about what he was up to as he went off to join his company B1 of the Basta Regiment. He saw his mother again in December 1956. (p 24)

PERSONALITIES

Jerzy Kloczowski, known as Piotrus

HORROR

The German campaign of mass murder in Warsaw in response to the foolhardy uprising killing, between 5th and 7th August 1944 more than 50,000 men, women and children. Perhaps 200,000 killed over the next two months.

KEY MOMENT

The life defining oath Zbigniew made when rubble pinned the 19-year-old in a cellar after an attack by a Stuka.

He made a pack with God: if he got out alive, then somehow, someday, he would do something for Poland in return. McAvoy (2012:27)

DEFINING MOMENT – Traumatised

Appearance of political prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp who fought over every scrap of food. McAvoy (2012:36)

HORROR – POLISH FARMHAND – what people will do to survive and for love.

Condemned for a ‘race crime’ with a German girl and put in a forced labour camp on starvation rations he joined the Offen Kommando whose job it was to collect and burn the bodies of dead inmates. McAvoy (2012:39) There they had witnessed systematic cannibalism.

(Though I suspect hours of cooking rather than 15 minutes would have been required).

DEFINING MOMENT

Two lessons: the story itself and from the way it was told. Cured of social snobbery for life. McAvoy (2012:39)

A very different war defined a quite different man – my grandfather, working class and a machine-gunner in the First War, humble, conscientious and hardworking, dedicated his life to his wife and child.

What is of greater significance?

Our genetic make-up or the events in our life? People respond very differently to events and circumstances, yet the decisions they take define them. We cannot all be the same.

What am I coming to understand about education and the motivation to learn?

What bearing does this have on the struggles and wars that continue around the world and the politics that are both the cause and cure of the mess in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond to Korea and elsewhere?

REFERENCE

McAvoy, D (2012) Zbigwniew Pelczynski: A life remembered. Grosvenor House Publishing.

World War: its origins and opportunities

In Part Six of ‘World War’ the editor Sir John Hammerton (1938) makes some interesting points, written in 1938 with the Great War only twenty years before. I’ve heard others, regular Tommies from the trenches referring to 1870–71 and before to the beginning of the rivalry between France and Germany, back to the Napoleonic Wars and the Thirty Years War.

In the editorial Hammerton uses the language of war and expresses the misconceived hope, even in 1938′ that the last war will be the last, that victory is worth it or that “we produce an environment ‘safe for democracy’ or ‘homes for heroes’. Are we not still guilty of exploiting words like ‘heroes’? That it is heroic to put you life on the line? Which in turn must feed into the psyche of the next generation of fighters?

The victor writes the history, yet Hammerton tries to present the facts objectively. I wonder how the words of Hiddenberg come over in ‘My War Memories’? Does he glory in Tanneberg and blame others for the rest?

There’s a picture of a church taken as a strong point surrounded by barbed wire that makes me realise that in this war forts crumbled, literally and as a useful point if strength. The rise of barbed–wire, machine–guns and artillery is seen as the start of a short era of static war, yet this is surely akin to an older action, the seige. The war id movement, of cavalry, was transferring to the skies.

I find it remarkable that Germany made many foolish assumptions about the state of the relations between countries of the British Empire, even beleiving that should Canada enter the war it would exposen itself to conflict with the USA. WW6C12p151 Do all warmongers delude themselves about the outcome? Do they ever win? What are the lasting conquests and why did they succeed? For example the Norman conquest of England?

Hammerton makes an intersting pooint about ‘German Teutonic kultur’ compares to the ‘peaceful union of states under Great Britain, whose national existence was more likely to stay intact within the empire rather than separated from it’. A case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, or subjected people knowing that the time to rebel is not when hundreds if thousands of young men have been mobilised and armed?

German racism ‘The Germans complained during the war that they were faced with a motley crowd of coloured troops.’ Hammerton ed. (1938:151) As if war is a game where sides can only be selected from amongst specific ‘racially superior’ groups or classes?

We owe it to those who have gone before to preserve the great fabric of British freedom and hand it on to our children.” Sir Joseph Cook, the Australian Prime Minister.

Samalis want to fight for, not against the English.

I admire the construction of this metaphor as well as the sentiment expressed. Metaphors must have a ressonace with the audience. Was this first expressed to the people of Somaliland? Politically were those selected from the Somali people to govern likely to lose most, or everything, if they chose to rebel? In any case, given the times, to rebel would be to pick sides and I don’t suppose German colonialism had much of a reputation.

“As the monsoon winds drives the sandhills of our coast into new forms, so does the news of the German evil doing drive our hearts and spears into the service of the English Government.” The hakim of Jubaland, Governor of the Somaliland Protectorate.

A case of my master’s enemy is my enemy, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t or a human inclination to take sides in a fight and join in. (JV)

Or was their fear of internment and viscious retributions?

The war to end war? So H G Wells thought in 1914 and 1936

Fig. 1 World War (Parts 1-6)

I’m reading ‘World War’ to understand better how people thought if the events at the time.

The first issue of 52 came out on 8th November 1934.

It is described as a ‘pictured history’ so there are, for its time, loads of orignal black and white pictures, but this is no comic, there is ample text, one million words in total across the series, with contributions from the likes of H.G.Wells.

Fig 2. H.G.Wells (Author and commentator)

The goal of the series was to provide:

‘A vivid mental impression of what the War signified in its destruction of old and beautiful things, the production of human misery and unparalleled suffering, and the setting back of the clock of civilization’. pii Sir John Hammerton

Hammerton the Editor, during the war, of ‘The War Illustrated’ had a demonstrable skill gained from producing encyclopedias and multiple volumes.

Fig 3. Killed taking a German Pill Box. Passchendaele late 1917. From ‘World War: a pictured history’

Hammerton justifies publishing the ‘horrors’ of the war; the exact images that are kept from our TV screens today.

If we saw more often the graphic consequences of shelling and shooting there might be the kind if outcry and action that is currently given to famine.

He was against propaganda.

By the time ‘World War’ was published Hitler had come to power in Germany so it isn’t surprising that the editor senses trouble ahead; writing of Germany he says:

‘A nation that … dreams even now of sacrificing its new generation of youth at the altar which still reeks pf the blood of its slaughtered millions’. Hammerton (1934:1)

While he asks:

‘No earnest striving after peace would demand too much if it could prevent the coming again of any comparable calamity’ Hammerton (1934:1)

For a pithy statement of why Britain went to war we turn to H G Wells who coined the phrase ‘the war to end war’ at the end of August 1914 when the conflict had only been running for a fortnight.

H G Wells, was viewed as a prophet of social change and progress.

Why Britain went to War

Reprint from ‘The War Illustrated’ August 22, 1914.

The cause of war?

  • The invasion of Belgium and Luxembourg to whom Britain was bound by treaty to protect.

Our Aim.

  • To put the Germans back over the Belgian border and tell them not to do it again.

German expansion since 1871.

Now no choice but destroy or be destroyed.

A war not of soldiers, but of whole peoples (Sidney Low).

We have to avoid a ‘vindictive triumph’ Wells, (1914, 1936:7). Perceptive as this ‘vindictiveness’ is what fuelled Hitler and his cronies.

‘It is a war to exorcise a world-madness and end an age’.

H G Wells brings in the industrial giant Krupp and the armament trust, and describes their actions as ‘organized scoundrelism’ which ‘mined all the security of civilization, brought up and dominated the Press, ruled a national literature, and corrupted universities’. Wells, (1914, 1936:8).

So, a hundred years ago the power of the Press to influence and persuade was criticised.

‘We know we face unprecedented slaughter and agonies; we know that for neither side will there be waxy triumphs or prancing victories’. Wells (1914 1936:9)

The war to end war

‘This is now a war of peace. It is a crusade against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war – it is the last war!’ Wells (1914, 1936:9)

The answer, retrospectively, as he had considered in 1904:

  • arbitration
  • mutual security pacts
  • international organization

H G Wells had a poor opinion of Allied military direction and upper–class English education.

It isn’t a social myth that a generation thought their leaders were poor.

H G Wells was an opinion maker, with the confidence to have a point of view.

A hundred years on do we not turn still for commentary from successful authors and influential broadcasters, who, if not writing for a paper or part work will appear on ‘Any Questions’ or be invited for an opinion as news breaks?

Who might be the voices we turn to today, the grandchildren (and great grandchildren) of the WW1 generation:

  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Hugo Dixon
  • Bronwen Maddox
  • Wil Self
  • Niall Ferguson

‘The scale and range and power of human activities have been altered by a complicated development of inventions and discoveries, and this has made it imperative to adjust the methods of human association and government to new requirements’. Wells (1936:4)

‘The drive to a ‘federal world state, a World Ax, which will absorb, flatten put and replace the present sovereign governments of the world altogether’. Wells (1936:5)

  • tariff
  • dumping
  • financial strategy

The Great War … the opening phase of a process of convulsive adjustment which will ultimately abolish war. Wells (1936:5)

REFERENCE

Hammerton, J (1936) World War (Part 1)

Wells, H.G. (1914 & 1936) War Illustrated & World War (Part 1)

What if 2014 rather than being the centenary of the start of the First World War instead marked 100 years of continual fighting?

However horrible and however pointless war appears to be, the very fact that some conflict is always in the news makes one wonder if it isn’t in our nature to be forever at eachother’s throats; perhaps a warmongering gene will be found to define us, just as we have a gene that makes us think in metaphors and so devise new ways of doing things (such as killing each other or defending ourselves in increasingly devious or clever ways).

Would we humans have come so far without conflict? Have not environmental and human challanges caused us to seek ways toimprove our lot? To make us inventive?

Here’s a thought for a story, what if instead of the centenary of the First War in 2014 it was instead the 100th year of a conflict that is yet to end, the entire world bleeding itself dry and perfecting the means to slaughter, defend and produce ranks of fresh combatants in perfect self-destructive balance? The lack of ‘available’ men leading to widespread polygamy, two sides splitting the world’s resources in half, a balanced fight that can never have a winner but choices conflict over peace?

What if the ability and speed of amputating and replacing limbs allowed the ‘modern’soldier to be recycled constantly from spare parts? They would be put back together in a field station and sent out again ’til it got to the stage where you didn’t know who or what you were.

Or the story of a young soldier, wounded and slipping into a deep, water-filled shellhole who apparently goes on to live a fulfilling life but with the nagging feeling that he will drown at any moment only to discover that he’s had no life at all and was still in that shell-hole not celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary amongst family and friends.

Does anyone recall an antewar film that features what the ‘authorities’ think is a brain dead ‘creature’ without limbs or face who to their horror they discover decades after the war, having kept ‘it’ alive is actually conscious? There response is not to put it out of its suffering, but to wheel ‘him’ into a darke, hidden away room.

The never ending war, rather than the war to end all wars: death as a way of life

 

However horrible and however pointless war appears to be, the very fact that some conflict is always in the news makes one wonder if it isn’t in our nature to be forever at eachother’s throats; perhaps a warmongering gene will be found to define us, just as we have a gene that makes us think in metaphors and so devise new ways of doing things (such as killing each other or defending ourselves from death). 


Here’s a thought for a story, what if instead of the centenary of the First War in 2014 it was instead the 100th year of a conflict that is yet to end, the entire world bleeding itself dry and perfecting the means to slaughter, defend and produce ranks of fresh combatants in perfect self-destructive balance?
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