‘World War I Beyond the Trenches’
“Every one of us,” writes James Fenton, “can remember why World War II was fought (‘Hitler had to be stopped’), but few can do the same for World War I. Yes, the archduke had been shot in Sarajevo, but who the archduke was, and why his assassination led to general war, and why the war was or wasn’t worth fighting—that takes a rarer expertise to answer.
“The war itself, though, is vividly, viscerally remembered through a series of images, stories, and rituals: bugle music—the Last Post and Reveille, framing the Two-Minutes’ Silence; the wearing of poppies on or around Armistice Day; the trenches; gas masks; the Christmas Truce (a famous moment of unauthorized fraternization on the western front in 1914); shell shock; the refusal to distinguish between the shell-shocked and the malingerer; the brutal idiocy of the generals; women handing out white feathers to noncombatant men; songs and parodies of songs; poets at the front line.”
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