For February, Spinozablue brings its readers new poetry from Breda Wall Ryan, Damien Healy and Donal Mahoney, as well as fiction from Rosemary Jones. A pattern of Celtic voices by coincidence, not design — with an Asian twist.
Recently finished Peter Englund’s excellent history of WWI, The Beauty and the Sorrow. What makes this book so special for me is the democracy of voices, the voices on the ground and in the skies, the deeply personal quality of their journals and letters. Englund brings us a mix of soldiers, nurses, activists, journalists and pilots, and tells their stories using their own words and circumstances. We get a vision of the war that officials of that day tried to suppress, as propaganda was thick on all sides and truth suffers, as always, in war. Its first casualty.
Seeing the whole, looking back on the years 1914-1918, it’s all but impossible to see the rationale for the war. The obvious question arises: What was the point? Not the nihilist frame for that question. Not the far more understandable pacifist frame for that question. Not any ideological push and pull. But the thing itself. What was the point? Tens of millions dead; tens of millions of beautiful horses dead; priceless art wiped out . . . with the resultant collapse of economies all across Europe (and much of the world) setting the stage for WWII.
There was no point. And the writers, artists, musicians and other cultural warriors who died because of the war? Known and unknown? Apollinaire, Saki, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas, Georg Trakl . . . to name a few of the famous.
Englund’s book also reminds us of the devastation caused by the Spanish Influenza of 1918, with estimates ranging between 20 million to 100 million deaths across the world. Would the pandemic have spread so rapidly without the war? Would nations have been better equipped to fight it if not for the massive bloodletting, if not for their collapsed economies and the critical absence of medicine and medical help?
The war to end all wars.
History teaches us that wars start out with grand visions of heroism in the sun, glorious parades, the heights of patriotic fervor . . . but end in muck and ruin. Nothing is more predictable and few tragedies are as preventable. It’s 2013. Will humanity learn to surprise itself?