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Archive for August 8th, 2009

versailles_cannonfodder

PEACE AND FUTURE CANNON FODDER is the title of a remarkably prescient cartoon created in 1920, two years after the end of World War I, showing the leaders of the victorious powers, Georges Clemenceau (France), Lloyd George (Great Britain), Woodrow Wilson (U.S.A.), and Orlando (Italy), leaving the Palace of Versailles, their hats apparently doffed out of respect for the future dead, while a small child weeps. 

On the gound beside the child lies a copy of the Paris Peace Treaty, which was forced on a defeated Germany at Versailles, and whose terms, many believed, were so harsh, that it would sooner or later lead to a rerun of the conflict it was meant to end.

Above the child’s head is a comment “1940 CLASS”.

(In the European context, “1940 CLASS” refers to those who would be eligible for conscription in 1940, not to those who would graduate in that year. I am, nevertheless, reminded of the huge roster of names of Harvard men, undergraduates listed according to their class, including Patrick Joseph Kennedy Jr., Class of 1938, and those of the Classes of 1945, 1946, 1947, and 1948, who would never live to see Commencement Day in any of those years, and postgraduates according to their School, on a stone tablet on the south wall of Harvard’s Memorial Church.)

The caption reads: “The Tiger: Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping!”

My attention this morning was caught by the headline of the following newspaper article, “Afghanistan conflict could last 40 years, says new head of British Army“, with the subtitle: “General Sir David Richards, the new head of the British Army believes the West’s mission to stabilise Afghanistan might take as long as 40 years.”

So Colonel Blimp, or whatever his name is, thinks it’ll take forty years to “stabilise” (his words) that unhappy country. A bit optimistic, don’t you think, when all other attempts to conquer, pacify, or otherwise control Afghanistan have failed.

And is it really our “mission” there to “stabilise Afghanistan”, or are there other reasons for our being there?

Long march to victory? These soliders grandchildren could be fighting in Afghanistan. Photo: REUTERS

Long march to victory? These soliders grandchildren could be fighting in Afghanistan. Photo: REUTERS

To what savage god, or gods, are we really sacrificing so many young lives?

I am reminded of that remarkable passage in the chapter titled, “Snow”, in Thomas Mann’s, The Magic Mountain, when its hero, the young Hans Castorp, whom we presume will later perish in World War 1,  has a premonitory vision while lost in a snowstorm in the mountains above Davos, Switzerland. Written in 1924, this allegory of  the Great War constitutes a remarkable statement on  that terrible conflict, and indeed on all wars fought in the last and the current century.

If you read nothing else by Mann, who won the Nobel Prize  for Literature in 1929, read this passage.

Returning to the newspaper article, the caption beneath the photo says it all… .

Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping!

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