I have really enjoyed these recent show-and-tells (K of C matches & the pocket shrines) as they hold my interest in the role of religion during the Great War and particularly the role of Catholicism within it.
The reference to guardian angels that we discussed in class about “The Bowmen” made me think of a book I read once called We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing. It is about Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and his seven companions drifting on a raft in the ocean after they get lost over the Pacific. Although this happened in World War II it still holds true I think to some of the experiences of the men in the Great War. Here is where the discussion of delusion or divine intervention collide. I also would like to note the fact that in the book, one of the things that keeps the narrator (similarly to Not So Quiet, this story is from the diary of one of the men on the raft) alive is thinking about getting home and eating strawberry malt milks. I see this constant theme in the books we read of the small comforts that motivate someone in extreme anguish. It’s the little things I guess.
The face of God appears in both the poetry and short stories we read this week. I was intrigued by this because we seem to see God in sources we would not always consider. We can understand how Christ can be seen in the Shroud of Turin but a moon, a solider at battle, how could these possibly be related to the Son of God? Yet the moon and the face we see in it and in the trenches reminds me of seeing Christ in those less fortunate, such as those who are ailing or dying. It also speaks to the fact that at least in the Old Testament seeing the face of God was not a happy occurrence. You would die upon seeing His full revelation which is why only certain people were allowed to and I believe never directly (think Basilisk in Harry Potter though that’s a horrible comparison) This to me increases the guilt factor we find in “The Case of Lieutenant Hall”.This man clearly has a guilty conscience and I think the whole heightened reality of an omnipotent God comes to life in a more relatable way by making a face in the moon. Lastly, I would like to add that the moon shape is significant because it further enhances the idea of wounded flesh, particularly that of Christ being symbolized in the Eucharist. I would also like to point out that within the monstrance which displays the Holy Body of Christ during Adoration, there is in fact a piece within it called a luna. This is an circular glass behind the exterior glass with a gilded metal rim on the bottom that secures the Host in place. I don’t find this to be a coincidence and I wonder if Aldington wasn’t trying to hint at a more spiritual breakdown as well.
Switching from monotheism to polytheism I picked up on a lot of Greek mythology references in the texts. Holding up his own “cross”, the solider who is believed to be Christ becomes an Atlas figure by supporting the war and thus the world on his shoulders (Sassoon 88). I also saw the references of emasculation and slaughtering of children to be referring to the stories of Uranus and Kronos. How Aphrodite was born and how Zeus survived his father trying to swallow him alive (Aldington 85). Similarly the being sentenced to years of labor made me think of Sisyphus. I know it’s a leap but in this text the solider feels condemned to life as much as battle. He feels as if he deserves this hell in the army and at home because of what he has done to those defenseless soldiers.
The thing I think I am still struggling with is the dynamic of a believing country during the Great War. With the introduction of Modernism and society today, faith in the worldwide sense has declined. Though the US is slow to shed these ideals as much as other countries I think we will get to the rate Europe is currently experiencing one day. To me I can’t imagine a time when belief in a God wasn’t the minority viewpoint and I would argue against the norm. I think it also matters what you qualify as faith in this country because many say they are Christian but do not practice but that is a whole different tangent. For our purposes let’s stay away from how claiming Christianity effects politics and focus on just people believing in a God.
This made me think if back then the world was largely more faithful than it is now, there must have been fewer agnostic or atheist solider’s fighting. Yet there had to be some and I wondered what was their reason for fighting if the whole “God is on our side” argument didn’t apply to them? What was their true reason even after being shamed into signing up? I don’t think the God is on our side thing holds up and I’d be interested to know what makes a man fight when he neither fights for God or fatherland.
This also further confused me as Sassoon was against the war, but not a pacifist. Sassoon will always confuse me as there are so many layers to him but how can you not believe in war but be for it in a sense as well? I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of gaps as to why the war even started in the first place. I completely agree that in WWII it was much easier to see good versus bad. I agree that acts committed during both wars were violent but evil, I do not think we can say that with certainty. That to me falls into the words that can’t be defined such as freedom, justice, honor, etc. because these words are words that we like to apply to our own circumstances. Universally, I think many would agree that our own moral or ethical codes are based on the individual principles of a person, if not influenced by an institution such as religion (though I would also argue that there is a gray area to where civil morals and ethics come from if they weren’t divinely inspired in the first place i.e. Ten Commandments.)
I do not condone the horrors of war and terrorism but I will now like to emphasize my previous point of seeing Christ in others. You can say something is wrong with conviction but if someone else sees another way I still say that person has an inherent dignity to them even after committing such crimes. The “evil” or dilemma comes in the form of whether they do not follow the moral compass of society’s standards (though these vary in degrees among individuals of what is considered “right” or “wrong”.) In some way everyone’s moral compass is perverted by selfish means because after all we are selfish creatures, just some selfish acts are more discriminated against than others. In this way I did not like the Germans being referred to as anti-christ in “They”. In some ways those soldiers did not have free will and within that realm of war I almost feel like they had to make their own moral compass. What qualified as a “just killing” in the trenches would not be so back home. In the end, war is just a sad, sorrowful waste of human life. I believe in God, but I don’t believe He causes war. Some may think He helps out in them to an extent but I really feel that’s more Greek mythology e.g. the Trojan War. Still the senseless killing and suffering gets me sometimes. Ah, alas the ways of God are strange ( Sassoon 94) but the ways of the world will always be stranger to me.