In Owen’s The Show he first quotes a man named W.B. Yeats. I liked this quote a lot so I decided to look up who he was. I found out that he was an Irish poet as well as a Senator, but as far as I have seen, he never fought. Since Owen was a combatant I was interested why he would pick a quote from someone who did not share his experience of the war, especially since there was the huge problem of who really got to tell the story of what the war was like. After some more research I found that Yeats was a strong advocate against the war, calling it an “outbreak of insolence and stupidity the world has ever seen.” Yeats, being a well known poet of the time, was asked to write about the war by his peers. In return he published On Being Asked for a War Poem in which he wrote, “I think it better that in times like these A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth We have no gift to set a statesman right He has had enough of meddling who can please A young girl in the indolence of her youth, Or an old man upon a winter’s night.” This seemed ironic to me, since he often wrote poetry about Irish politics. This becomes even more confusing when I saw that Yeats actually disliked Owen, stating that he is, “unworthy of the poet’s corner of a country newspaper” because “he is all blood, dirt, and sucked sugar stick.” With the small amount of research that I did I could not find any other connection between Yeats and Owen.
The quote Owen starts with is from Yeats’ Shadowy Waters, which is about men who have been at sea for a long time. While it contemplates death, it gives the reader the impression that things will be alright in the end, he even uses terms such as love and immortality. In the end the main character is with his lover and it could be implied that they either live or die happily together. I also found that Owen did not finish the quote completely, it goes on to say that, “And find their laughter sweeter to the taste For that brief sighing.” Possibly, Owen could be contradicting Yeats but other than that I am struggling to see the connection between the two poets and the quote that Owen chose and find it very interesting.
This exhibit really focused on the final days of the Great War, as well as the cultural changes that emerged after. The section on women in the war was particularly interesting. They had mannequins set up around the room, each showcasing different uniforms and clothing that women would have worn. The man who was running the exhibit told us that women’s trousers did not become popular until World War I. They were made to be baggier and longer so that no ankles would show, and they had buttons up the back so that there was no possibility of them sliding around while she worked. Prior to this, it was not socially acceptable for a woman to wear trousers. The biggest driving force for this change was most likely the need for women workers during the war, which meant that new pants were needed that could accommodate certain movements more easily.
The women’s suffrage movement also started to gain more followers post-World War I. In the exhibit they gave the example of the organization, YMCA. The YMCA hired over 5,000 women to work at canteens in France. The workers handed out coffee and books to he soldiers. Women also took on other non-traditional roles as well. But, even with the progress gained, women were still seen an inferior, especially when in regards to money. The exhibit had a poster of Joan of Arc holding up a sword heroically and wearing armor. At the bottom it encouraged women to buy war stamps, not war bonds. This implied that women could never be the main breadwinner of the family or understand how finances work to the extent that a man would. I thought the message at the bottom was very interesting, especially when paired with the heroic Joan of Arc, showing that while some strides had been made, there was still much more to be done in terms of equality.
Seeing the outfit of the traditional red cross nurse made me think back to Mary Borden’s description of the women in white. It helped to get some visual on what that really would have looked like. I completely understand how it could be described as ghostly, since it is very flowy at the bottom and the only bit of color is the red cross on her hat and chest.
After going to this exhibit, I was surprised to find out just how much World War I helped the movement for gender equality but did not do nearly as much for the issue of race equality in America.
I went to the World Aflame exhibit today and wanted to share what I learned. This exhibit at the Fredericksburg Area Museum was very interesting. I loved how it only dealt with people and events that took place right here in Fredericksburg. What I enjoyed looking at the most were the propaganda posters. One of the posters on display pictured a golden lab resting his head on a blue and white handkerchief and a lone gold star is hung behind him. At the bottom are the words, “…because somebody talked!” When I first saw this, I had no idea what the phrase meant, but after reading I saw that it played on the government’s desire to keep the citizens and the soldiers quiet. This poster is a part of the “loose talk” genre, since it was believed that any sort of “loose talk” could end up hurting the troops and ultimately the United States chances of winning the war. This is an example of another way in which the government used these propaganda posters to guilt trip people into enlisting, as well as into embracing a nationalist agenda.
What really shocked me at the exhibit, and which changed my perspective of Americans in the war, was a letter written by a soldier named John to his wife, Emma. It was written August 7th, 1945 and is about his joy and elation over the creation of the atomic bomb. Prior to visiting this exhibit, I had always taken the dropping of the atomic bomb on millions of innocent people in a very negative light and so I had assumed that the soldiers felt the same way. But this particular soldier had exactly the opposite reaction. He was sent to be clean up duty in Hiroshima and so saw first hand what the bomb had done, he even took pictures to send back to his wife. Even after seeing the devastation in Japan, he still praises the bomb and calls the Japanese fools for continuing to fight. This gave me the startling realization that some soldiers were happy with any kind of end to the war no matter what effects it could have and that some American soldiers and citizens back home actually thought the atomic bomb was the best invention of the time.
In my Existentialism class we are reading The Reprieve by Sartre. It follows multiple characters who all live in France during the week before the singing of the Munich Agreement and the takeover of Czechoslovakia in September 1938. The novel was eventually published in 1945. While Sartre doesn’t deal with the first World War, I was surprised to see a lot of the same themes and issues that we discuss in class that are very apparent in Sartre. Here are some quotes I found interesting while reading.
Charles (a man with syphilis) sees a solider who can take care of himself: “Something is going to happen to him. Tomorrow there will be war, and something is going to happen to all these people. But not to me. I am an object” (Sartre, 35).
Mathieu has a conversation with a woman who knows nothing about the war: “’I shall say to her: ‘So, you want peace at any price?’ I shall speak gently, looking straight into her eyes, and I shall say: ‘Women must not be allowed to interfere with us. This is not the moment to pester men with their follies” (Sartre, 23).
Phillipe offers us a pacifist view: “And you are being packed off to the slaughter, you don’t mind, you don’t lift a finger, a rifle is shoved into your hands and you think you’re heroes, and if anyone protests, you call him a plutocrat, and a fascist, and a yellow-belly, because he doesn’t do as everybody else does” (Sartre, 193).
Birnenschatz shows the reader the problem of national identity (He is a Jewish refugee but he defines himself as a Frenchman first) This prompts him to make this insensitive remark: “The fate of German Jews is not our business” (Sartre, 96).
If anyone is looking for a wide range of perspectives on the World War II, as well as a philosophical take on it, I would definitely recommend reading The Reprieve.
The scene at the very end of part 3 stood out to me. Hemmingway writes, “I had taken off the stars, but that was for convenience. It was no point of honor. I was not against them. I was through. I wished them all the luck. There were the good ones, and the brave ones, and the calm ones and the sensible ones, and they deserved it. But it was not my show any more and I wished this bloody train would get to Mestre and I would eat and stop thinking. I would have to stop” (232).
Frederic, much like our other two protagonists this year, firmly believes that the war is terrible and brutal and not meant for him. But, Frederic contrasts Paul and Nellie in how he actually goes through with deserting his army. He is the first character we see who rips off his stars and denounces them. He looses care for honor or for how those at home will view him, instead he does what is best for his well-being. Frederic even thinks to himself that those stars he wore were not for him and that they were only for the brave, etc. While deserting your army may be seen as a cowardice act, which is exactly how Frederic views it, it is actually incredibly courageous. He is the only character I have seen who has put agency back into his story, who goes against societies notion that this war is great and good, and who has not been turned into a machine who mindlessly does work until he dies. Him leaving the war was something I never saw coming since none of the other books this year have gone that route yet. While Frederic has his many other flaws, I think his actions in this passage are admirable in how they take what we have seen as typical war stories so far this semester in a new direction.
This past week I went with another class of mine to the African-American History museum. It was amazing and actually had a lot of information about African-American soldiers during WWI, which I wanted to share with you all here. Many African-Americans fought primarily as support troops and the ones who did see actual combat fought with the French, not America. Many believed that fighting would promote better treatment in their hometowns and where angry when not much changed. One of the most interesting things I learned was that W. E. B. Du Bois published an essay titled “Close Ranks” which stated that African-Americans should put aside their anger and differences and come together to fight for and support the war. Later, after seeing that fighting in the war did nothing for equality, he would admit that this editorial was a mistake. The exhibit also provides stats for how many soldiers were killed, wounded, etc. It said that 367,710 African-Americans were drafted and that about 400,000 served. 200,000 served overseas, 750 died in combat, and another 5,000 were wounded. The last two things I thought were most interesting was a quote they had displayed by Claude McKay, a Jamaican writer and poet, and a propaganda poster. McKay wrote, “If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain… Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back” (1919). Lastly the poster reads, “Colored man is no slacker”. It depicts an army of other African-American soldiers marching and holding the American Flag, which is ironic since they had yet to gain any sort of equality.
Currently I am enrolled in this class, Literature of The Great War, and another philosophy class, Existentialism. Since I have begun learning about both of these topics I have already found many similarities between the two and have been able to look at the war from a more philosophical perspective. The Great War took place between 1914 and 1918, just about a decade after Existentialism began to take rise in the late to mid- 19th century. Until then, people believed in Platonism, which also served as the basis for Christianity. This imposed many restrictions and fears onto people, such as if you sin you go to hell, as well as emphasized the separation of body and soul. On the other hand, Existentialism, in brief, is the study of existence. Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, would publish his work Gay Science in 1882, in which he made his famous proclamation that “God is dead.” To Nietzsche this meant that we no longer lived in a world where God, and this other, spiritual world, served as the explanation for our world here. No longer is God the one who judges us and gives our life meaning. This then leads him to question how humanity will find a meaning for itself and from itself. With Nietzsche came the death of the soul and the praise of the body and living.
In class we talked about the rise of Darwinism, who’s writings also influenced the Existentialism movement, since he was the first to come up with a scientific reason for our existence that had no reliance on another world. Darwinism also affected how people thought of war, since the survival of the fittest was one of his prominent points. We also spoke about how this caused the Book of Genesis to be questioned, leading people to question themselves, what they believe, and who they truly are. This relates very strongly back to Nietzsche’s argument that God is dead. This idea of the loss of innocence for all peoples, along with all the physical, emotional, and psychological damage the war caused, presents then a generation which is confused, angry, and demanding answers. As we said in class, another thing which was lost during this war was many people’s faith in God.