So this weekend I visited Philly and while I was there I ended up seeing the USS Olympia. I had no idea going into it (I mean, I’m not a ship person, I was in it for the food if we are being honest) that the ship played a role in WWI and was decommissioned afterwards. The part I found really fascinating was that this ship brought back America’s unknown soldier from the Great War to be buried in Arlington. Also, I got to see what the surgery room looked like and what kind of equipment they had. (My only disappointment was that I didn’t see a ghost on the ship)
So I just started the first short story reading for next class and at the end, I was absolutely incensed! The coroner’s note, advising other young men after Hall’s suicide that they “had no right to expect that they should drop into easy jobs” and that they should “come to their senses” because “life is not all sky-larking” absolutely shocked me (Arlington 91). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because there both sides–the home front and and war front–suffered great losses and endured great sacrifices. However, the complete lack of understanding and empathy for men whose entire identities have been shaped and molded by serving years in constant combat was grotesque. I know that even today, although it’s definitely getting better, there is a misconception with mental illness. This reminded me of what people often say about depression: just get up, moving, socialize and you’ll be better. It’s scary to see such a parallel.
So I just finished the ending of Not So Quiet… and I went through so much of an emotional roller coaster. I was taken aback with the comparison with how the book ended compared with All Quiet. I appreciated how she cited Nellie’s emotional death toward the war in 1918, just as the other book casually reported Paul’s physical death (even the formatting was the same! The books definitely speak to one another). I was gearing up for her to die when she starts talking about the air raid and how the girls are being brutally killed…
She definitely uses metaphors to becoming mechanized and how her emotions have atrophied…the way she just casually mentioned Trix’s death, despite how much she had risked to help her out, really made me understand how she was already gone, emotionally. Also, I was intrigued by how she responded to Roy’s injuries and his letter releasing her from the engagement. The way I broke it down was that maybe because she was already emotionally stunted and so it didn’t matter, or that she couldn’t possibly imagine life after the war, let along kids. The dream about the cottage and the kids and the garden had already vanished long before Roy’s injuries. But before, she was so taken with the idea of wanting a partner who was whole, and not a reminder of the war. So writing to tell him that kids didn’t matter, that she was going to stick with him, maybe was because she already has accepted how she can never return to normalcy; Roy would understand her and her emotional apathy better than any other person.
Anyway, that’s some of my rambling, fresh off the press thoughts.
So I was thinking about what it would be like to see such graphic destruction from endless convoys on an already exhausted, hyper alert ambulance drivers and nurses. I had read ahead and was intrigued by the scenes were Bug has to be held down during the air raid sirens and how she reacts when she sees the faceless man. Most of this, and I might have misread it, was chalked to extreme fatigue because when she is sedated and sleeps, she wakes up as though nothing had happened. I definitely think fatigue can do this to a person, as someone who struggles with insomnia myself. But I couldn’t help but wonder about the deeper traumas of seeing second hand the graphic nature of the front lines and mechanized killings. I also happened on this article about “secondary trauma” and another that directly discusses extreme fatigue and secondary trauma with nurses.
Something that really fascinated me when I was watching the videos for the blog was when they discussed how disorienting moving across the trenches was. So when this came up in the reading, I was immediately taken aback. In the book, Paul says that “I can no longer remember the direction. Quiet, I squat in a shell-hole and try to locate myself. More than once it has happened that some fellow has jumped joyfully into a trench, only then to discover that it was the wrong one” (Remarque 213). Even before this terrifying encounter, when he is already beginning to unravel from his fear since returning to the front, Remarque mentions how disorienting the fighting is during the war. Often these are scenes where Paul reverts back to a vulnerable, childlike figure and is unsure of his body or his location. I think this feeling of dislocation and disorienting is a phenomenon that is really important to Remarque. Thinking about it, I wonder if it is because Paul and the other soldiers literally become uprooted and lose all semblance of control. Either way, these scenes really moved me. It’s like stories about near drownings; where people can no longer distinguish between up or down, and they are so close to the surface of the water. Does anyone else have some insight into why these scenes of disorientation are so important to Remarque? I’m wondering if this is a smaller component of something larger, like shell shock.
This podcast offered some insight about the Christmas experiences of the men and women during the course of the war. The podcast was not in the style of a single interview, but a collection of experiences that began with the infamous Christmas Truce in 1914. However, I appreciated how they tried to collect a spectrum of accounts of what it was like during the Christmas season on the front line, at hospitals, prisoner of war camps, and at sea. There are accounts from men serving in Turkey or near Bethlehem. In contrast, there are also reports from nurses and volunteers at hospitals.
Each account was accompanied by a brief introduction about the individual. I would have liked for their also to have been some commentary to link each account, to give facts and figures. For instance, there was an account from a conscientious objector, Walter Griffin, who talked about what it was like to be imprisoned during Christmas time. He made sure to verify that in prison, Christmas was a mundane, unannounced affair with carefully rationed, bland food. This experience contrasted vastly with many of the soldiers’ accounts of the food served on the front line; a majority of the accounts praised Christmas meals of pheasant, turkey, Christmas pudding, and alcohol during the war. I wanted to know more about the experience of the prisons; Griffin talked nonchalantly about the atmosphere of the prison. Was this the experience of other conscientious objectors? How many were jailed over the various holidays during war time? Did any help, perhaps, to create packages, letters, and gifts for the soldiers stationed away from home?
Of all of the various recollections, most of which were resplendent with talk of food and caroling, there was only one who talked about men dying on Christmas day. I thought this was interesting because unlike the truce, which was a rare occurrence, work commenced as usual for many committed to the war effort. George Wray, who was suddenly recalled back to France, talked about how the soldiers had pleasant expectations for Christmas morning. However, these hopes were quickly dismantled when the Germans had broken the line they had left. “Sad to say, we lost quite a few men,” Wray reported.
This comment raised some questions for me. The podcast had left out the perspectives of those celebrating Christmas on the home front. What was their experiences in creating the packages that the soldiers did mention throughout the experiences? The podcast mentions that Princess Mary set up a commission to provide a gift for the men serving at the front or the sea; this must have been a rallying effort that needed a lot of preparation
. What were the experiences of the wives and children at home, with their husbands and fathers absent? What about those that were informed that their men had died during the holiday season? Was there radio specials to raise spirits, or was Christmas a terrifying ordeal? It made me wonder if there are any surviving Christmas broadcasts that could also have been added to the podcast, to glean what it was like to have Christmas at home. After all, as mentioned in class, many thought the was would be over by the Christmas so it must have been a very strained time, especially as more and more Christmas holidays were spent at war.
Overall, the podcast was well organized and thought provoking. A listener can really begin to understand how, for many, Christmas was a beacon of light for men who soon became bitter and anguished by the continued bloodshed and torture of a war that seemed to never end. Actually listening to the cadence of their voices, years after, reaffirm how small things like Christmas pudding or gifts rallied the men and women during war time.