STUMP » Articles » Mornings with Meep: 100 Years Since End of World War I » 11 November 2018, 11:53

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Mornings with Meep: 100 Years Since End of World War I  


11 November 2018, 11:53

I’m rebooting Mornings with Meep, in which I will make my videos less than 5 minutes long.

My first one is on World War I:


I read a couple poems in the video, but those are not the best-known of the war.

Here is a list of English language Wordl War I poems, and I want to talk about one in particular.

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke.

Here is the beginning:

If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

It is a very famous line. Well, all the war poetry Brooke was in the first year of the war… because he died in 1915.

From the Poetry Foundation:

Finally, Brooke ends the sonnet sequence with “The Soldier,” his most famous and most openly patriotic poem. He imagines his own death, but rather than conveying sadness or fear at such an event, he accepts it as an opportunity to make a noble sacrifice by dying for his country.

In February of 1915, Brooke had been ordered to sail to the Dardanelles—a strait between Europe and Turkey—for the Gallipoli campaign that would begin that spring. During the journey, however, Brooke contracted blood poisoning from an insect bite; he died on April 23 on a ship in the Aegean Sea and was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. Such a death and burial, notes Delany, fueled the myth that the handsome poet had provoked the wrath of angry, jealous gods.

So he died in war, but not in battle. He “missed” the Gallipoli/Dardanelles campaign. If the blood poisoning didn’t kill him, that campaign probably would have.

Many famous writers and poets had been soldiers in World War I. When you see, or even read, about what happened in the hideously awful Battle of the Somme, among other disasters, you can understand the Lost Generation and why appeasement sounded like a good idea in the late 1930s.


Rather than drop you into full-fledged history, why not check out the British comedy program Blackadder Goes Forth.

I love the Blackadder series, which starts with King Richard III in the first season. My favorite of the four seasons is set in Regency England. They’re all very funny, with Rowan Atkinson as the main character, Blackadder, and well-known British actors such as Hugh Laurie and Brian Blessed fill out the cast as historical (or fake historical) characters.

But the 4th season, set in World War I, in the trenches… I’m going to admit I can’t watch the last episode of the season. The episode is title Goodbyeeeee, and it ends with all the characters going over the top, and it makes me cry.

World War I was so devastating to an entire generation of Europeans. The mortality rate was hideous.


Mortality was awful, even only look at comparison to total population:

The Wiki article on WWI casualties says:

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was about 40 million: estimates range from 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

The total number of deaths includes from 9 to 11 million military personnel. The civilian death toll was about 8 million, including about 6 million due to war-related famine and disease. The Triple Entente (also known as the Allies) lost about 6 million military personnel while the Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million died from diseases and 6 million went missing, presumed dead. This article lists the casualties of the belligerent powers based on official published sources. About two-thirds of military deaths in World War I were in battle, unlike the conflicts that took place in the 19th century when the majority of deaths were due to disease. Nevertheless, disease, including the 1918 flu pandemic and deaths while held as prisoners of war, still caused about one third of total military deaths for all belligerents.

Again, those percentages seen above is from the total population. What about percentage of enlisted men?

1914-1918 Casualty Figures:

If you see what portion of the population of young men per country that as mobilized…you can see how devastating this was.

And how much of a non-event it was to the U.S., relatively.


Just a handful to look at.

First, the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, which covers the beginning of the war in 1914.

My review:

Ends right before the Marne – a capsule of the first month of WWI, though starting at the 1910 funeral of King Edward VII. By tightening the focus so much, on details that many people may not know (along with some play-by-play and dueling interpretation of events by people who were directly involved), one does get the feeling that even more than WWII this war was unavoidable in that at least some of the sides were actively courting war. Also, one really understands post-WWI attitudes towards Germany a lot better. The French (and English and Belgians) had very good reason to want retribution. That obviously blew up in their faces 20 years later, but still, understanding the horridness of WWI was there from the beginning helps.

Tuchman has some obvious opinions of specific players, so I can see why academic historians of her day were unhappy with this book. I think this provides a solid, very readable narrative, even if some bits may be overdramatized.

Audiobook version is excellent (though one might quibble with the accents…I’m not French, German, or Russian, so couldn’t say.)

Then there’s Churchill’s take: The World Crisis:

The World Crisis is considered by many to be Winston S. Churchill’s literary masterpiece. Published across five volumes between 1923 and 1931, Churchill here tells the story of The Great War, from its origins to the long shadow it cast on the following decades. At once a history and a first-hand account of Churchill’s own involvement in the war, The World Crisis remains a compelling account of the conflict and its importance.

I’ve not read this one (yet), but Churchill always tells a great story. You do need to keep in mind that part of this is him trying to repair his reputation (and I do agree, he got a bum rap on Dardanelles/Gallipoli, but part of it was his own fault. The key person who failed to execute was a hand-picked person by Churchill himself. Churchill had been loyal to a lot of people that didn’t deserve that loyalty… or, if they deserved the loyalty, they were placed in entirely wrong positions for them. I don’t think Churchill ever learned from those specific mistakes.)

A few more classics on WWI:

Goodbye to All That — a memoir by Robert Graves.

A Farewell to Arms – by Hemingway.

All Quiet on the Western Front.

I asked Stu if he could think of books/movies re: WWI, and while he named some I linked above, he reminded me of a movie that Howard Hughes did.

Hell’s Angels:

Hell’s Angels is a 1930 pre-Code independently made American epic aviation war film, directed and produced by Howard Hughes, that stars Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Jean Harlow. The film, which was written by Harry Behn and Howard Estabrook, was released by United Artists. Originally shot as a silent film, Hughes retooled Hell’s Angels over a lengthy gestation period. Most of the film is in black-and-white, but there is one color sequence, the only color footage of Harlow’s career.

Controversy during the Hell’s Angels production contributed to the film’s notoriety, including the accidental deaths of several pilots, an inflated budget, a lawsuit against a competitor (The Dawn Patrol), and repeated postponements of the release date. Hell’s Angels was one of the highest-grossing films of the early sound era, but despite this it still failed to recover its exorbitant production costs. It is now hailed as one of the screen’s first sound action films.

This seems to be the full movie.

World War II has grabbed imaginations more than WWI, partly because there was glory and honor that could be found in defending their country against annihilation. The more one learns of WWI, the more depressed one gets. I remember when I was in college, reading an article about various math profs and math students who enthusiastically signed up for service in WWI from a variety of countries. These folks didn’t die in battle because they were being used for determining math with respect to artillery.

Speaking of math and war: The Geometry of War.

I remember talking to various people about using our math skills in service of the DoD/NSA…. and that’s a discussion for another time.

Happy Veterans Day!