THE WAR TO END ALL WARS THAT FUCKED UP AND DIDN'T END ALL WARS
WHY AND HOW JIM RISWOLD STARTED WORLD WAR I (DESPITE THE FACT HE WAS BORN 39 YEARS AFTER THE END OF THE WAR)
In 2011, I spent more than my fair share of days in the ICU at OHSU.
I cheered myself up by reading about the carnage of World War One, The War to End All Wars.
I learned militarism, alliances, imperialism and nationalism are particularly good bedfellows for war. In the case of World War I, these bedfellows led to 8,528,831 dead men, 21,189,154 wounded men and 7,750,919 missing men. Many of these bodies were never found, forever entombed in collapsed trenches and shell holes, left to decompose on the battlefield or piled into mass graves.
I learned these dead men were young men. In Britain and France, men who were between 19 and 22 when the war broke out were reduced by 37%. In Germany, 16 million boys were born between 1870 and 1899 and most fought in WWI; 13% were killed. This is what the world talks about when it talks about a “lost generation.”
I learned July 1, 1916 was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. That day is the bloodiest day in Britain’s history. The British Army suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,420 dead. Most of those casualties came in the first hour of the battle. This is what happens when old generals and old tactics send young men charging unprotected into modern weapons, such as entrenched machine guns and relentless artillery fire.
I learned 20,000,000 horses died during World War One. So did a whole bunch of cows, camels, chickens, pigs and sheep. Apparently, animals fare just as badly, if not worse, as young men against machine guns.
I learned about the disillusionment of the common soldier. On March 3, 1916, during the Battle of Verdun, German Expressionist painter Franz Marc wrote, “For days I have seen nothing but the most terrible things that can be painted from a human mind.” The next day he was dead.
We’ve learned to make jokes about the French Army. Here’s one: What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up? The French Army. I learned the French Army would suffer more casualties, dead, wounded and missing in the first four months of the war than the United States military would suffer in the entire twentieth century. There is a damn good reason the French are war averse.
I learned about the Christmas Truce of 1914. German and British soldiers along the Western Front put down their weapons, climbed out of their miserable trenches, met in no man’s land and sang Christmas carols, played soccer, exchanged gifts and drank beer. A German wrote, “How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”
The next day, the British High Command said anybody doing anything like that again would be shot.
I learned The War to End All Wars Fucked Up and Didn’t End All Wars.
So, I did an art show about it.