perhaps because David Stevenson is a professor at the London School of Economics (LSE) or possibly because WWI has receded into history sufficiently to be about groups rather than personalities, 1914-1918 succeeds in being simultaneously a gripping work of historical evocation and a dry statistical analysis. escaping the flaws of assuming "Great Man Theory," wherein the adherent states 'personage Z ordered D and thus D occured," Stevenson accurately shows how vast apersonal statistical forces created inevitable, and horrifying outcomes. in battles where some 150000 individuals died in a matter of hours, the context of later wars such as Vietnam, wherein all of 60000 died on the Western side, become clear. WWI was gigantic. it was huge. it shook the world.
after reading the book, (as an American), I was chastised to understand how much greater the 19th century European powers were compared to our relatively pioneer / unsophisticated culture. obviously, it is difficult to assert that America is "superior" to Britain, France, and Germany, yet each of these three major European countries acceded to a violent conflict in which lives were thrown away all for principle. of all the reasons to fight and kill, to do so just because "we can" seems the height of absurdity. so are 1910/1920s era surrealists accurate because of the war, in spite of it, or contributory / oblique to it? how much longer can I maintain this dry academic style of review before devolving into my typical and personal absurdism?
after reading this account of the horrific meat-grinder that chewed up human lives at a rate of at times 3000/hour for weeks on end, (one 9/11, in other words, every hour for a month), the hollow absurdity of the post-ww2 universe becomes clear. there is no reason not to do hard drugs or to move into a bordello or to live out in wilderness for the rest of your days. any of these outcomes is superior to the trench warfare on the western front where human flesh stacked up ten or twenty meteres high and had to be cleared so that the machine guns could repeat their efforts.
who is a hero? what is war? what is the point of the American Republican Party or the Liberal Democratic sentiments of the post-world order? these are all hollow absurdities. i know where my next meal is coming from. i know what milky white morphine is like. that is all there is. i have no need for heroes.
i read this book to remind myself of days and ways. every hour, however agonizing, however drugged up, i am still in advance of the end and collapse of high western civilization. if you are a hero and you love war, then good onto you. i wish you well. the barking machine guns of the MG14, the Maxim Gun, these ended high western civilization. if you love war, you are not a true westerner. all true westerners understand that it is over. no more heroes. no more heroics. more drugs. more whores. i needed to pass out my days with tears flowing because 150,000 dead in one 24-hour cycle was more that i could ever endure. the stench of rotting human flesh rising up to the gods was never enough to satisfy the appetites of the darkest apersonal forces guiding the world in which we live. your repeated chatter about gods or marx could never salve anything. everything ended in 1914 are we are soon (hands trembling) going to enter the 100 year cycle again.
i'm barely keeping it together. i don't understand this jungle.
i can't understood heroes. why do you encourage violence? why do you call for ever greater firepower and more fighting? get out of here, man. you are a fraud. go grab those politicians and bankers who are calling for escalating war and tell them to stand down. who are those brokers of non-sense and civilizing missions? who are you man? i just need to hand over the keys to the war-lovers. i have nothing left. totally drained. you love war, go to the front.