Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Now Reading: The Missing of the Somme



I picked up this book thanks to a suggestion and post by my blogger friend over at Naked Came I:

There is a superb article in today's Los Angeles Times about Geoff Dyer's book The Missing of the Somme. The book was published in the United Kingdom in 1994, but due to his publisher's worries that his first American book might be too "unreachable" by U.S. audiences, due to publication rights falling into the wrong hands, and due to other factors, his book was not published until this year [2011] in America.

Most Americans probably can't tell you in what decade World War I occurred, much less what years it began or ended. Most Americans probably can't tell you why the war was fought, how long it was fought before the United States entered the war, why the United States entered the war, who the top American commander in the war was, or why the war ended. They probably remember who the combatants were (or the main ones, anyway), and might remember the four most notable features of the war. They probably don't know about the war's major innovation (which didn't affect its outcome, but still...). [Click on the link to Naked Came I for the answers - Writer]

Dyer's book is not a history. It's a meditation on memory.

What's fascinating about World War I is that you had no frontline radio coverage, no TV coverage, very little war photography. The war was largely one of memory. People experienced things, then remembered them -- in letters home, in drawings, in stories told to family members, in monuments, in reports to headquarters, in stories told to newspaper reporters.

What's even more interesting is that so many people died in World War I. Deaths totaled 8 million. Permanent, crippling disability affected another 7 milion. And 15 million were seriously wounded. That's HALF of all the combatants. (In comparison, on D-Day, dead and wounded were just 5 percent of the total Allied invasion force.) In Germany, a whopping 15 percent of the total male population died from combat. In the Austro-Hungarian Emprie, it was 17 percent; in France, 10.5 percent. Civilian casualties were even higher. Famine in Germany killed another 1 percent of the population. In Russia, 5 to 10 percent of the population died from hunger.

With such death, who was left to remember? Who from the front lines could remember this battle, or that seige? Few could do so, which left memory -- the memory of the traumatized, the memory of their friends and families, the memory of society at large -- the only keeper of the flame.

The interview with Dyer is really eye-opening. I strongly suggest you read it.

So far it is both amazing and moving.

2 comments:

Loki's Log said...

Thanks for the recommendation. The book sounds amazing.

becca said...

will have to take a look