Friday, November 11, 2011

The War to End All Wars - World War I

On this Veteran's Day, I remember my paternal grandfather who enlisted in American army in WWI.  He was trained as a part of the experimental Balloon Corps to become the "Eyes of the Army" observing the Kaiser's troops in France. The balloons were filled with inflammable gas and were tethered in stationary positions, essentially sitting ducks for German pilots who engaged in balloon busting. When attacked, the defenseless observers had no choice but to parachute from their burning fireballs into the front lines of the fighting. This was the early days of parachute technology and parachutes were stored in canvass tubes hung over the side of the wicker baskets. From his journal, Grandpa reports being forced to bail some one dozen times. Each time his parachute worked. Others were not so lucky. Balloon observers had among the highest fatality rates of any group in WWI.
At the same time I admire my grandfather's bravery, WWI to my mind was the most senseless of wars.  Why did the world's most prosperous continent turn to an outright slaughter of millions.  It's origin is mysterious and it's end set the stage for WWII.  Here's what's in my library.

1.  The First World War, John Keegan (1999).  Eminent history Keegan provides one of the best overall narratives of the war with a particular eye on the sufferings of the foot soldier.  He weaves in the stories of human suffering with the political and cultural affects of the war.  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.


2.   Fix Bayonets!  John Thomason, Jr., Captain, U.S. Marine Corps (1926; republished 1994 by the Naval Institute Press).  The story of the U.S. Marines in WWI.  Illustrated with charcoal drawings.  Bought used but can't remember where.


3.  A Foreign Field: A True Story of Love and Betrayal During the Great War, Ben MacIntyre (2002).  The story of four young British soldier s trapped behind enemy lines in 1914.  The four are protected by local villagers but are eventually betrayed.  Bought used, State Department Bookstore.


4.  Whispers in the Wind, Douglas Eisentstein (2000).  Based on journals of men from a regiment of the American Expeditionary Force, it follows the unit from boot camp to the Western Front.  Contains pictures and maps.  Bought used at the State Department Book Store.

5.  The World War, McKinley, Coulomb and Gearson (1918).  Written the year WWI ended and hence still referred to as simply "The World War."  Issued by the American Book Company, it was used as a textbook.  Clear and concise with a chronology at the end.  I don't text books have gone down hill since.  Bought used but can't remember where.
6.  The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell (1975).  Fussell uses cutting wit and unique observations to describe the horror of the war.  I think a gift from a friend but can't remember now.

See earlier Blog on War Journals, Part I: Storm of Steel, Junger and Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves

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