[lit-ideas] Novels necessary to "modern mass wars"

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 16 May 2008 10:20:47 -0700

Fussell is entertaining but I suppose he is going to go on throughout the
book arguing from anecdotal evidence and other inadequate assumptions, but
here he is on page 28 being entertainingly ironic:


"Modern mass wars require in their early stages a definitive work of popular
literature demonstrating how much wholesome fun is to be had at the training
camp.  The Great War's classic in this genre is The First Hundred Thousand,
written in 1915 - originally in parts for Blackwood's Magazine - by 'Ian
Hay,' i.e., Ian Hay Beith.  It is really very good, nicely written and
thoroughly likable.  It gives a cheerful half-fictionalized account of a
unit of Kitchener's Army, emphasizing the comedies of training and the
brace, resourceful way the boys are playing the game and encountering the
absurdities of army life with spirit and humor ('Are we downhearted? NO!")
The appeal of the book is to readers already appreciative of Kipling's
fantasy of school high-jinks, Stalky & Co. (1899).  Hay finally mentions
trench casualties, but in such a way as to make them seem no more serious
than skinned knees.  The Second World war classic in this genre - at least
in America - is Marion Hargrove's See Here, Private Hargrove, published in
May, 1942.  It performed the same function as Hay's book: it reassured the
folks at home and at the same time persuaded the troops themselves that they
were undergoing really quite an amusing experience.  Interestingly,
Hargrove's book appeared at about the same time after the start of its war
as Hay's did after its.  Little had happened yet to sour the jokes.


"The innocent army depicted by Hay actually did resemble closely the real
army being trained in 1914.  It was nothing if not sincere, animated by the
values of doing one's very best and getting on smartly. . . ."




Fussell's words imply that there is a principle or perhaps a conspiracy at
work here but what are "modern mass wars," and who engages in them?  He
cites two novels, three actually but doesn't make good use of Kipling.
Hay's novel was required only in Britain apparently and Hargrove's novel was
required only in America - note the illogicality of his argument.    


We can gather that modernity here consists of modern liberal democracy where
prospective soldiers are encouraged to enlist.  In earlier times, Kings
could command this service so they wouldn't need a "definitive work of
popular literature."   So "modernity" couldn't begin, in Fussell's sense,
probably (I say 'probably' because I can't be sure whether Fussell is really
trying to make sense), until Liberal Democracy did.


And as I indicated in my previous note, the massiveness of the two wars
Fussell is offended at is no longer an element of modern warfare.  So,
presumably, we can dispense with definitive works of popular literature.
Thus, "modern mass wars" comprise a very narrow window.


Wouldn't Fussell have been better off dispensing with his presumed
"principle" and noting the parallel "popular novels" written at about the
same time, relatively?  What does Fussell gain by pretending there is a
principle at work here?  Or does he really believe it.  Some of the CSPAN
interview flits into my mind from time to time, disjointed Fussell comments
-- much as stray memories flitted into the mind of Jason Bourne.  Is
Treadstone at work here or not?  That is probably the main question.


Lawrence Helm

San Jacinto

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